Saturday, April 4, 2015

REVIEW: 'Bloodline' - Danny and John Have a Night Out Drinking While Kevin Tries to Recover from His Assault in 'Part 8'

Netflix's Bloodline - Episode 1.08 "Part 8"

Kevin recovers at Sally's house after he's robbed. Danny makes a deal with Carlos. John and Marco identify one of the murdered girls.

Bloodline never wants its audience to be too comfortable or relaxed with its characters. It wants us to be nervous and see every single action that every single character does as foreboding. Both the characters and the audience are never sure how to quite read another character. That is largely directed at Danny. His ways can be charming at times or threatening and disturbed. As much as the family wants to embrace Danny and believe that he's putting in the effort to change, they are always tense around him. They have no clue what he will do next. That uncertainty is apparent all the time throughout each episode. It definitely requires patience on the audience's part. We have the sense that something bad is going to happen. John opened the very first episode with a narration proclaiming he felt it in his bones that something bad was on the horizon the moment his brother Danny came home. The show builds up this uneasiness for the audience through the flash-forwards - which return to open and close "Part 8" after a few episodes off.

And yet, the show doesn't seem to be doing enough to completely justify this decision with tone and pace. The middle part of this season has strictly been setting things up for the final third. All of it has felt like plot contrivances to give the various characters something to do. They need to have actual lives which they are living. However, only in this episode do they start connecting in a way that will likely build to the deadly conclusion the flash-forwards promise. It's a sluggish delivery system. The audience has to be willing to give the show time for these developments to grow. Yes, it may allow for a good character moment every once in awhile. But more often, they have been purely perfunctory.

Now, we are starting to see that Meg helping Carlos with his legal problems is connected to Danny in that he's able to make those issues disappear immediately so that Carlos can help him with his new criminal operation. And then, Danny's new tenuous relationship with the other criminals will connect back to John and Marco's investigation into the burned girls because one of the criminal associates was identified by one of the dead girls' family member. These connections are starting to form. And yet, it always appears as what has to happen in order to get the characters from the point they are at right now to where they'll be at the end of the season.

"Part 8" is filled with transitional bits of the story. The narrative spine of the show is focused so intently on the Danny-John relationship that everything else feels broad. The dynamic between Danny and John is the big focus of the season. John feels this immense weight and guilt for the lie he told in the past. Danny has stopped wallowing in the past but he's still trying to stir up trouble in the present. The only really great part of the episode is when the two of them are simply talking. Both of them are fully realized characters in a universe that only seems to have a loose grasp on most of the people. They have clear arcs this season that all connects back to their emotions over Sarah's death and the immediate aftermath in the family. When Danny and John are on screen together, it's dynamic and brilliant.

And yet, that's the only key relationship on the show. Half the time the show doesn't know what it's doing with the rest of the Rayburn family. Danny having Eric attack Kevin lacked a lot of necessary emotional and narrative weight. Those two siblings barely spend any time together. The aftermath of that attack is much more interesting in regards to the Danny-John dynamic than it is to the Danny-Kevin one. Similarly, Meg has just two moments with Danny in this episode. In one, they just share a look of uneasiness following her engagement announcement. And later, he's upset that she cut him out of Robert's will. There's just such a lack of focus when it comes to Kevin, Meg and Sally. They are a part of this narrative but they are only supporting elements to the true story. More often than not, they just feel like distractions to keep the narrative complex while filling 13 episodes worth of story.

But this episode is truly about Danny taking John out for a night of drinking and the two of them coming home to John's house to an upset Diana. Before that scene, we haven't seen Diana at all in this episode. She basically enters the scene dismayed and unsettled by what is currently happening. To her, this is just something that John would never do. She sees Danny as having taken advantage of his brother. And yet, the only thing she is capable of doing about it is making sure Danny leaves her house and telling John the next morning that she wants Danny out of their lives for good. It's a passive reaction. She has never really had a voice in the narrative up to this point. So when she finally makes her voice heard on something, it's timid. It's positioned as her not really having any kind of power or influence. She's right to be wary of Danny and what he may do to their family. She knows that John wants a relationship with Danny. But she's trying to be protective of her family. We should understand where she's coming from. Danny has always been unsettling in her presence - and even when he's just talking about Diana. And yet, she comes across as the nagging wife archetype. She is right in this case but it's presented as her arguing against what the lead character wants. It's just not done in a way that garners much interest in her character or how her needs may complicate things moving forward.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Part 8" was written by Arthur Phillips and directed by Dan Attias.
  • When she's talking to John about Danny in the morning, Diana says that she has to go to work. Do we even know where she works? She has been such an afterthought this season. She has always just been positioned as John's wife. That's the only thing that has described her character. So, the effort to instantly give her an opinion here just doesn't work at all because we have no investment in her.
  • So why did we have to spend so much time on Kevin doing everything so he could to keep pursuing the loan only to have it pulled away from him halfway through? It was very anti-climatic and time wasting.
  • Meg and Marco are officially engaged. And yet, it's problematic to say that he was the one with a problem when she asked out of the blue and he told her no. His family seems much better than the Rayburn's. But he was also right to think that she wasn't ready for the emotional investment of an engagement. And now, all those issues are just wiped away and he's suddenly okay with it. That felt off.
  • Danny's dynamic with John's daughter is just so creepy.
  • When will Sally be a more complex character who's not so easily manipulated by Danny?