We’re not bad people, but we did a bad thing.
This was the tag line of season one of the Florida Keys’-based Netflix drama, Bloodline ,and it was a line repeated throughout the series by its most righteous and steadfast character, John Rayburn (Kyle Chandler). It was a notion that seemed both obvious and mysterious at first. The Rayburns, a nice, seemingly normal family who run a beachside Inn in the idyllic Florida Keys, weren’t bad people; well, most of them.
The catalyst for the opening season was the return of the one bad person of the Rayburn clan, the drug-running, niece-threatening, cigarette-inhaling black sheep son Danny (Ben Mendelsohn). As season one progresses, the assertion that the Rayburns, which include John, sister Meg (Linda Cardellini), and youngest brother Kevin (Norbert Leo Butz) did a bad thing becomes obvious, even as their assertion that they are not bad people began to look more like hopeful justification. Especially after — if you haven’t watched season one you should stop reading now — John lies to the feds, helps his brother move cocaine, and unceremoniously drowns him for fear of the truth coming out.
So yeah, the whole not bad people thing began on shaky ground as the series second year began, but it still wasn’t impossible to see from where John and the rest of the family were coming. Danny was a cancerous influence on the family, and wasn’t going to go down without bringing his loved ones with him. All John did was blow up an already sinking boat. As is often the case, however, the cover-up becomes worse and more morally compromising than the crime.
Season one was about the return of the black sheep brother and the story of how he became the family pariah; season two is about the rest of the Rayburns shedding their white wool and slowly assuming the role Danny left behind, to disastrous results.
One thing that was abundantly clear going into season two, especially with the departure of Ben Mendelson as Danny, was that Bloodline is, and will for the rest of its run, be Kyle Chandler’s show. Season one was most fascinating during the moments in which Mendelson and Chandler shared the screen. Playing brothers, two sides of the same coin, they were there to show us just how different life can turn out, and how fate can be determined by a few essential moments. This season, Chandler’s on his own — although he’s still frequently visited by visions of his dead brother — and that allows for him to become part of something much more interesting than good vs. bad.
To say that, throughout the arc of season two, John Rayburn “breaks bad” wouldn’t be inaccurate, and while this has quickly become a trope of television drama, it doesn’t take away from the fact that his transformation is as excruciating as it is strangely understandable. John tries desperately to remain what he has always been — the steady force of reason in a family quickly coming apart at the seams — but to do so he must also slowly sacrifice his own dignity. He even begins to smoke and drink in a distinct Danny-like fashion, clearly unable to exorcise the demons that come with murdering one’s brother.
Considering all this pressure John faces, the fact that showrunners Glenn Kessler, Todd A. Kessler, and Daniel Zelman have him enter the political race for the town’s Sheriff is questionable at best. While a sheriff’s race is certainly not on par with a presidential campaign in terms of stolen privacy, I would argue that the first thing to do after murdering your brother is to try to stay out of the public eye as best you can. The writer’s eventually find a way to justify such a risk, but in the end it feels like a sloppy way to put more pressure on John than anything else.
As was the case in season one, Meg and Kevin’s respective storylines seem far less essential to the story than that of the eldest Rayburn child. Kevin, ever the what-the-hell-are-you-thinking character of the series, seems so expendable that a surprise reveal halfway through the season that he’s not killed by drug dealers is tad disappointing. This may seem cruel, but this is a man who actually says the line, “Frosty here, you still want snow?” to a prospective cocaine buyer, so he had it coming.
While Ben Mendelson’s Danny was the most prominent departure from the story, his friend and former business partner Ozzy Delvecchio, played by the fantastically explosive John Leguizamo, is without a doubt the best addition. Delvecchio comes to town alongside Danny’s estranged ex-girlfriend Evangeline (Andrea Riseborough) who’s in pursuit of her and Danny’s son Nolan (Owen Teague), who first appeared on the scene at the end of last season.
As if the Rayburns needed more drama within their small, formerly quaint way of life, the trio only puts further pressure on the situation. Nolan becomes the walking, talking, smoking reminder of the brother they conspired to kill, while Evangeline, and more fiercely Ozzy, try to use the family’s fracturing façade to get hands on some quick dough. While Danny was effective in his form of quiet intimidation, Ozzy’s terrifying simply because he seems poised to become unhinged at any moment, a testament to Leguizamo’s brimming electricity.
Ultimately, season two was a story of unraveling for John, Meg, Danny, and the rest of the Rayburn family. Each instance it seemed they may have finally wrangled together their story, each time luck seemed on their side, each time they seemed poised to move on from Danny’s murder unscathed, some little leak or turn of the screw throws them headlong back into crisis management. The toll of these lies and constant panic begins to show on all involved, with each Rayburn turning from righteous do-gooder to reflexive, sometimes downright cruel, narcissist, with their goals turning from doing what’s right for the family to simply not getting caught.
The second season ends with these factions as frayed as ever, most notably John, who seems to have become more like Danny than he could’ve ever imagined. It’s fitting that his final scene is shared with his deceased brother, as the two ride out of The Keys with a mix of fear of the future and just a little bit of relief that perhaps running away will be better for John than trying to fix what’s clearly broken. Considering this ending, a third season, at least, is essential to getting the full picture of the Rayburn clan, but if this year was any indication, things will only go down from here.