Eight episodes were provided prior to broadcast
It was clear from the very first episode of season 1, through a series of flash-forwards that revealed his tragic fate at the bottom of the ocean (which we later learn was the result of fratricide at the hands of his brother John, played by Kyle Chandler), that the arc of Danny Rayburn was to be limited to just the one season. He was the driving force of Bloodline, the character whose appearance at the Rayburns’ idyllic Florida Keys home set in motion a chain of events that would gradually expose the façade of that family’s harmonious public image. Portrayed by the brilliant Ben Mendelsohn, he was the one genuinely rounded character of the ensemble, and the one whose charisma and pathos was the only element of an otherwise fairly prosaic show that lived up to its prestige TV aspirations.
Inevitably, Danny’s ghost haunts the show’s second season – literally, in the sense that John is visited by visions of him whenever he’s feeling particularly guilty. “This is all about Danny, still,” says Meg (Linda Cardellini), one of the other siblings of the family who helped John cover up the murder. “He won’t go away.” And indeed he won’t. Mendelsohn continues to make appearances as Danny, not only as a figment of John’s imagination, but also via a series of flashbacks (that strategy remains one of Bloodline’s favorite narrative devices), and as a menacing disembodied voice on a tape recording that continues to pull his family’s strings. “I thought we wouldn’t still be dealing with this, John,” laments the fourth sibling, Kevin (Norbert Leo Butz). “We are always going to be dealing with it,” comes his brother’s ominous reply.
The siblings’ struggles to cope with the aftermath of their brother’s death forms the main drama at the start of season 2. Things pick up where season 1 left off, with John’s guilt being further fuelled by the sudden appearance of Danny’s unknown son. It’s a rather hacky twist at the outset, but one that is at least justified as the character is woven into the overall narrative and provides further insight into the hypocrisy of the Rayburn family.
John nevertheless emerges as the calmest, smoothest operator in sustaining the cover-up among the family, even opting to run for sheriff despite the unwanted attention that could invite. Kevin, previously the character with the least reservations about taking extreme measures to deal with the Danny problem, is hit hard by the guilt and develops a drug problem, and Meg spends her time struggling with her new job in New York (presented as an overwhelming concoction of noise and lights in stark contrast to the sleepy Florida setting), while actively avoiding coming home and confronting the dark memories now associated with it.
The other major consequence of Danny’s death is its implications for the world of crime that exists parallel to the surface-level serenity of the Florida Keys, a world that was explored in season 1. As the police attempt to find the gangsters that they believe are responsible for Danny’s death and their relations to trafficking rackets, and as the gangsters attempt to clean up the mess his death left them in, season 2 initially resembles a crime thriller rather than the family drama Bloodline started out as – albeit one where criminals wear sandals and shorts, and illicit meetings take place amid beaches and palm trees. The expected fallout in the family, especially involving a mother (Sissy Spacek) who remains in the dark about what happened to her son, takes a back seat as each sibling gets drawn more into the criminal world, and characters like Wayne Lowry’s (Glenn Morshower) drug lord come to the fore.
On one hand, this shift towards gangster territory does help Bloodline shake off the overbearing presence of Danny and find its feet following his departure, progressing its raison d’etre beyond him and revelations related to his family ties. The pace picks up too, which had been one of the main problems of a first season that often felt like a miniseries unnecessarily dragged out over thirteen hour-long episodes. But like so much of Bloodline, the realization of the show’s criminal elements often feels a little stale and unimaginative, with a reliance on cliches and yet more stock characters. Interpersonal relationships start to make way for plotting that becomes increasingly complicated, and some dialogue starts to drift into mere exposition.
With the closure of one major storyline from this crime-oriented aspect of the show at the end of episode 4, however, the show eventually reverts back to its origins. The pace again slackens and the characters still aren’t particularly interesting to watch – though at least they’ve by now benefited from many hours of storytelling enough to transcend the one-note designation they started out bearing. Again, dramatic tension is created through the withholding of and gradual reveal of secrets; only this time, unlike in season 1, we the audience are privy as to the details of the overarching intrigue.
Bloodline might not be the deeply meaningful prestige drama it wants to be, but watching the Rayburn family attempt to keep hidden all the secrets and lies constantly threatening to rise from beneath the surface, as they attempt to protect their business and reputation (and even, in John’s case, rise yet further up the social ladder), still makes for a diverting binge-watch.
Despite managing to adapt to the loss of its best character, Bloodline’s second season still relies too heavily on plot twists and the withholding of secrets to be anything more than a mediocre family saga.