Reaching the end of Bloodline confirmed an earlier guess: this show would have been better off as a miniseries. Its first year is slick, elegantly structured, deeply engrossing, and came damn close to sticking a perfect landing. Everything that’s happened since has seemed far less sure-handed. Oh, it’s quite polished and diverting, and as always its acting is first-rate—for the right viewer, it’s definitely worth finishing. But the uniquely gripping mystique of that first year never quite returns.
This final season tracks the slow-motion disintegration of the powerful, charismatic Rayburn clan, a high-profile family in the Florida Keys who secretly built their empire on a foundation of deception and blood. In season one, the Rayburns’ lives started to unravel with the return of black sheep son Danny (Ben Mendelsohn), whose edgy personality and connection to a long-ago tragedy lifted the veil on the Rayburns. In the wake of Danny’s return, his siblings—upstanding cop John (Kyle Chandler), earnest lawyer Meg (Linda Cardellini), and ne’er-do-well entrepreneur Kevin (Norbert Leo Butz)— became embroiled in a conspiracy to keep their collective crimes hidden. Their efforts spiral out of control in season three, thanks primarily to the actions of Kevin, a selfish, impulsive loose cannon whose ambition leads him into hot water with organized crime. Kevin’s actions threaten to shine light on the others, who frantically attempt to work out an endgame that can save the family and restore normalcy to their lives. But as events unfold, it increasingly appears that is no going back.
Bloodline definitely loses its compelling mystique at the beginning of season two. The plots become looser and more rambly, and once the initial backstory is explained, the series loses much of its capacity to surprise. Even so, it’s possible to stay invested in a macabre, rubber-necking kind of way. Watching the wealthy, privileged prestige of the Rayburns slowly get ruined by their avarice and much-deserved guilt makes for occasionally satisfying “schadenfreude watching.” There’s also something to be said for the gradual, convincing way the series inverts your sympathies for the principals. Danny, the “villain” of season one, seems downright heroic by the finale, while the victimized siblings—who you’re almost rooting for, early on—get more and more reprehensible as their downfall approaches. This is particularly true in the case of John, as the show gets one last magnificent season-long performance out of Kyle Chandler. John’s veneer of toughness and integrity disintegrates spectacularly, thanks to Chandler’s deft portrayal. Indeed, one thing Bloodline does extremely well throughout is get deep inside the skin of its title family, using flashbacks, silences, reaction shots, and sheer production values to reveal the rot and corruption in its characters’ souls. Nowhere is this more successful than with John, whose man’s-man facade cracks to reveal the traumatized kid underneath it all. Also shining in the third season is Sissy Spacek as the family matriarch, Sally. Sally’s understated presence in earlier seasons is replaced by something entirely more formative and malevolent down the home stretch.
That said, I’m not entirely sure Bloodline always knew what it wanted to say, or how to say it. There’s a kludginess to the success of the third year. The first few episodes linger in the aftermath of yet another horrific Rayburn crime, and how it sends the family into a new panic spiral. Then, it surprises with a five-month time jump that introduces welcome new intrigue, as gap-time mysteries materialize to color the proceedings. But as the show wraps things up, the coherence is muddled by a bonkers, dream-sequence stretch of reachy metaphor that nearly derails the show before a calm, solid finale. Meanwhile, the show can’t entirely figure out what to do with rogue nephew Nolan (Owen Teague) or Danny’s loose-cannon friend Ozzie (John Leguizamo). Leguizamo seems particularly wasted here; he was brought in, perhaps, to replace Mendelsohn’s menace, which ultimately never dissipated anyway. In the end, Ozzie comes off like a gun on the mantlepiece that never gets fired. Also not helping is the disappearance of Meg, a perhaps-realistic story choice that also reeks of Hollywood scheduling conflicts—and sadly deprives the show of Linda Cardellini for the crucial wrap-up.
Ultimately, Bloodline may not end up in my TV Hall of Fame. There are a few to many blemishes and disappointments. But I’d give it a solid honorable mention for its spectacular first year, its impressive moody ambience, and the unforgettable performances of its exceptional cast, especially Chandler, Mendelsohn, Butz, Cardellini, and Spacek. It certainly always kept me engaged and gave me plenty to think about.