Danny Rayburn haunts the second season of Bloodline, which starts streaming on Netflix on Friday. Also haunting the second season: pacing, narrative coherence, and the specters of past thrillers both cinematic and literary. If you were hooked by the first-season saga of the Florida Keys-based Rayburn family and the way they dealt with black-sheep brother Danny (a marvelously broody Ben Mendelsohn), you’ll have to muster all your fascination and a case of Red Bull to remain transfixed by the new developments. That said, the show yields numerous pleasures in the areas of acting and atmosphere. Spoiler-neurotics, I’ll say it up front: if you haven’t finished watching season one — well, too bad for you.
The new season is all about the fall-out of the first season’s climactic killing of Danny by brother John (Kyle Chandler), and the cover-up of that crime by their siblings Meg (Linda Cardellini) and Kevin (Norbert Leo Butz). You have probably heard that Mendelsohn was signed to return to the show, so you won’t be surprised when I say he remains in the forefront of John’s thoughts, as well as those of Meg, Kevin, Danny’s son Nolan (Owen Teague), and a few other characters who can’t shake Danny’s all-powerful, bad-vibe mojo.
Which only underscores a problem in the new season: Danny was the most compelling figure in season one, and there’s no one to serve that function in season two. Yes, John Leguizamo appears as a malevolent hothead named Ozzy to pose new threats. And look for the arrival of Beau Bridges as someone involved in local politics. But in the current season, all the drama that Danny carried with him like a storm-cloud constantly over his head has shifted permanently to John.
Kyle Chandler’s performance here — in assuming the weight of responsibility, guilt, and a complexly agitated mental state — is exceedingly fine. As Bloodline moves ever more deeply into noir territory, it reminds you of earlier, often better examples of the genre, such as the 1975 Arthur Penn film Night Moves, and especially the novels about doomed protagonists in the thriller works of James Crumley and John D. MacDonald. (Show creators Todd A. Kessler, Glenn Kessler, and Daniel Zelman have always attempted to achieve the kind of rich exploration of the emotional and physical crimes committed within families that is the hallmark of Ross Macdonald’s sun-bright, sin-dark Lew Archer private-eye novels, to little avail.)
There’s a sense in which the entire season is a coda to the final moments of the first season. Sissy Spacek is back as Sally, the mother of all these screw-ups. But she’s too sparingly used, and the idea of the Rayburns as a powerful, Kennedy-esque dynasty of power-players is severely undercut in season two — heck, it’s all Sally can do to get a shower fixed in Bungalow #3, let alone preside over her family like a proud matriarch.
“All I do is I lie. I lie and I lie and I’m f—ing sick of it,” says Meg at one point. The same line might have come from the mouth of John or Kevin as well. And that’s another problem — there are too many similarities to the kinds of trouble the characters are in, contributing to the feeling of going over the same ground, only with different faces expressing similar sentiments. The final episode contains clues and answers to mysteries that, when the season ends and you think about it, could easily have been introduced in the first or second episode without any diminishment of suspense — indeed, would probably have resulted in a pleasing increase in suspense.
As a languid mood piece, Bloodline is one pleasantly decadent binge. And as I said, Chandler and Cardellini are particularly effective, although I’m now really ready to see Chandler take a role that permits him to grin once in a while and act like an amiable goofball. Because there’s certainly no monkeying around on Bloodline: Everyone has his or her grim game-face on, waiting for the hockey puck of doom to knock their teeth out.
Bloodline season two starts streaming Friday on Netflix.