Bloodline: Part 1

"Sometimes you know something's coming. You can feel it. In the air. In your gut. And you don't sleep at night. The voice in your head is telling you something's going to go terribly wrong and there's nothing you can do to stop it. That's how I felt when my brother came home."

I've always been fascinated by stories about the dynamics of family. Maybe because there have been times where I felt I had a clear sense of who the people in my family were. Only to discover what most people discover, again and again throughout their lives: that there were things you never knew about them. Things that maybe changed the way you see them, or even the way you see yourself. I think it's why stories like The Godfather or Game of Thrones resonate so deeply with me. Bloodline is a story like that.

We are introduced to the Rayburns, a well-known and respected family living in the Florida Keys. The parents, Robert and Sally, built a prosperous tropical resort, where they catered to travelers and raised a family. John, their second son, is a local police detective with a wife and two kids. Meg, their daughter, is a successful attorney. The youngest son, Kevin, owns and runs a boatyard. They all help out their parents with the inn whenever they can.

As the series opens, the Rayburns are hosting a get-together with family and friends in celebration of the local pier that is being named after Robert and Sally in their honor. But amidst this happy occasion is a sense of dread, a foreboding feeling. Danny, the eldest son and black sheep of the Rayburn clan, is returning home. The whole family addresses this notion with vague uneasiness. Even Danny himself briefly considers turning around and heading right back to Miami.

We, of course, aren't given any clue as to why exactly the family is so on edge with Danny around. His erratic behavior is all we have to go on. As I said, Danny almost doesn't show up for the family get-together. He ignores John's phone calls and goes off to get high with his old buddy, Eric O'Bannon, a parolee. He then makes a sudden appearance at the party, and manages to be quite charming despite how nervous he makes his siblings and parents. We also discover that he's addicted to pain-killers, due to an unexplained shoulder injury, and that he's generally seen as a degenerate loser. Being played by Ben Mendelsohn, who just kind of naturally looks like he's up to no good, probably doesn't help matters.

Anyway, the big conflict in the episode comes when Danny tells John that he wants to come back to stay and help their parents with the family business. John does as he's asked and proposes the idea to Robert. Robert suddenly drops his folksy grandpa demeanor. He's venomously critical of Danny, and leaves the decision of whether he can stay or not up to John, Meg and Kevin. Kevin, like his father, believes Danny will just screw things up while everyone else pays the price. Meg is conciliatory and agrees to let him return. And though he seemed to be the one most disturbed by his return, John claims to genuinely want Danny in his life.

That is, until Danny gets wasted and manages to embarrass the family within 24 hours of being back home. On a fishing trip later that day, John tells Danny his father was against him coming back. Although, we know that it was John's decision in the end. This is when we see Danny's true self. He turns vindictive and resentful, and tells John that he's going to leave in the night. John takes him to the bus station and drives away in regret.

But that's not the end of the story, since it's revealed through flash-forwards that Danny is going to stick around and be a nuisance for the Rayburns. At first, it appeared that John is trying to desperately save an unconscious Danny during a rainstorm in the near future. However, the end of the episode reveals that he's not rescuing Danny. He's disposing of his body, dumping it on a boat and lighting it aflame. And, apparently, the whole family is involved somehow. Through narration, John makes it sound as if Danny gave them no choice. So there's obviously a lot more to this story.

Bloodline is brought to us by Todd A. Kessler, Glenn Kessler, and Daniel Zelman, the creative minds behind the FX series, Damages. That show's mix of psychological thrills and nonlinear storytelling can be found again here, though it is presented in a far different way. Their vivid, dreamlike style works brilliantly for this series, where the past and present are forever intertwined and everyone is haunted by old ghosts of memory. It's a story about how our actions have consequences that ripple and expand throughout our lives. It's about the stories we tell ourselves that end up shaping the people we are and the world around us, for better or worse.

Bits and Pieces:

* So much passive aggression.

* The Rayburn Hotel is located in the Islamorada of Monroe County, Florida. It makes for some oppressively gorgeous cinematography.

* Mia Kirshner appears in a couple of scenes as a girl from Danny's past. A childhood friend? An old flame? I mean, I've seen the series and already know, but those were the thoughts that came to my mind the first time around.

* The cast was one of this show's main draws for me. I appreciated it even more after watching the show, and realized the Rayburns all look like they could actually be related. That always amazes me.

* I've talked about narration before. Some movies and shows can use it to great effect, but it's mostly used as a simplistic form of exposition. Though not exactly striking, Kyle Chandler's narration as John more than fits the novelistic tone of the series. I especially like that, by the end, we realize that it's not so much a stream of conscience narration as it is a confession.

* Just to clarify, by no means am I comparing my own family to the Rayburns. For one thing, we are not nearly as tight-knit or well off. And what little drama there is to be found in my family doesn't hold a candle to the sort of skeletons the Rayburns have in their closet.

Quotes:

Meg: Nothing can go wrong.
Sally: Well, that's just stupid. A lot can go wrong.

Eric O'Bannon: Why don't you stick around for the big Rayburn circle-jerk.

Kevin: We're not gonna give in to him. We're not gonna give in to him. This is not gonna be the fuckin' Danny show this weekend.

Danny: Your life's not always gonna be this perfect, you know. Things happen to people.

John: (narrating) Please don't judge us. We're not bad people... but we did a bad thing.

Part 1 establishes the thematic richness of the series, as well as its slow-burning pace, but I'll admit the last minute twist almost put me off the show from the start. I initially felt it was a cheap gimmick. But I could not deny that I was already intrigued, and badly wanted to know what Danny did to earn that sort of ending.

Three out of four seahorse necklaces.

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