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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Bloodline: “Part 12”

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Somewhere between the very fraught “Part 11” and this penultimate episode, Bloodline lost its steam. “Part 12” technically picks up right where the previous episode left off, with John and Diana interrogating Jane about exactly what happened on the boat with Danny. But the first half of the episode meanders in a way Bloodline can sometimes do when the pieces aren’t quite lined up yet. The emotional urgency doesn’t come until 30 minutes, when the show turns back into the high-stakes thriller/family drama hybrid seen last episode.

We knew the body found in the inn wasn’t going to be Danny’s. But creators Todd A. Kessler, Glenn Kessler, and Daniel Zelman—who collectively penned the episode—build suspense by really making us believe that John believes Danny is dead. Carl Franklin’s direction also lends to the believability of John’s assumption, with the cameras hovering close to John as he processes his brother’s death. Kyle Chandler does a lot of the heavy-lifting, and it’s unlikely that the weight of the scene would have come across without such a strong actor bringing the cascade of emotions to life. It doesn’t matter that we know Danny is alive—that he has to be because it isn’t quite yet time for him to die. But John believes it so viscerally that we’re right there with him, and the moment when he re-enters the kitchen to find Danny sitting there at the table with the rest of the family is Bloodline’s most bone-chilling reveal to date. Again, it’s not necessarily a reveal since we knew he survived the attack, but seeing him there, with Ben Mendelsohn’s perfectly creepy smile, after having just seen John thrash with his pangs of conscience, still reads as seeing a ghost.

“Part 12” finally brings Sally deeper into the main narrative, with Danny not only coming clean to her about the drugs but also finally telling her how he really feels about her and the whole family, through his outburst in the kitchen and also his written speech he never gave at the rope pull. For the first time, Danny says what he really means, makes it known that he never felt safe in the Rayburn home. Bloodline’s inciting action is Danny’s return home, but its foundational emotional throughline has always been Sarah’s death. Sarah’s death has become this massive tapestry that stretches out and touches each other the characters in completely different ways. The writers have shown us pieces of that tapestry episode-by-episode. Meg lives in Sarah’s shadow. Kevin directly and openly blames Danny for her death. Robert never forgave Danny. Sally blames herself. John, in turns, blames Danny and himself and feels unrelenting guilt about his role in the cover-up. The only thing that really unites them all is that no one fully recovered. Bloodline never tries to paint grief or loss in broad strokes. The long-term psychological impact of Sarah’s death is specific to each character, and over the course of this first season, we’ve watched them continue to process these feelings.

So while the first half of the episode plays out as a drawn-out game of Where’s Danny?, the confrontations that follow carry much more weight. The final scene between John and Danny is so perfectly shot, acted, and written that it matches Danny and Robert’s final interaction as Bloodline’s finest work. Here is another example of when the show’s setting—which I wrote about last review—provides the perfect backdrop for the dark drama that runs through Bloodline’s veins. The lapping waters and windswept mangroves starkly contrast the chaos and friction that reverberates between the brothers. And that same setting that was so beautiful one second turns ugly and messy the next, when John and Danny writhe in the muddied waters.

The writers surprised me by having Danny’s death happen here instead of saving it for the finale. It makes sense from a story perspective, as the aftermath of Danny’s death will likely force the Rayburns to make all sorts of crazy choices, and crazy choices are perfect finale fodder. But this was not the way I expected Danny to go. I knew Danny would die at the hands of his siblings, but I never anticipated he would die quite literally with John’s hands around his neck. John murdered him not out of a direct action of self-defense—even though he can probably convince himself that he did it to protect his family—but in cold blood. That being said, the extremity of John’s choice is not completely unearned. The slow-burn of Danny’s effect on John’s state of mind makes his actions believable. Every second since Danny arrived back has pushed John closer and closer to this point. Now, this finale will be a test case for how this show will function without one of its strongest characters.

Stray observations:

  • Hey, Meg, maybe don’t leave your door unlocked when shit is going down?
  • This is small, but I really liked Chloë Sevigny’s delivery of “needs gas.” Sevigny doesn’t get much screentime, but she always makes the most of it.
  • Bloodline has trained me to be suspicious of just about everything, so the second Danny picked up that conch, I knew something shady was afoot.
  • Meg trades in her light beers for some Jose Cuervo.
  • This is the second-to-last episode! You know what that means! Finale review drops tomorrow!