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Bloodline mechanically meanders through plot in season two’s penultimate episode

Illustration for article titled Bloodline mechanically meanders through plot in season two’s penultimate episode

Every once in awhile, Bloodline does an episode that amounts to a lot of the characters talking about the same shit over and over and over. “Part 22,” the penultimate episode of an uneven but largely impressive second season, should propel us into the finale with a sense of urgency, with meaning and—if not necessarily with literal action—then with the kind of compelling character moments that really hook. Bloodline has turned up short on those moments in a few episodes of season two, and this is one of them. For most of “Part 22,” the characters are just one step behind one another, leading to a lot of filling in and catching up. At this point, as the audience, we have just about all of the pieces in our hands. Now, the characters are catching up. Bloodline was able to make this kind of dramatic irony work in season one because of the very high stakes of Danny’s death. It has been somewhat successful with this kind of storytelling in season two, especially when the character realizations unfurl in well written, layered scenes. Unfortunately, in “Part 22,” the character realizations happen more like clockwork and don’t have that underlying emotional depth to them.

Marco accuses Meg of lying, gets information out of Eric, goes to Aguirre about Eric’s immunity deal request, and puts more pressure on John, but it all feels hollow, mechanical, like routine police work. The initial altercation between Marco and Meg should be much fuller, much more gripping, but it isn’t. Despite all the great character work that has been done with Meg this season, in “Part 22,” she doesn’t seem to add much to the story. In fact, I can’t even really tell if the writers understand who Meg is and what she wants. It’s incredibly unclear, and like Marco, she’s just an agent of the overarching plot in this episode. I’m not even convinced by her desire to protect Marco. She tells John that she doesn’t want him to turn Marco in to Internal Affairs because he has never done anything to hurt her, but is Meg really the kind of person to ignore a victim like Pamela Ortiz in all of this? The Gilbert storyline definitely shows the dark depths Meg is willing to sink to in order to protect herself and her family, but her seemingly apathetic attitude toward the fact that Marco covered up a domestic abuse case is puzzling. It just doesn’t add up, and her apathy doesn’t have a larger significance in the context of her character arc, so it just comes off as lazy writing. Meg floats through “Part 22” without a solid anchor to really ground her actions in. Sally drops the bomb that Gilbert is not to be trusted (duh), so Meg wavers on her willingness to take his money, feebly attempting to convince Kevin he maybe shouldn’t sell Gilbert the boatyard. Meg’s all over the place and not in a way that seems at all deliberate. It’s just convenient.

On the subject of Gilbert, as a villain, he’s more symbolic than anything else. He barely seems like a real person, just an outline of a Bad Guy with a lot of money and a knack for saying unambiguously shady shit with a blank expression. Gilbert sure is buying himself a controlling stake in the Rayburn family, first by funneling money into John’s campaign and now by taking over Kevin’s boatyard. That certainly is heading nowhere good, especially since Sally revealed the not-so-surprising information that Gilbert and Robert were not exactly pals. But the shitstorm inevitably on the horizon here is so obvious, so devoid of any of the nuanced and visceral character dynamics and emotions of the rest of the season’s conflict.

After all, we have Eric and Ozzy. Do we really need another shadowy behemoth of a baddy in the mix? Eric and Ozzy are easily more grounded and complex characters than Gilbert—especially the former—posing the kind of threat to John that’s much easier to get invested in. The contrast between Eric and Ozzy is definitely a significant part of “Part 22” and one of the most interesting character dynamics of the episode. Ozzy wants John to pay, because Ozzy hates the sense of entitlement in the Rayburn family and wants to profit off of their wrongdoings. For Eric, it’s much more personal. Eric doesn’t want anything other than justice and his own immunity. He isn’t in this for a huge payday in the same way Ozzy is. There’s something very genuinely heartfelt about his motivations. He lost a friend in all of this. He’s far from a hero, but he isn’t on some vindictive warpath either. Again, the flashbacks are some of the best scenes of the episode, and the one of Eric going back to the spot where he left Danny after he never shows up at his place is short, simple, but effective. It’s heartbreaking to watch him look for his friend, especially given what we know. More so than Ozzy, Eric comes to life with the kind of intricate characterization that makes the conflict on Bloodline more than just mere conflict. He’s a real human with real feelings, deeply embedded in the thematic and emotional fabrics of this show.

But “Part 22” has trouble bringing those human depths of the story to the surface. Meg finally tells John the truth about her involvement in the Aguirre leak and about Marco, too. These are things John already knows, and he acts as if he’s hearing it all for the first time, but the significance of that doesn’t really get teased out. John is disingenuous about just about everything these days, but there seems to be a disconnect between his increasingly sociopathic tendencies and the show’s narrative. What’s the point of it all, especially when John’s demise seems so inevitable? Even the flashback to young John and young Danny—while it’s a solid standalone scene—is pretty detached from John’s arc in this episode.

John realizes at episode’s end that Eric really does hold the key to cracking his alibi wide open. Again, it’s information we already pretty much know since we already knew Eric was with Danny before John arrived on the beach. And this doesn’t end up playing out like Diana’s confrontation, which was full of information we already knew but still punched me right in the gut because of the hurricane of emotions brought to the surface in how she comes to the realization and how John reacts to it. As it nears its final hour, Bloodline has become thoroughly plot-obsessed, undercutting the depths of its characters. John’s busy watching security cameras and giving Marco over to Internal Affairs and assuring Diana that everything is going to be alright, but there isn’t the same weight and psychological depth to all that as there has been in a lot of the previous episodes that have managed to deep-dive into John’s head. John warns Meg that Marco is trying to turn them against one another, and Rayburn infighting would certainly be a way to shake up the character dynamics and light a fire under the story, yet it never actually happens. “Part 22” feels like it’s going through the motions of tying all the season’s story threads together. But it’s missing the cohesive emotional elements that keep those threads from breaking.


Stray observations

  • I love that random bit between Diana and Janey about some addicting app. It’s random, but it made me realize just how infrequently these characters speak about normal things. Phrases like “this family is fucked up” and “there’s so much you don’t understand” get thrown around so repeatedly that there isn’t time for normal, undramatized dialogue. That can make the series feel heavy and contrived at times, so I wish there were more moments like this.
  • I also really like when lines are intentionally ambiguous, like when Diana first says “I’m glad he’s gone” about Nolan, but you can tell there’s a split second when John thinks she could be talking about Danny.
  • This show uses “fuck” and “fucking” so often that it mostly goes unnoticed, but there are two great uses of the expletive in this episode, because they come from characters not typically apt to defer to such language: Diana and Sally.
  • Sally trying to reconcile her guilt over Danny by essentially embarking on a Danny do-over with Nolan is a compelling part of the story, but it gets pushed to the sidelines. I would have liked to see more Nolan in this episode, since he’s a much stronger part of the season’s emotional narrative than, say, Gilbert and Kevin and the goddamn boatyard.
  • John’s friend Hank sure is handy.