Friday, April 10, 2015

REVIEW: 'Bloodline' - Kevin & Meg Help Cover Up John's Crime as More Twists Surprise the Rayburn Family in 'Part 13'

Netflix's Bloodline - Episode 1.13 "Part 13"

John, Kevin and Meg try to get their lives back in order as the family comes to grips with the truth about Danny.

John, Kevin and Meg Rayburn all end the first season of Bloodline in positions in which they should be happy. John and his family are safe and together and he has decided to run for county sheriff. Meg has taken the job in New York and started seeing Alec again. And lastly, Kevin and Belle are back together and starting a family. The Rayburn siblings are living happy lives but underneath all of that is deep psychological trauma. Following John killing Danny at the end of the last episode, they all become central to the cover-up. "Part 13" offers a powerful story that culminates everything about this season in a way that makes the majority of the season seem worth it. All season long, Bloodline has been demanding patience from the audience. And now that the whole season has unspooled, it is much easier to understand everything that has happened.

The creative team did an excellent job in making every single detail of this narrative feel important. At the end of the first season, you can look back and see why things happened the way that they did. Was all of it completely justified? No. There are moments in this finale that the show in no way earned emotionally. And yet, the core narrative of the season has been terrific. The conflict between John and Danny came to ahead in the previous episode. And now, the rest of the family has to deal with the fallout of John killing Danny.

For so much of this season, Meg and Kevin felt disengaged from the main story. John and Danny were the main players of the psychological trauma. The stories of the past and present largely weaved around what their characters were feeling. All the pain, betrayal and guilt was largely shown through their point-of-views. The other two siblings have just been off to the side. They have been effected by the ongoing conflict. They felt pain as well. And yet, the source of drama was never as strong with them as it was with John and Danny. That all changes in the finale. With Danny gone, the two of them have to step up in his absence. The first half of the episode deliberately pulls John out of the action for a little bit. For their entire lives, John has been the one offering solutions to their problems. When the drugs were discovered at the hotel, John told Meg and Kevin what needed to be done. But Danny's death is a whole different situation. John can't be the one to fix everything. Kevin and Meg needed to make decisions in the heat of the moment. Those decisions forced them into the main narrative in a way that hadn't been apparent in previous episodes. So, the central conflict of the finale is as much a burden on Kevin and Meg as it is with John.

All of that is better for the show and the story it then plots out for the remainder of the finale. The present has finally caught up with the flash-forwards that have been teased in earlier episodes. Meg has Danny's body in her trunk and John carries him to a boat to burn the body. Even though the audience knows what is coming, it is still a very powerful and masterful manipulation of events. The siblings have to put into motion this elaborate cover-up in order to guarantee their survival. Sure, it's going to be devastating no matter how it's revealed that Danny is now dead. He was a monster in the last few weeks of his life. And yet, that familial connection still causes pain when the truth is exposed. Everyone is in shock when they first learn of what happens to Danny. Whether it's the actual truth with Meg and Kevin or the story they created for Sally and the police. This is a traumatic twist to the narrative.

And yet, everything that the Rayburn siblings do is because of the family. For decades, these issues have dictated their lives. The connection from Sarah's death to Danny's death is the big through-line of the season and they all play an important role in both. The past informs the present so strongly. Every single character motivation is deliberate from this incident from their shared pasts. And now, the future is just as important for the characters. They are all fighting to maintain their respectability in the community and the lives they have spent years building. Danny's death and the subsequent cover-up could get them all into major trouble. All three of them are now just as guilty for the crime. In the aftermath, they planted drugs in Danny's Miami apartment, made phone calls and sent texts. They created a narrative that gave a very clear telling of events to the police. Marco and the DEA agent sit down and explain it all to John and the audience. And yet, it's very clear early on what the siblings are doing. But it's also incredibly compelling because they are fighting for their livelihoods.

It's easy to understand why all three of them agree to undertake this massive cover-up. Kevin doesn't need John to explain what happened out there with Danny. He feels that he had to have been justified in order to kill him. However, Meg needs the details. She needs to know the truth. It's not pleasant. John isn't able to say that it was self-defense. He had to let all that anger towards his brother out and that ultimately led to his death. It's gruesome. And yet, they are all very accepting that it needed to happen. They do see it as a blessing. Danny is out of all of their lives for good now. They understand that they failed him as a family. But they can't change that now. Now, they just have to make sure that something like this doesn't happen again - which leads to John openly saying he loves Kevin and Meg for what feels like the first meaningful time in all of their lives.

That also means keeping Sally away from the pain that the truth would bring. It's devastating to all of them to keep this from her. And yet, they have always wanted to protect her from the truth. They spin this elaborate story. Danny's death effects their mother more than anyone else. She just didn't want any of them to give up on Danny. She still saw hope in him making that change to be a better person and family man. It's all hopeless because everyone else around her knows that he's dead. But that also sets up her next move in hiring Lenny Potts to look into Danny's disappearance. Sure, the reveal that she was the one who told her children to learn about Danny's accident in the past came out of nowhere. It didn't come close to the amount of value or weight it should have had. That's totally because Sally as a character is so detached from the narrative and the truth. That moment doesn't land because we don't have that personal connection to Sally and what is fueling her actions. Potts confirming to her that her children are lying to her is a very powerful plot thread for the upcoming second season. And yet, I'm still disappointed that Sally wasn't a more meaningful character this season.

The future is on the minds of every character by the time the finale gets to its closing minutes. The siblings have all decided to move on with their respective lives. They have achieved that happiness even though they are still struggling with what they had to do about Danny. And then, the show decides to throw one last curveball in its final scene in giving Danny a son who shows up during John's family dinner. A surprise child is a cliche storytelling trope that has been used one too many times over the past few decades of television. And yet, on Bloodline, the reveal does have some meaning to it. Sure, his outward appearance of long hair and piercings blatantly telegraphs that this person is trouble. And yet, his presence will keep the memory of Danny fresh in the family's collective mind. This child will force the family to keep talking about Danny. So even though the show lost its best performer, Ben Mendelsohn, by the end of this season, his character will still be causing trouble for his family. That may not be able to fuel story for a full second season. And yet, it's a wonderful way to start for a show that finally came together in a rewarding way at the end of its first season.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Part 13" was written by Todd A. Kessler, Glenn Kessler & Daniel Zelman and directed by Ed Bianchi.
  • My biggest request for the second season is to better utilize the female characters. Meg was a major player in the finale, but the show could definitely do better by Sally, Diana, Belle and Chelsea.
  • I hate that the show is trying to suggest that Belle being pregnant automatically fixes all of the problems she and Kevin were having. That's not a true fix. It should be an added complication that makes them want to be better people for the child's sake - whether they are actually a couple or not. That's not a change that happens overnight. It needs time and the show just wants to skip over all that.
  • The siblings were very careful and deliberate with their cover-up and suggesting of Danny's movements. And yet, why were they so careless to be walking in and out of his Miami apartment in broad daylight where anyone could possibly see them?
  • Also, how in the world was Danny's flip phone waterproof? John pulled it off his floating corpse and it still worked fine.
  • Marco definitely has his work cut out for him in making the case against Wayne Lowry stick. Like John points out, he doesn't have a lot of actual evidence. And yet, the Rayburns are still hoping that's enough to put all the blame on Lowry and make their problems go away for good.
  • John's narration has always felt like him telling his story to someone. However, the reveal that he was telling it to people who can help get him elected sheriff felt really weird. Wouldn't one of them have interrupted and asked him to stop being so cryptically vague? And yet, that sequence of him telling the "truth" and then seeing him destroy his brother's body again was a very chilling and effective sequence.
  • That's all folks until Season 2. This season has definitely been interesting. These last few episodes have made it all seem worth it. And yet, Episodes 2 through 10 were definitely a slog to get through. Not an overall great show to binge watch but enough to make sure it has value. Plus, the performances really were fantastic. I would campaign hard for Kyle Chandler and Ben Mendelsohn to get Emmy nominations, but everyone else is just as deserving of being in that conversation as well.

As noted in previous reviews from this series, every episodic review was written without having seen any succeeding episodes. Similarly, it would be much appreciated if in the comments section, the conversation would only revolve around the show up to this point in its run.