Editor’s Note: This preview is based on the first four episodes of Season 2 and contains spoilers for Season 1.
The first season of the Florida Keys noir Bloodline could have been a great movie, blessed with terrific performances; a sun-kissed, dirt-splattered mystery setting; and about two to three hours’ worth of plot. The mystery of how black-sheep Danny (Ben Mendelsohn) ended up dead in his cop brother John’s (Kyle Chandler) arms barely justified the 13 hours leading up to the reveal. Story lines that might take up half an hour on a different, better show were stretched to handsomely shot but sludgily paced, hourlong installments. It was arguably a season that could only work on Netflix, where showrunners might presume that viewers would stick with, or even binge on, a series simply because they’d started it.
If Bloodline was scarcely moving before, it’s running on fumes at the start of Season 2. Like so many new dramas with a single hook, it had just enough material for one season (or not even that). And so the 10-episode follow-up season begins with the entirely unsurprising consequences of the adult Rayburn siblings — John, responsible Meg (Linda Cardellini), and flailing youngest Kevin (Norbert Leo Butz) — killing Danny and/or covering up Danny’s murder. They’re sad. They’re guilty. They’ve gotta blame the local crime lord, Wayne Lowry (Glenn Morshower), for the death of their brother. Mendelsohn returns in spurts to taunt John in shame hallucinations, because TV shows don’t like to lose their best actor after the first season. But those forced additions feel about as necessary to the proceedings as pearls on a ’possum.
John killed Danny in large part to preserve the family name, and it’s that same name that he runs on to become town sheriff. That makes thematic sense, since one of the chief engines driving the show is the Rayburns’ sinking realization that they aren’t the beaming beacons of the community that they’d thought they were. But there’s no character logic in this new development: John seems much smarter than to invite public scrutiny on himself and his family — especially after the recent killing of his drug-dealing brother — by campaigning for office. It’s an overripe source of artificial tension, its falseness heightened by the fact that none of the characters have yet evolved past archetype.
In contrast to the chillingly cool John, Meg and Kevin spin out in their respective worlds — the attorney in the Manhattan corporate world she’d escaped to after Danny’s death and the failing small-business owner in a series of coke hazes. Danny, meanwhile, continues to destroy his family from the grave. His legacy consists of the bratty spawn (Owen Teague) who turned up at John’s door in the Season 1 finale, as well as the evidentiary ties between the Rayburns’ hotel and the drug-trafficking Wayne. At his usual molasses speed, John attempts to sever those connections, as Mama Rayburn (Sissy Spacek) begins to suspect something off about Danny’s death. John Leguizamo and Andrea Riseborough join the cast as two more of Danny’s associates who come to haunt the Rayburns in their old friend’s stead, but, at least in the first four episodes of the new season, they aren’t given the force to make an impact.
Structurally, Season 2 looks as if it’ll unfurl much as Justified did, with the law-enforcement protagonist trying (and failing) to free himself from the regional criminal ties that have encircled or embedded themselves in his family. When a smaller, more inconspicuous shark won’t do, a bigger one comes along with even sharper teeth. But Bloodline has none of the personality, tension, or careful plotting of the FX series. And a drama should do more than wallow.