'Bloodline' season 1 in review: 'We're not bad people, but we did a bad thing'
It's been almost three months since "Bloodline" debuted on Netflix. In a traditional distribution model, the show's first season would be wrapping up right around now. In the world of the binge, most of the people who cared about that show finished it within a week or two of its release.
I took my time, not because I'm opposed to a good binge (I zipped through "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt," which debuted only the week before), nor because I felt like "Bloodline" was something worth savoring. Rather, I felt so lukewarm about the three episodes Netflix made available to critics prior to its premiere that I was in no hurry to watch the rest. There was enough there — a great cast, a strong sense of place, a rich atmosphere — that I was willing to see where it was going, but only in those occasional gaps in my schedule where there weren't 50 other things I'd rather be watching.
Three episodes in, I was worried the Kessler brothers and Daniel Zelman were going to lean too much on the narrative bait-and-switches that eventually put me off of "Damages." It turned out, though, that "Bloodline" more or less played fair with its narrative. The flash-forwards weren't some kind of trick — John really did murder Danny and put him into an exploding boat (though it turned out Danny was already dead at the time) — and while it turned out that the narration was part of an elaborate lie John was spinning to ensure his promotion, the parts that we heard early on more or less lined up with events as they happened.
So that was ultimately a relief. Yet "Bloodline" ran into a different problem, and one you wouldn't necessarily expect from a show with a murderer's row cast like this: Ben Mendelsohn so thoroughly acted everyone else off the screen that it quickly became hard to pay attention to any scene he wasn't in. And we're talking about a show that features Kyle Chandler, Sissy Spacek, Sam Shephard (for a few episodes), Linda Cardellini, Norbert Leo Butz, Chloe Sevigny, and on and on. These people are no slouches, and they weren't exactly sleepwalking through their roles, either. But Mendelsohn was just that electric, and the stories not directly relating to Danny so bland in comparison, that it led to a wildly imbalanced show. When Danny was in the room, I couldn't look away from the screen; when he was absent, I was folding my laundry or cleaning my desk.
Of course, the whole season was about Danny's return and the way he brought up all these long-buried family secrets, so his dominance was partly by design. But everything about Meg's career and complicated love life, or Kevin trying to keep his business alive, was so lifeless that I wonder if there's any point to watching the second season. Obviously, the family is going to have to deal with the repercussions of John killing Danny, but without Mendelsohn there (other than perhaps in flashbacks, or as an apparition haunting John the way their late sister used to haunt Danny), it's hard to imagine it being worth the bother. The creators can bring in other irritants to the family, but even if they can find another actor to do what Mendelsohn did here, there's no other conflict (not even involving Danny's son) that can be nearly as primal or difficult for the Rayburns as the one they all had with Danny.
In the end, Mendelsohn was so great that I'm glad I made it to the end, but this one feels better-suited to the anthology miniseries model than as an ongoing.
For most of you, I'm sure this show is very far in the rearview mirror, but what did everybody else think?