In any normal family, the biggest feud you’d have with your loved ones would be over an accidental drink spillage that stains the carpet, or a play fight with your siblings that ends with your mum’s favourite china ornament crashing off the window sill. You may even go the rest of the night in separate rooms avoiding conversation with each other, but Netflix’s new drama, Bloodline, teaches you to be thankful that this is usually as far as an altercation goes in a typical household.
The latest series from the popular streaming service, written by Daniel Zelman and brothers Todd and Glenn Kessler (who created FX drama Damages), leads with the story of a respected family called the Rayburns, as they try and keep their honourable name untarnished after the return of their outcast oldest son, Danny.
Bloodline’s first season introduces us to what on the surface looks like the perfect family. However, as we begin to unravel the mysteries of its characters – who develop into some of the most rich and layered characters on TV at present – we know something dark and threatening is on the horizon in the paradisiacal coast of Florida Keys.
Danny, who comes back to celebrate the 45th anniversary of his parents’ family business, has a past which has since divided the way different members of the family treat him. And after a long time away and a second life in Miami with little to no contact with his relatives, his return soon opens up old wounds. Using sequences that flit between the past, present and future, we start to understand more about why this friction exists in the Rayburn family. In fact, it’s the genius of the show’s writing and its balance between how much we’re told and how much is kept from us that engages you for the duration of what is a relatively lengthy opening season.
At first, we’re unsure whether Danny has been disowned just because of his general rebelliousness. While his brother John is a respected police detective, his sister Meg is a lawyer, and the youngest sibling Kevin is a general handyman and the joker of the family, Danny doesn’t seem to have lived up to his family name. He dresses shabbily, mixes with the wrong people, has a criminal record and his income is either through illegal means or from his family who reluctantly loan him cash. His father hates him and his siblings only put up with him because of the fact they’re blood-related. It’s only the mother who’s forgiving.
It is a strange dynamic, but one which later makes sense. Danny is burdened with the blame of a fourth sibling’s death, which occurred when they were only children. What’s not revealed, however, were the exact circumstances surrounding Sarah’s death, and it is this that drives the story and toys with your feelings towards the rejected Rayburn.
This premise is anchored by an event which has yet to come, and all we know of it is from a singular phrase consistently used by lead protagonist and Danny’s younger brother, John, who says that his family are “not bad people, but we did a bad thing”. John continues to say this almost as if he’s trying to convince himself that it’s true. And as he only insists on this in the flash-forward sequences, it of course indicates that the friction between Danny and the rest of the family eventually culminates in a presumably grim way.
Yet even before Danny’s return, there’s a dark undertone. The Rayburns are not absolved of guilt, deceit and lies. Meg is having an adulterous relationship, Kevin has a drinking problem that is slowly pulling apart his marriage, and Mr and Mrs Rayburn have the most twisted and complex backstory of all, which isn’t fully realised until the final third of the season and plays a regretful part in the way Danny has been mistreated his entire life. Even John, the loving husband and father and general backbone of the ill-fated Rayburns, is forced to make tough decisions in no-win situations.
Bloodline may not have meth labs, iron thrones or zombies to help the story along, but the 13-part first season does one thing really well, and that is its drama. Netflix’s newest series has been referred to as a ‘family noir’ and there couldn’t be a truer two-worded phrase to describe what Bloodline is. Over everything, the series deals primarily with family. The show studies and dissects what blood-relatives do when they’re pushed to the very limit of the sin that comes down on them after all that murdering, abusing, threatening and deceiving, which can no longer be ignored out of respect for their name.And although for the entirety of the season it is the rogue of the family, Danny, who uses this to take advantage of his bloodline, he is only peeling away at the polished mask worn by his family to reveal to us their truest selves.