***Spoiler Warning: This post contains discussion of Bloodline through Season 2, Part 16. Spoilers***
Netflix’s first season of Bloodline was one of my favorite shows last year. Some people found the slow burn difficult at first, but by the series finale, most agreed it was an excellent, thrilling study on a dysfunctional family. With the climactic shocker of John Rayburn (Kyle Chandler) killing his older brother Danny (Ben Mendelsohn), we’ve had over a year to contemplate whether Chandler’s good guy John did what he had to do, or that maybe he wasn’t such a good guy after all. With Danny dubbed the black sheep since a childhood accident left their younger sister dead, John had taken his spot as the de facto elder son. Ostensibly, John was the one who always looked after his other siblings. While the rest of the family was happy to keep Danny estranged, John extended the olive branch and tried to welcome him back into the fold. Between patriarch Robert’s (Sam Shepard) unforgiving cruelty, Sally’s (Sissy Spacek) willful ignorance and the other “protective” siblings (Linda Cardellini’s Meg, Norbert Leo Butz’s Kevin) happy with their cushy lives, Danny never stood a chance. Mendelsohn’s incredible, magnetic onscreen presence; his uncanny ability to swing back and forth between pseudo (at times, perhaps truly) nice guy who wants nothing more but to be part of his family, and angry and vindictive, scheming to ruin the rest of their lives, put him at the top of nearly everyone’s Best Actor Emmy list. In fact, it was surprising when both he and Kyle Chandler submitted for Best Supporting Actor. Despite the powerful ensemble cast, it was these two men who carried the first season, and now that I’ve had a chance to get into the second, it couldn’t be more obvious that Chandler can’t carry that weight alone any more than his character can shoulder his family’s collective burdens. He’s trying his best to, I’ll give Coach that. With Mendelsohn appearing only sporadically (either in flashback or John’s mind), Meg and Kevin reduced to drinking, snorting caricatures, and Sally intermittently sashaying through a scene, as of Part 18, slog barely begins to cover it; getting through the second half is proving a chore. There’s no doubt the entire Rayburn family is rotten to its core, but it is interesting to observe John’s internal struggle play out. He so badly wants…needs everyone to see him as the righteous brother, going so far as to ask one of his own cops if he thinks John is a good guy, even while struggling to see it of himself. Chandler’s performance is the only reason to watch, though this Part 16 (S2, E3) scene between John and Sally — punctuated by Henry Rollins kickass Liar — may have been the Season 2 peak. Watching his face as John receives the motherly approval he seeks, “watching over his brother until the end,” and then his quiet “Love you, mom,” we’re aware of the mask everyone in this family wears. The whole damned bloodline is tainted, but until each member hits bottom, not a one of them can stand to believe it.
Bloodline is available on Netflix now.