So the only reason I’m bothering with Bloodline is because of Damages. They share creators in Todd and Glenn Kessler and Daniel Zelmen were the ones who made that show happen, and it’s still on my list of favorite television shows ever. And I’m quick to recommend it to like, everybody. But Bloodline isn’t Damages. It’s far more personal, focusing on the well-liked, well-known Rayburn family, pillars of their Florida Keys community, all members thrown by the return of brother Danny. There’s not a lot recommend the show on this conceit alone, a premise that’s been heard plenty of times before, and the “black sheep” brother is far more boring than Bloodline seems to think it is. Not to mention that the pilot episode doesn’t do much to make you want to keep clicking through to the remaining episodes until the final minutes.
Those final minutes are what made me click through to the rest of the episodes (which I can comfortably say are shaping up to be much more interesting than the first). There are obviously secrets abounding in the Rayburn clan (and every bit of promotional material will tell you the same thing), and part of the fun of watching is going to see those unravel. The pilot doesn’t’ give you much to work with, besides some vague flashforwards to John (Kyle Chandler) slogging through swampy waters with an unconscious Danny (Ben Mendelsohn) on his back. Where John’s taking him, what happened to Danny, are the obvious questions and those are answered as the episode ends. John’s the one who knocked Danny unconscious, or at least I assume so, since it’s also John who dumps his brother into a boat, douses it in gasoline and blows it up.
In Damages fashion, we’re going to see how John gets to this point with his brother, which he says in his voiceover is the combined effort of him and his siblings. They aren’t bad people, he’s quick to point out, but they did a bad thing. Because yeah killing your brother is a pretty bad thing. Danny’s role in the Rayburn family is quickly established. He’s the ne’er do well one who rarely works and only turns up to ask for cash, has friends on parole, does casual drugs and ends up naked on the docks in front of their parents’ friends. So he’s far from reliable and very annoying but how his siblings jump to murder is what we’re going to have to wait to see. The Danny we meet in the pilot only hints at some shady underpinnings. He takes some pleasure in seeing his siblings uncomfortable, enjoying their discomfort when he picks up the mic to make a speech at his parents’ dinner and telling his sister-in-law a disturbing story about the woman who wanted him to hit her. And he engages in an argument with them about his date sitting with the family, a woman who talks too much and he never even mentions again once the event is concluded.
Danny floats the suggestion of making his return more permanent, an idea John takes to their father who puts the choice off on his other three children and says he’ll “live with” their decision. The other three Rayburns aren’t as well-defined as Danny and John in the first hour. John’s the most obvious opposite of his oldest brother. The only thing we’ve got about Meg (Linda Cardellini) is that she’s cheating on her boyfriend (perhaps fiance) and generally prefers to keep things moving, immediately acquiescing to Danny’s request to have his girlfriend sit with them rather than argue like youngest kid Kevin (Norbert Leo Butz) who really hates Danny and has a temper problem he needs to handle.
Even less explained are the Rayburn parents. Robert (Sam Shepard) and Sally (Sissy Spacek) are ciphers. Their most defining character traits are their respective opinions of their children. Robert seems to love his other three, maybe a little, but he’s indifferent to Danny. Sally on the other hand loves them all, Danny perhaps the most, and she’s the one reason anyone can find for keeping Danny around. His absence is painful for her, but even she gives up on him.
Outside the family drama is a dead body discovered in the swamp. It has absolutely nothing to do with anything else in the pilot, besides the fact that John’s the one who finds her and is now going to be investigating her death. The dead woman appears and promptly disappears from the pilot’s narrative completely, even with John declaring her death is going to make this night particularly long. The dead girl feels thrown in just to make for something somewhat interesting in an otherwise run of the mill family drama, and the dead girl trope is one that’s better off being left elsewhere anyway.
- I’m already very annoyed by John’s voiceover. Maybe because it just sounds very much like bullshit.
- Mia Kirshner turns up in scenes with Danny as some woman. She’s not real, or at least doesn’t seem to be. Considering Danny”s tendency to use, that’s not surprising. But maybe she’s part of the secrets the Rayburns are hiding.