'Bloodline' Is Heading Toward a Slow, Aimless Death
Netflix's dark family drama was just renewed for a third season—should it be the show's last?
Warning: Light spoilers for the first two seasons of Bloodline ahead.
We live in an age of Slow TV. To be clear, I'm not talking about the Scandinavian livestream-as-broadcast-TV sensation that's captivated scores of viewers just by airing eight hours of burning firewood. The Slow TV I speak of is the dramatic micro-genre perfectly described by critic Matt Zoller Seitz in his review of HBO's gritty crime drama The Night Of, one of many shows that in Seitz's words, "[gives] each scene maximum space to breathe, often more than it needs." Slow TV treats extended monologues, flashbacks, and close-ups with the same reverence that Michael Bay treats explosions and fighting robots.
Slow TV might sound boring when described, but its execution has yielded as many hits as it has snore-worthy misses. Better Call Saul, American Crime Story: The People Vs. OJ Simpson, and House of Cards all proved the value in pumping the brakes and letting a moment of beautiful cinematography, an engrossing character study, or a particularly juicy scene linger just a bit longer than necessary.
At the other end of the Slow TV quality spectrum sits Bloodline. The Kyle Chandler–led Netflix family drama was renewed for a third season earlier this week. The renewal wasn't entirely surprising in light of the season two finale, which featured a murderous whopper of a cliffhanger that, if left unresolved, would make for an untidy conclusion.
The season's final moments, however, felt like a cannonball off the diving board after nine episodes of wading in the shallow end. Even though Bloodline's second season was only ten episodes, compared to the first's 13, it somehow felt twice as long. If the show's creators (brothers Todd and Glenn Kessler and Daniel Zelman, who previously helmed the brilliantly soapy Glenn Close legal thriller Damages) haven't started sketching out the show's final ending, they should.
The show centers on the wealthy, respected, resort-owning Rayburn family and the aftermath of—and, for the first season, lead-up to—police officer and second-oldest son John Rayburn (Kyle Chandler) murdering oldest son and family pariah Danny Rayburn (Ben Mendelsohn). To be sure, going into Bloodline with the awareness that Danny—played with pitch-perfect complexity by Mendelsohn, one of the finest working actors right now—kicks the bucket will not ruin whatever effectiveness the show's narrative might have on you as a viewer. Along with Chandler and Mendelsohn's performances, Bloodline's stronger moments are rooted in examining the not-so-perfect sides of a perfect family. Alcoholism, drug abuse, infidelity, dishonesty, financial problems, child abuse: Bloodline has it all, serving up an expansive buffet of dysfunctionality that not even your nearest Golden Corral could match.
Unfortunately, Bloodline's familial drama has so far turned out to be more famine than feast. Despite ending with a cliffhanger twist that would make Days of Our Lives scribes roll their eyes, Bloodline's first season set the stage for a more energized second outing—a season that wouldn't bear the weight of answering all the "Why?"s and "How?"s and would instead focus on "What's next?" Instead, Bloodline's second season was all smoulder and no passion, not unlike a boat on fire in the middle of the water.
The few intriguing narrative progressions—John's bid for county sheriff, youngest son Kevin Rayburn's battle with abuse and financial turmoil—were muddled by dull, Danny-centric flashbacks and hackneyed hallucinations plaguing a guilt-riddled John. A few first-season plots were unmemorably resolved (specifically, the fate of local drug lord Wayne Lowry); other threads, from the emergence of Danny's wayward teenage son Nolan to the exploits of small-town criminal Eric O'Bannon, proved ultimately directionless.
Not even fresh thespian blood in the form of the always-reliable Beau Bridges (who plays shadowy political ally Roy Gilbert) and John Leguizamo (as former Danny affiliate and gun-wielding tough Ozzy Delvecchio) could raise Bloodline's pulse above a resting heart rate. Despite all this wandering from the show's creative team, though, the brutally violent closing minutes of Bloodline's second season were plenty enough to suggest that there's more story to tell. Is that a good thing, though? What do future seasons of Bloodline have to offer its audience beyond more Rayburn family members who aren't bad people, but have nonetheless done bad things?
Perhaps Bloodline's true Achilles heel isn't the show itself, but how its audience has grown accustomed to consuming it. With the exception of the critically maligned teen sci-fi joint Between, Netflix's TV shows are typically delivered all at once to their viewers—a method that's undoubtedly changed how we watch TV, redefining the notion of "appointment television" as taking up an entire weekend rather than just once-a-week. If there's an expectation that viewers are going to take in ten hours of TV largely all at once, then the expectation is translated into a creative approach in which ten hours of TV can be used to tell one story, rather than viewing every episode as its own controlled narrative detonation.
So the binge-era model means there's room to breathe and take artistic risks—or, conversely, room to dawdle and meander, room to get lost in meaningless tangents and employ heavy-handed artifice. As it stands, Bloodline is—like the Rayburn family's sense of morals—utterly adrift, and although we have no way of knowing how many people actually watch it, if the show doesn't create the type of purpose that presenting an eventual endgame lends itself to, it could risk losing whatever viewership it has. "Let me tell you something," John Rayburn tells fellow cop Marco Diaz during an interrogation in the second season's eighth episode, "My family needs this to end now." So do we.
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