Bloodline: Part One (S01E01)

I found myself in a bit of a strange situation, this evening: I’d completed Netflix. Which, ok, fine, not completely true: I have not, for example, subjected myself to a single Adam Sandler movie, but in terms of the stuff I knew I definitely, definitely wanted to watch? I was at a stage of complete catched-up-ness. Orange is the New Black, Better Call Saul, Rick and Morty, Stranger Things, Hannibal, Jessica Jones, Black Mirror, Community, The Thick Of It, The Expanse, Top of the Lake, Making a Murder, The People vs OJ Simpson, Luke Cage: these were the shows that Netflix got me invested in, and none of them have new episodes forthcoming (in some case, permanently; in others, there’s a short-to-long term wait). There’s some additional shows around the margins, of course: The Get Down and Master of None, I just couldn’t get into; Daredevil and Kimmy Schmidt both lost me halfway through their second seasons; I actively disliked Santa Clarita Diet, switching it off halfway through episode one. And yes, there are dozens of comedy specials and movies (including, just as an aside, the great Dig Two Graves and the unexpectedly entertaining Unfriended), but in terms of long-range narrative series I could sink my teeth into? Spent.

(Oh, there’s also House of Cards and Dear White People, but I’m watching both of those with my girlfriend, who’s away the moment. Last time one of us skipped ahead on a joint project, there were tears. And they were mine. And it was season one of Serial. Seriously, how are we still together after that breach of trust?)

So, casting about for something to do that wasn’t just rewatch episodes of Rick and Morty or my perennial fallback of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (which, I’m sure we can agree, doesn’t meet the standard criteria of long-form narrative), I stumbled upon Bloodline, which I believe I’ve heard is not being picked up for another series. Perfect: until I caught up with Netflix, seeing just-cancelled shows was my modus operandi. See also: Hannibal. See also: Breaking Bad. See also: Boardwalk Empire. It reassures me to know a TV series has a definite end in sight, an arc – it means the creators don’t end up spinning their wheels in an effort to keep the gravy train rolling. See: Lost.

All of which pre-amble is to say: I had no investment in Bloodline. I knew Kyle Chandler played the lead in it, and while not being his number one fan, I regard him as a solid, non-offensive presence on-screen. He’s reassuring, like a custom-built oak chair from a respected neighbourhood carpenter. So I flick it on, and become steadily more impressed as the credits roll. Ben Mendelsohn, one of my favourite character actors from Animal Kingdom and Killing Them Softly and The Place Beyond the Pines and all number of wonderful things. And Linda Cardellini, who I never really got over since being dazzled by her smile in the opening credits of Freaks and Geeks. And fuck – Sissy Spacek and Sam Shepard, two very respectable older character actors. And, er, Jamie McShane? As in, son of Ian McShane!? Oh, no, he’s not… well, turns out he’s also had small-to-medium parts in Gone Girl and Argo and Nightcrawler, and I enjoyed all those movies, so sure, why not? Jamie McShane’s in it too.

The aforementioned Chandler plays John, county sheriff and favourite son of the south Floridian Rayburn clan. His parents Sally and Robert (Spacek and Shepard) run a popular beachside hotel; his younger brother Ray (Norbert Leo Butz*) and sister Meg (Cardellini) are locals, of some variety; his older brother Danny (Mendelsohn) is the troublemaking family black sheep, come back home to celebrate the annual Rayburn reunion. ‘Part 1’ does a solid job of laying out the strained familial relations, though the dishing out of certain characteristics to certain genders is a bit predictable: Sally and Meg are the supportive womenfolk most keen to stick up for Danny, while Kevin and Robert are the practically-minded patriarchy with memories of disappointments past.

As a peace-keeping lawman, John is called upon to make most of the important decisions this episode: Danny, angling to stick around, asks him to speak to their father on his behalf, and when Robert, with Solomon-like wisdom, defers the decision to the remaining siblings, John has the deciding vote between the forgiving Meg and the stubborn Kevin. At first, John favours Danny staying – he hints to Kevin that he and Danny have a long, unknown history – but after big bro disgraces himself one too many times, upsetting even his doting mother in the process, John opts to put him on the next bus out of town (though not without sneakily laying the blame at Robert’s door).

I was enjoying this slow burn of simmering family resentments and tangled relationships, so I felt a bit let down by the overly dramatic flashforwards of John dragging an unconscious Danny through a storm-drenched bayou. ‘Chill, Netflix,’ I said, out loud, on my own. ‘You’ve already got me involved. You don’t need to tease me on with this sensationalist foreshadowing.’ The idea that John would end up being his brother’s keeper was already subtextually evident – why tip the hand this early?

Of course, I was wrong, in exactly the way Netflix wanted me to be, and the episode ends on an explosive cliffhanger that throws John’s steadfast image off-kilter. I’m pretty sure I’m into Bloodline for the long haul now, giving Netflix another good stretch of time to prepare more margin-area shows for me to trawl through.

*How does someone with a name like Norbert Butz get this high-profile a job? Seriously?

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