Bloodline wants so badly to be the next Emmy-sweeping drama you can’t stop telling your friends about. There’s seething family tension, dark secrets, and intrigue. It’s got an all-star cast (Sissy Spacek, Kyle Chandler, Linda Cardellini, and Chloe Sevigny, among others), and a gorgeous backdrop in the vivid emerald and blue of the Florida Keys. It’s got all the makings of must-see prestige TV and yet, for a show set in the sweltering humidity of the Sunshine State, Bloodline might leave you rather cold.
It depends how patient you are, really. In its first episode—and most of its second—Bloodline is almost intolerably slow (especially if you’re still coming off the giddy, rocket-fueled high of Netflix’s last binge craze, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) and withers under its own brooding self-seriousness. Its family of characters, the Rayburn clan, seem like interesting people, but they never have anything particularly interesting to say. And it takes a full three episodes (the full extent of what Netflix gave critics to watch in advance) for characters to develop more than a single bland personality trait each.
John Rayburn (Chandler) is the Rayburns’ golden boy; the pride of the family, a “Johnny B. Goode,” “the fuckin’ pope”—it’s all any character ever has to say about him. And yes, younger brother Kevin (Norbert Leo Butz) “is a hothead,” as we establish through John’s voiceover, and the constant outbursts and fistfights. Little sister Meg (Cardellini) “just wants everyone to be happy” and yes, poor eldest brother Danny (Ben Mendelsohn) is the black sheep of the family, the guy who brings a drunk girl as a date to a family function, then passes out naked in front of the family home. Yes. Got it. But what else?
The Rayburn patriarch (Sam Shepard) resents Danny and…that’s it. That’s his defining characteristic: hating Danny. Their mother (Spacek) seems like a kooky lady but all we see of her is her desire for an important family weekend to run smoothly. Everyone’s inner motivations are left shrouded for so long that it becomes difficult to connect with any of the Rayburns or their friends—or even to know what the hell they’re talking about.
“Danny, this is serious, you don’t want to fuck this up,” says a friend of Danny’s, who’s gotten him to do a job for him. “These guys are fucking… they’re like the guys who coined the phrase, ‘You don’t wanna fuck with these guys.’” What guys? I still have no idea. Fuck what up? Who knows!
Another example, from John’s voiceover narration: “But what [Meg] really wanted was to fix the past to make up for what was lost, to make us all forget. But she couldn’t. Because as smart as she is, no one can change the past.” What was lost? Forget what?! It could be another five episodes before we find out.
But Bloodline was created by the team behind Damages, and it uses the same timeline-mucking structure that reveals flash-forwards of violent, traumatic incidents that add urgency to the present. Much-teased family secrets begin to unravel this way. (Murder! Infidelity! Drugs!) And seemingly disparate threads begin showing signs of weaving together into a grim narrative about adult siblings turning on each other.
In a way, that’s what makes Bloodline special. Storylines are introduced gradually, over the course of several episodes, and left to simmer on their own until they reach a boiling point. If you’re a patient, half-glass-full type, this could be read as Netflix’s Big Audience Attention Span Test. It’s still early to tell for sure, but the juice may end up being worth the squeeze.