I’m finally getting around to recapping Bloodline’s second season, and timed it at the right time. First, the show got picked up for Season 3! Wahoo! We avid fans will still have to wait until 2017 to watch. Still, better late than never! The episode count will be 10 instead of the 13. This count is likely less due to budget reasons. The reason the third season wasn’t a sure thing was that the tax credit the show took advantage of to film expired. I’m hoping the show finds a way to work around this issue and not sacrifice the story too much. I’m not too bummed about 10 episodes though as I’ve learned (through experience watching Parenthood & Friday Night Lights, which also had short seasons), that short seasons allow for tighter storytelling, and less fluff.
The other good news for Bloodline is the two acting, Emmy nominations! Both Kyle Chandler and Ben Mendelsohn got nominations for this season. I love both actors’ performances. While we see Ben less in Season Two, his presence is felt throughout the season, even when he’s not physically there. His acting was so strong in Season One that viewers can feel the gap with his character not being there in the day to day plot.
With that note, I’ll segway into my review (note, this review contains spoilers for both seasons).
The first season was all about Danny Rayburn (played by Mendelsohn). I recapped here why I enjoyed Ben’s performance and empathized with Danny despite his flaws. The second season picks up where the first season left off, when John (played by Chandler) killed Danny in blind rage. The last scene in the first season is Danny’s mysterious- and apparently, unknown- son visits John and his family. While Season One was all about Danny, season Two is all about John. Season Two shows John’s challenges in the aftermath of the murder. We see John transform from a law abiding, honest, and family-oriented man to a lying, conniving, man who will resort to unethical & violent means to protect his secret.
As much as I loved Chandler’s Coach Taylor in Friday Night Lights is how much I disliked his character John in Bloodline. This speaks volumes about Chandler’s stellar acting – his ability to make me completely forget about the moral Coach Taylor with his performance as shady John. I couldn’t justify John’s actions. Some people would say that Danny’s actions towards his family –blackmailing, placing drugs on family’s property, constant bullying- made it somewhat understandable why his brother, John, killed him. After all, John was trying to protect his family from Danny’s illegal and borderline violent behavior. However, I don’t agree with murder being the answer to dealing with Danny’s constant drama. The second John Rayburn lost me was when he didn’t tell Danny a hit man was after him. John watched as the hit man was going after Danny. Danny escaped the attack, but learned his brother knew. To me, when John decided murder was the answer, was when John lost my empathy, despite all the other stuff he did for Danny.
Therefore, I didn’t feel bad for John during season 2 when he had to face a wide variety of challenges. His attempts to frame Danny’s murder on Wayne Lowry backfire due to Danny’s giving Wayne a cassette that details John’s action the day Wayne’s hitman came (It appears Danny’s revenge on John more than actually caring Wayne wanted to kill him). Wayne blackmails John with this tape and uses it to get insider info from John on where cops would catch Wayne moving drugs. When John manages to gain the upper hand over Lowry, Kevin messed it up. Kevin used the drugs Danny stole from Wayne, and tries to apologize to Wayne. This then gives Wayne the upper hand.
Meanwhile, Marco is still not fully convinced that Wayne killed Danny. John decides to run for sheriff, hoping this position will stop any additional investigations into Danny’s death. At the same time, Danny’s old partner Ozzy (played by John Leguizamo) comes into town, trying to blackmail John. His old partner also starts raising suspicions in John’s wife mind on John’s involvement with Danny’s death.
Throughout these challenges, I found it a bit weird I wasn’t vested in the show hero’s success and I normally am. Despite my lack of empathy for John, I found watching his drama unfold interesting. Most of the reason had to do with Chandler’s performance rather than the given plotline itself. I can’t give enough praise to Chandler for drawing viewers’ into John’s thoughts and emotions just through his facial expressions. Chandler’s most intense, riveting scenes are when John’s wife confronts him about his shadiness and Danny’s death, and when John is debating whether to kill Eric O’Bannon (played by Jamie McShane). In the former scene, Chandler conveys his emotions with just a just a flinch, while in the latter scene, viewers feel John’s anguish and recognize John’s transition of emotions (from on the verge of killing to bringing himself down from the mania) through Chandler’s subtle eye movements. Those scenes alone warranted Chandler’s Emmy nomination.
While the central drama is John’s cover up efforts, another huge storyline centers on Danny’s son, Nolan. The show first presents Nolan as an antagonist to the Rayburn family. However, as we get to learn more about Nolan (through flashbacks and general plot unwinding), we not only learn to empathize with him, but get a different perspective on Danny. Viewers learn more about Danny’s money issue and the restaurant fire. If you didn’t sympathize with Danny in Season One, you would after Season 2. The flashback scene with Danny and his dad was particularly heartbreaking. Owen Teague, who plays Nolan, is just outstanding as Danny’s son. He not only physically resembled Ben Mendelsohn, but was able to mimic many of his mannerisms to the T. The spot on characterization allowed him to also play a younger Danny in flashback scenes. The fact that Teague was able to so closely play Danny’s son and convince viewers their family connection through behavior is why I think he deserved Emmy acknowledgment.
My other thoughts on season two are as follows:
- The showdown scene with Meg, Kevin, and John is the only time in Season Two I sympathize with John. Meg and Kevin decide they’ve had enough with covering for John, to which John points out he is always covering for them. I felt John’s anger and hurt at that time, and the loneliness when they drive off.
- Sometimes, Bloodline added too many conflicts within season two. While it made sense John would be dealing with the cops and Wayne Lowry, I didn’t see the point of adding Danny’s old partner and the multimillionaire who is funding John’s campaign out of salacious reasons of his own. These plotlines just convoluted Season 2.
- Both Kevin and Meg had strong storylines regarding the Danny murder fallout. However, like with John, I wish I could empathize with them more.
Overall, Season Two was most notable for the strong acting performances more so than the storylines themselves. The only exception is the Season Two finale, which ends on a dramatic note. John decides keep driving – to who knows where- after he doesn’t kill Eric O’Bannon. Meanwhile, Kevin, burdened by the weight of John’s secret, goes to tell Marco what happened. When Marco tells Kevin he knows Kevin was involved, Kevin murders Marco through bashing him with a statue. Meanwhile, Meg cries to her mom and is on the verge of spilling details to her.
I’m excited for Season Three, given this ending. My hopes with Season 3 are tighter focus on storytelling, and less additions of minor characters.