I like to believe that we, as human beings, all have skeletons hiding in our closets. Big or small, these secrets are more or less present, festering in the dark reaches of our nexus while we hide them externally with smiles on our faces and an eagerness for what the future holds. I also like to believe that we try to do what we can to permanently wipe those concealed memories away, even if doing so is merely impossible considering the moral or emotional impact they carry. Reform is usually the general response, and we can change any aspect of our lives and feel as though we’ve been baptized again. Nevertheless, it’s only a matter of time before that particular life-changing moment lingers restlessly all over again, and our psyche regresses into a whirlwind of volatile human actions and human emotions.
This philosophy is the vehicle that vigorously drives Bloodline, a surprise hit spawned a year ago from the Netflix powers that be. In it’s freshman campaign, it delivered surprisingly by the power of the slow burn, introducing a much-respected family and using flashbacks and the peelings of a still-unsolved incident to slowly but surely strip away their integrity. The big payoff at the end was the death of the series’s original ring leader, a disturbing figure of collateral circumstance portrayed perfectly by the likes of Ben Mendelsohn. Not only was his character at the crux of everything this show represented and has built up to, but the death of Danny Rayburn sent cerebral shock waves to the groundwork laid in Season Two (at least so far it has). Luckily, the show subsequently established the rest of the Rayburn family as an essential ingredient to whatever level of success it may experience on the horizon, with Glenn and Todd A. Kessler creating a realistic, dynamic cast of fictional relatives who become more nuanced and interesting the more we learn about them.
I’m sure some of us (myself included) have become a bit unfamiliar with Bloodline‘s work, and the good news about that is Season Two’s premiere is never afraid to put its best elements to use. “Part 14” is a thorough demonstration of sharp, multi-faceted writing, fantastic acting, and an ever-increasing allure of drama and mystery.
Those still reeling from the lack of Mendelsohn as a series regular need not fret, as the premiere episode does a great job keeping him involved in the central storyline – even if it’s mostly spiritual. Some of the episode’s finest moments predictably occur when Danny’s presence is both seen and felt, as we got a chance to witness what truly happened at the motel he and Eric stayed in before his death, and were treated to another, more haunting flashback of a cassette tape recording he made just for Wane Lowry (which, you know, winds up becoming the exact type or recording the non-deceased Rayburns don’t need right now). Aesthetically, both scenes are treated to the same suspenseful music cues and progressions the first season excelled at, while using said audio tricks to sort of create a vibe fit just for Danny himself. In other words, it’s similar to when a Stark is on-screen in Game of Thrones and “Winterfell” starts playing in the background.
Even when he’s just being mentioned or referred to, the episode relies on its central characters to remind us how prodigious Danny was – and still is. This is where the writing, direction and script of “Part 14” truly get to shine. First of all: What a pleasure it is to have the Rayburns back! Seeing Kyle Chandler blatantly revert to passive-aggressiveness as John, Linda Cardellini mask her troubles in tall glasses of wine as Meg, and Norbert Leo Rutz make a considerably grand, coke-induced ass of himself in front of a trusted friend/detective as Kevin all make me wish the wait for this series’s return was not as long as it turned out.
Even better is how each sibling and their encounters with fresh or familiar faces vary in relation to their take on handling Danny’s death. Finding out that John’s in the running for Town Sheriff parallel to the volatility of his investigation into Lowry’s organization screams of “How in the world will he handle all of this knowing he killed his own brother in cold blood?”, and the episode takes ample opportunity to address that without rubbing it in our faces. John’s dodging potential outcomes and suggestions from Marco, lying straight to Sally’s face (with her knowing that he’s lying straight to her face) and leading highly-encouraged police searches into Lowry’s home – all while holding onto this facial contortion that’s got uncertainty written all over it. Elsewhere, he’s simply freaking out, going to Kevin’s work to shake him around like a toy rattle and doing his best to keep Nolan (more on him later) a secret. Chandler plays it all off beautifully, making the character’s mood swings and spur-of-the-moment decision-making believable under all the terse calculating elsewhere. You can sense that his murdering Danny has deeply disrupted his emotional equilibrium, sending him on the brink of losing his mind and his cool – but underneath all of that still is the ability to use his traits as a police detective to think on his feet and remain one step ahead of everyone else who’s seemingly unaware of what really happened to big brother.
Kevin fumbling around his own feelings in front of Belle without giving away the intricacies of Danny’s death felt a bit too easy, but Rutz makes the younger brother’s overall tailspin a much more compelling watch than it has any right to be, displaying an intense uneasyness that’s shrowded in fear. In addition, the discovery that he kept a decent percentage of Danny’s hidden coke and is using it to calm himself down allows the character to potentially become this season’s wild card, which also makes me wonder if this will come back to bite both him and his boat business sooner rather than later.
In regards to Meg, the episode uses some killer cinematography to show us just how out of place she’s been in New York – while still showing her own little bit of emotional reeling in the wake of the family’s grand mistake. A surefire standout in “Part 14” is the dinner scene she chooses to attend as a favor for her boss. So many of her personal traits are on tap here, from the Florida-inspired drinking binge to the inescapable guilt that continues to surround her (like that moment she realizes the correlation between the restaurant’s name and her dead brother’s). But again: There were some truly immersive shots here, like the shot of the fishbowl at that Chinese restaurant and the toppling camera view from when she steps away from her boss and the douchebag clients to catch some air.
Just like with John and Kevin, Meg’s small crisis here is fresh and uncharted, yet falls directly in line with who they are individually – a testament to the Kesslers and their faithfulness to the history they’re aiming to both build and resurface within this family. Of course, it helps that Cardellini breathes life into her character the same way Rutz and Chandler do in their respective roles, but everything comes together by being both cohesive and faintly familiar to the nuances of previous episode scripts. As a result, John appears to be naturally regressing into insanity, while Kevin and Meg are responding to recent events in unexpected, yet totally feasible ways. And I love that the episode takes enough time off from its more substantial dialogue to remind us that they’re in a better place career-wise than they were a season ago; it provides a firm tabling of what will be the first things to go when the shit hits the fan.
Here’s a rapid-fire breakdown of the rest of this season premiere:
- I don’t know how I should feel about Nolan as Danny’s son yet. Although I do like that he carries many of his father’s attributes, the convenience of him showing up at the conclusion of Season One still bugs me a bit, and I’m curious as to what his play is supposed to be considering that he’s in league with Eric. Maybe it would have helped if he weren’t such a dick to John, who was nice enough to kindly tell him something along the lines of “Where the fuck did you come from and why did you decide to show up now of all times?”.
- The reveal in regards to Robert’s financial accounts opens up a lot of doors for the rest of the season, especially since it coincides with Nolan’s sudden appearance. I’m also immediately assuming that he wanted Danny gone last season because of his money-related ties to this Evangeline Radosevich that John can’t seem to find, although that has a huge chance winding up as nothing more than wishful thinking. (and I’m only saying that because she can simply turn out as just a code name or something). Nevertheless, it seems that Danny had a second family that his father knew about all this time, and Daddy-O refused to fill everyone else in for reasons currently unknown.
- Sissy Spacek is an absolute rock, and even though Sally is mostly relegated to camping in Lenny Potts’s ear there’s no denying the emotional weight she adds to the proceedings as the only immediate Rayburn member not involved in Danny’s death. And her dismissing herself from John and his bullshit was probably my favorite part of the episode.
- That conference call between the siblings re-introduces that same family plotting dynamic that helped the second half of last season soar, and I’m excited to see Meg come back home to join the fold once again – even if it’s only for a weekend.
Bloodline returns with an entirely new episodic structure, replacing the faint Reyburn flashbacks of last season, spiritually incorporating Ben Mendelsohn into the new season, and creating new obstacles for the family to overcome in the form of Wane Lowry and Danny’s son(?), Nolan. For a show that initially took about four or five episodes to truly take off, there’s a lot more table-setting here than you would expect, and that’s great because the momentum from last season is maintained while the mystery expands. Elsewhere, the season premiere continues to excel in its marriage of strong writing, directing, and acting, ensuring that the series can still compel even with one of its former pieces no longer the centerpiece.
+ Danny’s still a resounding presence to the Rayburns
+ Residual affects of Danny’s death on the family
+ Performances, performances, performances