There’s a Danny Rayburn-shaped hole at the center of Bloodline Season 2, and even though the repercussions of the family’s actions against him continue to haunt them, it can’t make up for the loss. One of the boldest steps the show took when it first premiered was to show upfront that the season would end with Danny’s (Ben Mendelsohn) death. In a format honed by the creative team of Todd Kessler, Glenn Kessler, and Daniel Zelman (and used in their prior series Damages), viewers were teased with flashfowards throughout the season, with the finale finally putting the pieces together.
It’s a convention that soon wore out its welcome on Damages, though it never failed in creating an urgent, often frustrating mysteries even when the eventual revelations never quite lived up to the hype. And perhaps in a desire to avoid that from happening on Bloodline, Season 2 is devoid of flashforwards, and even uses its flashbacks sparingly.
The new story picks up immediately where the last one left off — with the arrival of a boy, Nolan, claiming to be Danny’s son. As quickly becomes clear to John (Kyle Chandler), Meg (Linda Cardellini), and Kevin (Norbert Leo Butz), eliminating Danny from their lives is not the end of anything. In fact, it brought on the sudden advent of not only Nolan, but his mother Eve (Andrea Riseborough), and his old partner in crime Ozzy (John Leguizamo), all of whom are looking — initially — to scam the family. John’s wife Diana (Jacinda Barrett) muses, “I didn’t think about it before, but of course he had a whole life outside of this family.” The Rayburns’ inward focus is now causing them a world of trouble, as the consequences of their actions continue to multiply.
There is still pressure as well from the Sheriff’s department, as Marco (Enrique Murciano) continues investigating the case thinking at first that he’s helping the Rayburns with his dogged pursuit. But his boss (David Zayas) also wants the case to stay open, despite John’s machinations to pin everything on local drug lieutenant Wayne Lowry (Glenn Morshower), because of John’s political campaign against him for Sheriff.
Even with all of this plotting, Bloodline Season 2 feels essentially like a 10 episode meditation on guilt, with characters desperate to not get caught while constantly looking over their shoulders. The lies and family secrets that defined the first season as also largely absent, save for a few revelations to viewers that serve to flesh out the character of Danny a little more. But ultimately, what does that really matter now?
John is, naturally, completely unravelling over the course of the new season (I did watch all 10 episodes before this review, mostly because I kept waiting to see if anything was going to happen), and the alliance he has with his siblings begins to falter as pressure mounts. Meg finds her way back to Islamorada from New York early on, as it’s always been clear that you can’t escape being a Rayburn. And while Kevin gets more of his own story than anyone this season, he’s mainly been moved into the position of being the new Danny, which doesn’t quite fit.
Bloodline’s singular focus on the guilt and fallout from the events of Season 1 doesn’t allow the series to expand in a way that feels, without Danny, very necessary. Though Season 2 does introduce a few new characters, they aren’t given time to develop or prove themselves to be of any consequence besides getting in John Rayburn’s way of covering up his crime. There are moments with Nolan and also the O’Bannon siblings (Chloe Sevigny and Jamie McShane) that beg for more consideration. Instead, we get far too much of John’s daughter Jane (Taylor Rouviere) who is relegated to the petulant teenager role (unfortunately mirrored by her mother, also caught in a trope), and absolutely nothing from their forgotten son Ben (Brandon Larracuente).
Without the convention of flashforwards or the setting up of any big event, Season 2 feels a lot like it’s just treading water. There are two ways for this to go: the siblings end up in jail, or they don’t. If they do, the show is over, and if they don’t, Bloodline needs to find something else for them to do besides sitting around, sweating, and mentally stewing in their own juices.
Though the plotting lets them down, the series’ actors continue to give the scenes everything they have. Danny’s mysterious and maddening presence leaves a huge gap that can’t be filled by anyone exactly, but there are a few scenes that stand out in particular where Chandler, Butz, and Sissy Spacek are able to convey such an incredible amount of nuance just in facial changes of countenance. In one particular episode where John loses his confidence, it’s incredible to see Chandler imbue his character with such an entirely new set of emotions. The same is true for Butz, and yet in both cases, their characters end up burying those things down deep, trying to stay a course that can’t be sustained.
Where Bloodline also hasn’t missed a beat is in its unique atmosphere, using its Florida Keys setting to full effect — you can feel the heat and the humidity, the breeze rolling off the water and through the palms, and the languid calm of ceiling fans constantly whirring. The score is extremely minimal, with most sounds wonderfully diegetic; there are TVs playing in the background, radios, the call of shore birds, the croak of frogs, the crunch of sand on pavement. It’s a world begging to be explored.
There are hints towards the end of the season that Bloodline is building up to a much bigger overall scheme involving people much richer and more powerful than the Rayburns, and who are involved in much darker machinations, but that seems to be expansion in the wrong direction. Bloodline hooked us with its family drama, and the cycle of trauma that defines this seemingly cursed family hiding behind a facade of privilege. It had power in its story of regular people who make bad decisions, and the consequences of that on ordinary lives in this extraordinary place. Season 2 ends with yet another bad decision that doesn’t set up a cliffhanger to propel us to Season 3 so much as try our patience, and one can’t help but wish for a Season 2 that had found new purpose and drive, instead of drifting, rudderless, in its otherwise darkly beautiful sea.
Rating: ★★★ Fine, but a little disappointing
Bloodline premieres Friday, May 27th on Netflix.