TV: Bloodline (Season 2)

The first season of Bloodline was such a near-perfect mystery slow-burn that, upon its conclusion, I questioned whether it should even be extended. Indeed, its greatest flaw may have been its cliffhanger coda, which felt contrived to direct us into an additional, unnecessary chapters. As season two opens, my fears—that this was a case of the economics of series television trumping artistic vision—felt justified, another case of an outstanding standalone story being needlessly stretched. Gradually, however, season two won me over, and while stellar acting and immersive atmosphere are two obvious components of its success, it also benefits weirdly from a striking resonance with current events.

Bloodline is the chilling crime chronicle of the Rayburns, an upstanding, wealthy Florida Keys family whose stellar reputation conceals more than its fair share of closet skeletons. Season two opens in the aftermath of a shocking crime that is surely its most scandalous. Committed by Detective John Rayburn (Kyle Chandler), whose bottled-up exterior masks explosive rage, the as-yet-unsolved crime appears to be mostly behind them. But it also hangs over the heads of John’s siblings, attorney Megan (Linda Cardellini) and struggling boatyard entrepreneur Kevin (Norbert Leo Butz), who allowed themselves to become accessories after the fact. Wracked by guilt, Megan tries unsuccessfully to flee to a new life in New York City, while Kevin loses himself in addiction and risky schemes to save his business, threatening to embroil the family in new problems. Meanwhile, the flies begin to swarm around the family’s secret scandals, starting with the arrival of Nolan (Owen Teague), the trio’s unknown, ne’er-do-well nephew, whose appearance further illuminates the sketchy backstory of their black-sheep brother Danny (Ben Mendelsohn). But Nolan is just the tip of an iceberg, as conflicting interests gather around, working to leverage the Rayburn family name to their advantage.

Bloodline has always been a show that takes its sweet time getting where it’s going, and season two certainly continues in that vein. But at first, it does so without the slickly executed narrative strategy of flashing forwards and backwards around a single crime. As such the story lacks the first season’s urgency and momentum, as the guilty-conscience aftermath plot leads to a meandering pace and narrative stretches. But like the gathering storm of the opening credits, Bloodline quietly gathers its dark clouds before allowing them to break. New characters arrive to throw wrenches into the Rayburn family works, including an old friend of Danny’s (the ever-menacing John Leguizamo), Nolan’s gold-digging mother Eve (Andrea Riseborough), and angling political operative Roy Gilbert (Beau Bridges). But there are also loose ends that threaten to unravel John’s crime, particularly key witness Eric O’Bannon (Jamie McShane) and John’s police colleague Marco Diaz (Enrique Murciano), who is still investigating the case. It makes for an intriguing tangle of motives that ultimately pays off thematically. In season one, Danny was painted as the problem child of the Rayburn clan, but season two reminds us that really, all the Rayburns are problem children—drawing attention to the fact that in America, there’s not much difference between the criminals that fall afoul of the law and those who benefit from and enforce it. In this way, Bloodline does plenty to further its credibility as a strong thematic descendant of The Sopranos and The Shield (among other shows) in its commentary on the implicit infrastructure of American power.

In the era of Peak TV, with so much other great stuff out there to discover, a merely solid season of TV might not like sound like much. Had I watched these episodes a few months ago, I might have found it a less satisfying viewing experience. But the present American political landscape adds another interesting layer, because check it out: here’s a story about a powerful, politically connected family committing an inexcusable crime and working tirelessly to cover it up. Watching the Rayburn conspiracy threaten to tear its perpetrators to emotional shreds is uncommonly satisfying in the Trump era, for reasons that should be obvious. The Rayburns may not get their comeuppance in their second year of episodes, but there’s plenty of accomplished mystery storytelling here to motivate me to find out if they do in their third and final season.

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