I’m reaching the point in the series where the episodes are starting to give me stress dreams. Fresh off the third installment, I went into “Part 4” thinking, Okay, Danny’s finally got a handle on things. His siblings are dicks, but he’s basically a good guy who just wants to start anew in the comfort of his loved ones. Well, out of nowhere, three insane things happen that derail that train of thought: First, Papa Ray does what the doctor said was nearly impossible, making the most flawless and speedy of recoveries (last episode he didn’t really know what a pen was; now he’s grumpy and kind of tired); second, this show jumps from 10 percent Criminal Minds to 50 percent, and, if you were thinking Juanita Doe’s accident was linked to Danny, you were correct; and third, for the majority of this episode, almost everybody has taken a 180 and is onboard with new Danny. As nice as these changes might read, they’re disorienting. Was there a “Part 3.5” that I missed? No? Okay, life’s really just a confusing blur when you’re trying to keep up with the capricious, indecisive, two-faced Rayburns.
The episode begins how the pilot ended: A mostly unexplained explosion in the nighttime tears a boat and its supposed immigrant passengers to charred tatters near the mangroves. We’re able to deduce that Juanita Doe was crossing the Gulf of Mexico, into the Keys, and that the big bad wolves that you’re not supposed to mess with torched the boat. Why? Unclear. But how? With the gasoline Danny and Eric pilfered. Like Eric, the bad-guy leader is a rough character with a flip phone and tattoos. He looks like a Cristiano Ronaldo wannabe who decided gauges were a bad idea a little too late in life, and he’s doling out sketchy jobs to Eric like he’s feeding a starving freelancer. A brief conversation later in the episode reveals that Eric wants more work, which means Danny’s going to face another tough call, with his morals in the balance (more on that below).
At the moment, Danny’s the most golden black sheep you’ll ever meet: He’s doing a bang-up job at work, all of the Rayburns’ clients love him, and he’s even giving new life to the family’s black-and-red vintage Chevy. Guess who’s helping him restore the truck? Kevin. Recall Kevin from last episode: Didn’t really care that Danny was staying, but wanted to stiff him out of the will. While working on the truck together this episode, these two have a moment that at least temporarily sways Kevin. After some teamwork, they get the vehicle to turn over and, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, it’s ready to ride. This is a huge coup for Danny, because the truck is the perfect kind of memory-jogging surprise for their recovering dad. So Kevin, who’s currently vying for my MTP (most two-faced player) shout-out, has a Robert tête-à-tête in which he stands up for Danny and vouches for him to stay.
Kevin joins the mom camp of wanting Danny back in the family (at least momentarily), while the other siblings are still fairly noncommittal. As far as John’s concerned, he plays the role of detective more than brother or son in this episode. On the sister side, the whole Meg-Danny drama from the last episode goes mostly unaddressed except for a brief exchange in the hospital, in which Meg tells Robert she was hoping he could reconsider the move to expunge Danny’s name from his last will and testament. Like John said in the last episode, it’s clear Meg would like to redo the past and have everyone restart with a nice, clean slate. More specifically, it seems like, in the interest of both her and Danny, she’d like for her father to forget that there was another daughter in the picture.
Obviously, that’s impossible. This episode has done away with the cryptic Kyle Chandler narrations, but it still features plenty of flashbacks. We see in a series of repetitive snippets that Danny was somehow involved in Robert’s favorite daughter’s demise, and that’s why his dad can’t stomach having him home. Much of Robert’s story line this episode involved hemming and hawing over the future of his estate and how it would or wouldn’t include his eldest son. The Bloodline writers employed some soul-crushing emotional sadism (Kurt Vonnegut would be proud) by making roughly 80 percent of this episode charming — only to make the last 20 percent incredibly depressing. The Rayburn men share a bro-session at John’s son’s baseball game, and then the Rayburn men scoot around in Robert’s truck (with Robert driving, which doesn’t seem like a great idea, but it happens). The scenes are almost so nice they feel incongruous, but that’s the point. The episode closes with a fake bro-date: Robert tells Sally and Danny that all of the boys are going to share a beer, but really he takes Danny to a restaurant to say good-bye.
The dialogue in this scene was not the best (I just thought it was all stuff we’d heard before, via third parties), but Shepard and Mendelsohn made this long-awaited confrontation powerful. It’s one of those scenes that’s hard not to watch without yelling at Robert, “What the hell is wrong with you?”
Robert: I want you to go. I want you to leave and not come back. It’s never worked out with you being here, has it?
Danny: Why do you think that is?
Robert: I don’t know. I don’t know exactly.
Danny: Yeah you do, yeah you know, you know. Too many memories.
Robert: I don’t remember anything. Bad things, bad things, bad things follow you around, don’t they?
Danny: I saved your life. I want to stay. You’re kicking me out?
Robert: I’m not!
Danny: I’m your son.
Robert: I gotta do what’s right for everyone. For the family.
Classic Rayburn move. Robert won’t take responsibility for his own selfish decision, and he pins it on everyone else. He’s also incapable of saying what he truly feels. If we didn’t have access to Robert’s flashbacks, we’d probably think this guy had dementia or bipolar disorder or both. Robert gives Danny a check, which is probably the biggest insult Danny’s received since he’s been home. Danny knows he’s not in the will, and his father is disowning him with an allowance. The episode ends with Robert, head in hands, remembering his daughter one last time. Your heart shatters for Danny. He just restored Dad’s truck, and the thanks he gets is an official exodus order. You get the feeling that now Danny’s been pushed too far and a real mean streak is on its way. Danny tells his dad that he’ll never see his face again, which puts Danny in the perfect position to say yes to Eric’s impending offer for more work and more trouble. The worst part about Danny’s life is that all the trouble that seems to be following him is a product of his family’s failure to accept him, which I’m guessing has been the case his whole life. This whole stereotypical Danny behavior, at the moment, seems like it’s just stereotypical Danny reacting to the world’s shittiest family.
Meg’s story line in “Part 4” was the most far-removed and uninteresting to me, but Linda Cardellini was on fire. After the last episode, you’d think Meg would’ve learned she either needs to fly her infidelity under the radar or try to make things work with Marco — even if it’s just for show till Danny and his blackmail are gone. But no: COMPLIANCE GUY IS BACK IN TOWN AND MEG IS STILL HAVING SEX WITH THIS GUY WHO IS NOT MARCO. Meg, c’mon! (She just decides that motels are off limits. Thank God for cars.) As frustrating as this non-development was, I will say it’s nice that Meg’s dead eyes come alive whenever she’s talking to her client, but still. Even though Meg’s emotionally stagnant, her character is given a kick in the ass when compliance guy’s lawyer offers her a job at a big corporate firm in New York. Will she stay or will she go? These scenes didn’t really make sense to me, because as far as I’m concerned, it makes no sense for her to leave. I also wouldn’t believe any scenario in which she did. Oh wait, unless she really is involved in something sketchy with Danny. Okay, file this under “Okay, weird” along with Juanita Doe.
The show chews on a lot: There are so many subplots that the room for actual plot development is scarce, and we’re left with wild scenarios from left field that make nearly all of the characters here impossible to relate to, understand, and predict. The only characters I don’t truly loathe at this point are Danny and John (yep, I’m even a little peeved with Marco because he’s a sassy, lazy detective). I haven’t figured out yet if this is a strength or a weakness, if this makes me love the show or hate it. Right now I’m leaning toward the former (in both cases), because as frustrating as the show has become, its realism is more hypnotizing than disengaging.
Technically speaking, Bloodline’s biggest weaknesses remain the fact that we still don’t know how Danny’s had such a dark past, and that there’s still quite a bit of filler. We see glimmers of why Robert can’t stomach his son’s presence, but everyone else? I’m still unsure. In the last couple of episodes Kevin’s disdain for Danny seemed rooted in the belief that Danny tried to kill their dad. Which never happened. Aside from that, everybody seems most hesitant to let Danny stay because that might mean that Danny will up and leave. I’m suspending my disbelief and trying to be patient. But at one third of the way through the series, I’m having a hard time investing in any one character because I’m unclear what any of these people actually want. The only person I can say that for is Danny, but, as we know, he’s fucked.
To the filler point, the scripts either deviate into random waters or linger on insignificant moments for too long: I’m not sure if we really need to see people burping, or opening drawers and staring at papers, or rehashing the exact same clips of the exact same flashbacks multiple times. The silver lining is that even amid the dull moments, the dull moments are pretty; the camerawork, especially in this episode, is beautiful. I’m hoping that these first few episodes are the necessities of a slow burn getting ready to air out its prestige. What’s interesting to me is that the whole Juanita Doe story, which would take one episode if it were its own show, is probably going to take another four or five to completely unfurl. Until that happens, and until Juanita’s story and Danny’s next move can mesh, I think Bloodline is going to have an identity crisis. But let’s stick with it — I have a feeling the pay-off is going to be well worth the wait. Fingers crossed, at least.
- Danny’s the cool, weird uncle at your baseball game.
- That ukelele is like a creepy wormhole into the past.
- No more cryptic flash-forwards, yay!
- Spotted: seahorse necklace!
- Since Meg’s partially blown Kevin’s cover, how long is his ex-wife going to play this charade? There could’ve been a nice parallel here if Sally had asked her when she was thinking of having a child with Kev.
- John finally apologizes for the lie that started a lot of this drama. Robert’s reaction is basically, Everybody sucks, no worries.
- Just when you thought this show was chock-full of characters, there’s another one: douchebag amateur photographer from Stanford. Stay tuned.