If one were to trace Glenn Kessler and Todd A. Kessler’s thematic fascinations, between their first hit series, Damages, and their latest, Bloodline, you’d have to begin with the settings of these two not-so-different programs. The former was set in New York City, within a viper’s den of the rich and powerful, and the city’s landscape served as a bold expression of the characters’ insane fiscal worth. While there’s a similar amount of wealth on display in the Florida Keys, where Bloodline takes place, it’s of the less showy variety. The spacious homes that line the beaches here don’t immediately smack of affluence, and the purveying tone of the area is one of ease and relaxation. It’s the kind of place where bankers and corporate titans hide their money rather than show it off, where the price tag isn’t obvious at first glance, and the seemingly idyllic locale becomes a veil for the most disturbing sort of behavior, often evoked out of want or need for money.
The second season’s narrative arc is a continuation of the story of the corrupt Rayburn family, led by matriarch Sally (Sissy Spacek) and her detective son, John (Kyle Chandler), following the killing of John’s brother, Danny (Ben Mendelsohn). The Kesslers spend much of the season’s runtime chipping away at the Rayburns’ image as the ideal family, with John finding himself in a sticky spot with Wayne Lowry (Glenn Morshower), Danny’s partner in drug running and dealing, who has proof of John’s corrupt manipulations of the local police and governmental agencies to cloak the truth about Danny’s death.
Nearly every exchange in Bloodline revolves around the cover-ups that this family—including John’s siblings, Meg (Linda Cardellini) and Kevin (Norbert Leo Butz)—works hard to maintain, or a vaguely expressive reflection of how easily the truth could come out. As a result, the entire season feels one-note. In one particularly on-the-nose moment, John and his fellow officer, Marco (Enrique Murciano), sail out to cajole a vacationing judge for a warrant to search the premises of Lowry’s accomplice, who threatens to reveal John’s doings. The discussion ends with the judge simply saying, “The croakers are nibbling,” an obvious metaphor for John’s perilous situation.
The dialogue is at once easygoing in its candor and rigidly on-message about the corrosive nature of lies, especially in the case of Kevin, who begins taking on some of Danny’s less enviable traits. These exchanges and plot turns grow increasingly repetitive. The writers add a few minor narrative detours, such as the arrivals of Danny’s son, Nolan (Owen Teague), and former girlfriend, Evangeline (Andrea Riseborough), and their plans to bilk the Rayburns out of money, but there’s no sense of who these (and other) new characters are outside of their grifting and collusion in the covering up of Danny’s murder.
In Bloodline’s first season, the tight narrative focus on the Rayburns succeeded in detailing the insidious relations of the family, but this centricity is starting to seem more like a lack of imagination. There’s still an alluring moodiness and sense of mystery to this hothouse noir, and the creators potently build up the tension between John’s lawman reputation and his criminal underbelly. What’s missing is the frivolity and wildness of the pulp stories that clearly influenced the series, a purveying sense of menace and perverseness that seemed to be solely inhabited by Danny in the first season and is only gleaned in intermittent sequences throughout the second season.
Like Kevin and Danny, Meg’s guilt leads her to careless, drunken moments of lashing out, whether in front of her boss in New York or by teasing Marco while he’s on a date. But the series is predominantly anchored to Chandler’s straight arrow, who’s only conveyed passion in keeping his family’s name in high esteem. Despite even their most reckless actions, the remaining Rayburn family struggles and strives to keep up appearances alongside him, and Bloodline similarly feels the need to stress the maturity of its characters and the seriousness of their situation. In doing this, the creators fail to fully survey the storm of feral impulses hiding beneath the postcard image of both the Florida Keys and one of its supposedly most celebrated families.