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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Rayburns make everything worse in Bloodline’s season-two finale

Illustration for article titled The Rayburns make everything worse in Bloodline’s season-two finale

Another season of Bloodline has concluded and another Rayburn sibling has brutally murdered someone else. Hey, at least it wasn’t family this time! The biggest shock of the finale ends up being something much more muted than that brutal murder and comes from a much more grounded place. But I’ll get to that. This is Bloodline we’re talking about, so I’m going to take my damn time just like this show loves to do. Throughout these 10 episodes, I’ve been trying to figure out if season two wholly justifies its own existence. There are some magnificently acted parts throughout, and Bloodline has opened up its universe significantly, teasing out its initial themes of family and fate. But it doesn’t all click into place in the same way season one does. And some of the character arcs just don’t even make sense. One thing is for certain: Bloodline creators Todd A. Kessler, Glenn Kessler, and Daniel Zelman are gunning for a third season. This finale throws more shit on top of shit instead of providing any kind of tidy resolutions, and there are both emotional and plot-driven cliffhangers. Season two started out depicting a clean up, but the mess has only grown bigger.

One place where season two gets just about everything spectacularly right is with John Rayburn. Last season, John kind of just seemed like the good guy—the good brother, the good husband—who lost his way, getting so caught up in the muck of his Rayburn blood that it eventually pulled him into the darkness. Season two is both more explicit in its characterization of John and more complex. It isn’t so much that he’s a golden boy who lost his way; it’s more so that John Rayburn has become so defined by his golden boy identity that he’ll do whatever it takes to keep that image alive. “Anything to protect the Rayburn name,” Eric O’Bannon says, twice, gun to his head, the weight of his words tripling the second time. Danny was such an obvious villain in the family, an easy target to pin all their anger and guilt on. John’s a less obvious monster, driven by the noble traits of determination and ambition. But his pathological need to maintain his image as the Good Guy, the Good Brother, the Good Husband has corrupted him to the point of no return, and that’s the most evident it has ever been in this season finale. Any person out there still thinking that John is a good guy who went momentarily astray is fooling themselves. In fact, John seems to be the only person who believes that version of the story.

Throughout the season, we’ve seen a cool and collected John for the most part. As Kevin and Meg spiraled, he insisted that all they had to do was play it cool, be smart, follow his lead, and let him take care of this mess. Earlier in the season, he was pretty confident about it all working out for them and for him. Slowly, new developments chipped away at his cool and collected exterior. One of the biggest blows was Diana’s eventual realization that John killed Danny and her immediate confrontation of him. Diana pushes for more in the finale, wants to know how he did it. John doesn’t answer though. Because it still seems like John is practically unconvinced he killed Danny, delusional about the reality of his actions, and unwilling to face the consequences. John’s practically foaming at the mouth all episode as he spits ridiculous accusations at his siblings. All season has been building to the eventual fall out between John and his siblings, and it arrives in the form of a roadside meeting in this finale, starting with quiet, tense questions and ending with an all-out explosion from John. He sounds way more delusional and twisted than Danny ever did, as he tells Meg no one told her to move Danny’s body or to get Kevin involved in the cover-up and tries to pin his own actions on the two of them, who are far from saints but still definitely did not choose to become a part of John’s Sisyphean cover-up. John spins a version of this tale where Kevin and Meg both wanted Danny dead, and even if that were true, wanting it and making it happen are two very different things. Meg stares at him in disbelief and horror as he rattles off his manic monologue about how he has always been fixing their problems and how he’s the only responsible member of the family. John’s gone, and Meg and Kevin finally see it. And then John’s gone for real, riding out of the Keys and leaving his siblings to deal with this shit.

There have been glimmers of good in John along the way. He didn’t bend to Lowry’s demands. Even here in the finale, there’s a line he can’t cross: He can’t shoot Eric O’Bannon in the head. But especially in the case of the latter example, it doesn’t appear like John is having a real crisis of conscience. It looks more like John decides not to kill Eric because he knows he can’t really get away with it. It doesn’t solve his problems. John looks ready to pull that trigger, even as he hesitates, holding the loaded and cocked gun to Eric’s head for an excruciatingly long amount of time. Again, there are times when Bloodline’s slow pacing pays off, and this is one of them. It’s a fantastic scene, both Kyle Chandler and Jamie McShane putting their full energy and bodies into their performances so that the scene crackles and bursts. One thing I definitely did not anticipate about Bloodline’s second season was how pleasantly surprising Eric would be as a character. My own surprise is somewhat mirrored and reflected by the characters. Kevin, Meg, and John all can’t believe that Eric O’Bannon, of all people, is going to be the one to bring everything crashing down. In their minds, he’s just the screw-up best friend of their screw-up brother—a nobody, a low-life. I couldn’t believe that Eric O’Bannon, of all people, was who I was rooting for the most in this finale. Because ultimately, he isn’t that nobody, that low-life. He’s a real human being, and all season, he has appeared defeated and exhausted in a way that is particularly moving. He’s a bit of a tragic character, but he manages to survive the finale. McShane has really brought this character to life this season.

And then there’s season two’s other tragic character: Nolan. While Eve never quite becomes a fully realized character, Nolan has completely surpassed my initial impressions. I first thought he was just a cheap plot magic trick, a secret son who arrived to shock us all. But Nolan has quickly become one of the most compelling characters on this show. Season two has shown a lot of the worst parts of the Rayburns, with John in particular growing more insidious every episode. But as a stark contrast to John’s trajectory, as time has passed this season, Nolan has become more and more sympathetic. As the season peeled back layers to the character, he proved to be good, to be wholly misunderstood, not at all like his father and not at all like a Rayburn at all. He grew up outside of their influence, and it was for the best. He goes from threat to innocent kid over the course of the season, and it all truly comes together in this finale. Owen Teague has been giving an impressive performance episode after episode, mirroring just enough of Ben Mendelsohn’s physicality and energy to remind us of Danny, make us see the uncanny connection between them in the way that the characters do. But like the characters, I judged Nolan. I described his arson when it was first revealed as an act of Rayburn Rage. But that isn’t what it was at all. Nolan thought Danny would get insurance money if the place burned down. Sure, he was angry at his dad at the time, but it was an arson for love, not arson for revenge, and that’s significant. Nolan might be the only truly good Rayburn, and that irony is pretty great.

But these major moments in Nolan’s arc get kind of pushed to the side of the episode and don’t come to life in the same way John’s emotional journey does in the finale. It’s an especially odd choice to have Nolan’s huge emotional scene unfold between him and Diana—a character he has pretty much no relationship with and a character who wasn’t pulled into the main parts of Bloodline’s emotional narrative until very recently. The idea that Nolan blames himself for his father’s death is devastating and a fascinating character moment for the show to play with, and yet it gets cut short on a show that, if anything, tends to let character moments run overlong. It just doesn’t get quite the attention it deserves. The finale is steeped in all of Bloodline’s major themes, but not all of the characters’ arcs come together in a way that really pulls all the significance to the surface. Meg barely seems to have a place in any of it. Sally doesn’t add much either.


Oh, and Kevin murders Marco? That’s the most overtly shocking moment of the finale, bloody and sudden and played for gasps. Kevin’s arc this season has been the least cogent of the siblings though, so the huge character moment feels hollow and borderline silly. Sure, Kevin has been spiraling on and off all season, and he’s wildly insecure about his abilities as a future father. He makes brash decisions. That’s his thing. But beating his sister’s ex-fiancé to death with a dolphin figurine, his eyes devoid of any kind of emotion? It just doesn’t really add up. Season one thoroughly convinced me John Rayburn was capable of killing his own brother, but I’m less convinced by Kevin’s latest act of Rayburn Rage. When John kills Danny, it’s oddly intimate, close and personal just like the fight itself is. Kevin seems entirely detached from what he’s doing, like he’s just going through the motions, and it not only seems out of character but also disconnected from the intricate emotional fabric of the show. Two major characters have died this season—Lowry and Marco—and neither death has as much emotional weight to it as the deaths of Robert and Danny in season one. The first only really happened for the sake of plot and the second only happens…as a climax to the downward spiral Kevin has been on all season? Marco’s death should mean something other than shock value, and yet that’s all that really comes of it, especially since Marco’s arc has been the most uneven of them all this season, which has been razor sharp in isolated moments but not nearly as narratively tight as the first season. The show is still a fascinating character study of the Rayburn family, but some of the story’s most powerful and charged aspects—like Nolan—never really got their due.

Stray observations

  • Zelman directed the finale, and he does so expertly. In particular, I love the way the Danny hallucinations unfold. The shot that follows Marco’s feet on the beach is also great. Bloodline’s visual immersiveness is its saving grace a lot of the time.
  • I didn’t quite buy Robert telling Danny to choose between the restaurant and his son. It works from a writing perspective, since it further complicates Danny as a character and makes it clear how much he cared about Nolan. But it’s almost a too convenient way of accomplishing that. I know Robert was an asshole, but that seems like such a ridiculous question for him to ask Danny. I didn’t really get it.
  • As much as I like John Leguizamo’s performance, I figured out what bothers me about Ozzy: Every single one of his scenes is exactly the same, right down to his confrontation of Sally in this finale. Redundancy on Bloodline rarely pays off. And the thing about creating a character whose whole schtick is grating on other characters is that he eventually starts to grate on viewers, too.
  • What is Gilbert even doing in this finale? Answer: I don’t care.
  • Well, that’s all for season two of Bloodline, folks. Just as I was at the end of these reviews last season, I’m very ready for a cold beer and a little vacation away from the Florida Keys. I have a lot of unanswered questions, but I’m willing to let them breathe for a while. Netflix isn’t too shy when it comes to renewing its shows, so while there isn’t any official news yet, I think we’ll be seeing more of the Rayburn family in the future.