Those familiar with the show often refer to the first season of the murky Netflix series Bloodline as a “slow burn,” and that’s a label that’s likely to stick with season two. A “slow burden” may be a more apt description. Bloodline‘s second season starts with a lie, then lets new lies get piled upon the original until nearly every character in the series is carrying the weight. That’s true of viewers, too.
Bloodline is a stressful series. It seems designed not to entertain, but to give viewers a panic attack. It’s a series that demands to be binged, not because the viewer wants to find out what’s next so much as not pushing through means living with these characters’ anxiety that much longer. The magic of Bloodline is its ability to divide our loyalties between wanting to see these characters get away with the lie and wanting them to see them unburden themselves with confession. Confession is good for the soul, they say, but here it would also mean the destruction of a family.
Season two of Bloodline picks up where the first season left off, with the death of Danny Rayburn (Ben Mendelsohn). While the first season built for 13 slow-burning hours toward John Rayburn’s (Kyle Chandler) inevitable murder of Danny, season two deals with the coverup. It feels like a 10-hour interrogation, as the police and various characters from Danny’s past return to point the finger at John and his brother, Kevin (Norbert Leo Butz) and sister Meg (Linda Cardellini) for the murder, and we wait for someone to snap under the pressure and confess.
What sweet relief that would offer. But Bloodline has no interest in offering us relief.
Season two shouldn’t work, because it lost the biggest selling point of the first season, Ben Mendelsohn’s oily and conniving Danny Rayburn, the rare television character who can disturb our energy. The Emmy-nominated Mendelsohn does return throughout the series in flashbacks, as his backstory is filled in with an ex-girlfriend (Andrea Riseborough) and a son, Nolan (Owen Teague), from back in Miami. Nolan — the spitting image of Danny — brings with him his father’s same bad energy, but like Danny, he’s also someone with whom we can’t help but to pull for.
Nolan — like every other member of the Rayburn family — is also carrying a secret, while Danny’s ex-girlfriend and her boyfriend (John Leguizamo) are up to no good, as they try to extort the Rayburns with information they possess about Danny’s past; the late Rayburn patriarch, Robert (Sam Shepard); and John’s role in the murder of Danny. The second season also sees John running for sheriff, a decision that compels the incumbent sheriff (Dexter‘s David Zayas) to look again into the murder of Danny. He pressures John’s partner, Marco (Enrique Murciano) into casting a shadow of blame on John, and while the move is politically motivated, it has the unintended effect of shaking some of the truth out. In Bloodline, there is nothing more dangerous than the truth.
Without Danny, the focus in season two shifts to Kyle Chandler’s John, who is no longer the good guy who made a bad decision. They say the coverup is always worse than the crime, and while it’s hard to argue there’s anything as bad as murder, self-preservation brings out the worst in John. He’s more temperamental, more prone to violence, and as the investigation into Danny’s murder closes in on John, he begins to make decisions that are less about the good of his family and more about saving his own butt. John evolves from tragic hero into anti-hero, often channeling Danny into his decision-making process.
Meanwhile, without Danny, Kevin becomes the family’s de facto f*ck-up, as his lies drive him deeper into his substance abuse and consequently, a series of mistakes that threaten to unravel the lies. Meg, meanwhile, is called back from New York to both help the family continue the coverup and run John’s campaign for sheriff. The fact that she cheated on ex-boyfriend Marco — the officer investigating Danny’s murder — also comes back to bite her in the ass.
As with its first season, Bloodline thrives on its performances. Mendelsohn’s regular presence is missed, but Chandler ably picks up the slack, as the morally superior golden boy who’s now deep in a muck of his own making. Teague is a capable stand-in for Mendelsohn, while veteran actors like Sissy Spacek, John Leguizamo and Chloë Sevigny provide solid support for Enrique Murciano and Jamie McShane, whose roles are beefed up for season two. The writing is not as sharp as in the first season — too many characters are undone by their own dumb decisions — but it maintains its novelistic feel, no doubt thanks in part to consulting producer Dennis Lehane, who knows his way around suspenseful crime drama.
Ultimately, season two — like the second season of Damages, also from Daniel Zelman, and Todd and Glenn Kessler — doesn’t quite live up to the near perfection of its first season. But a small drop-off doesn’t mean Bloodline has slipped from the top tier of television dramas. However, I must caution viewers that the end of season two — while it doesn’t undo a solid 10 episodes of work — is nevertheless infuriating for reasons that I don’t dare divulge except to say that, if Netflix doesn’t pony up for a third season, the streaming service may find itself in a riot situation with the small, but devoted following of the Rayburns.