Bloodline (TV Show)

Bloodline (Created by Glenn Kessler, Todd Kessler and Daniel Zelman)/2015-2017

Bloodline is a show about how resentment of past ills destroys families and lives. It centers on the Rayburn family, who we discover to have an external façade of happiness and success painted over a troubled past. The dark events of the past are mostly hidden from the outside, primarily due to the exclusion of the eldest son Danny, who we find is distrusted by all of his family apart from his mother (played by Sissy Spacek).

The show begins with the arrival of Danny in the small town in Florida where his family own a resort. Danny is played brilliantly by Ben Mendelsohn. Wow, what an actor. He executes the fine line between charm and manipulation with subtlety and depth. Very early in the show we find out two things about Danny: firstly, that he is the victim of an unfortunate past that has left him with pain and substance abuse problems; and secondly, eventually he will be murdered by siblings unable to mend the fractured family.

For me, the most interesting aspect of the show was the slow development of Danny’s character. The question hangs over the show whether Danny is a manipulative psychopath or the victim of prudish, conservative and judgmental siblings that do not want him around due to the embarrassment he brings to the family and will and able to push him into his work excesses. Is Danny all superficial charm, or is he just an easy-going guy  trying to make good after a failed past? This question and its eventual answer is the heart and soul of this show, and the revelation of the answer is done in a fashion which manages to defy a potential plummet into cliché.

In contrast to Danny is John Rayburn, played by Kyle Chandler. John comes across as the all-American good guy. He is a successful police officer, has a happy loving family, and seems to care for Danny much more than Danny’s other siblings Kevin and Meg. Eventually, however, we find out much of this concern is from guilt, and John, like his other siblings, is willing to sacrifice anyone if necessary. Through John, Bloodline explores whether family ties and concerns for others can remain strong in the face of overwhelming strain.

An exploration of personal responsibility plays a large role in Bloodline. As viewers we are made to reflect on if we should forgive people for present actions if we have inflicted great harm on them in the past. Can people be expected to act rationally and with care for others when they have been the victim of excessive childhood trauma? On the other hand, when is the point reached where we can say an individual is using the past to justify a sinister desire to hurt others and no longer deserves a free pass regardless of past.

Stylistically, Bloodline is impressive. The show weaves the present in with the future, without confusing the temporal flow of events. It manages to do this by slowing down time, darkening the camera filter, and using hypnotic music when expressing the future words of John. These scenes have a dreamlike quality, and pull the viewer into the emotions that John is meant to be feeling. They also manifest the deceptiveness of the Rayburn family, as we eventually discover that when John is speaking to us from the future, it is not in the form of a regretful confession of guilt but the words on a man trying to make sense of his ability to perform terrible acts yet continue to be the family and community leader.

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