Bloodline: The Best Netflix Show You Are Not Watching

Everyone who told me to watch Bloodline started with the same apologizing preface: "It starts out really slow, but stay with it."


I disagree. Not with the instruction to watch it I'm here to tell you why Bloodline is one of my favorite Netflix shows ever but with the pervasive notion that Bloodline is somehow "slow." (Et tu, The Atlantic?) Maybe it's a symptom of our ever-decreasing attention spans, maybe we're just used to breakneck plots too wild to keep straight without Reddits and recaps. But I reject the idea that Bloodline is slow or boring or plodding. It is, however, deliberate and extraordinarily measured. Literally measured: the writers dole out information in teasing little pinches, tiny hints and cracked-door glimpses into dirty pasts and secrets and lies. The timeline is full of red herrings and misinformation; we learn the truth agonizingly, painstakingly, and yes, I suppose, slowly.

But to me, slow is not an adequate descriptor of the show as a whole. From the first episode, I was hooked and intrigued by the layered characters and the haunting sense that something was not right just beneath the surface. Bloodline is the closest thing to great theater that I've seen on television in a while. I'm tempted to say since the end of Mad Men, but Mad Men always felt more like a glossy picture book than a stage play. Alessandra Stanley at the The New York Times says Bloodline feels like a hybrid of Pat Conroy and film noir. I get that, but to me it felt even more like watching a great theatrical drama unfold, something by Tracy Letts, Tennessee Williams, Sam Shepard.

Ah, Sam Shepard, the 20th-century artist perhaps most deserving of a Game-of-Thrones-stly title. Sam Shepard: penner of the plays, breaker of the sound barrier, wielder of the Pulitzer, owner of the Obies, lover of the Lange, fracturer of the family unit, defender of the patriarch, truth-teller of the West. Shepard is a renowned playwright (but you've gotten that by now) and an oft-awarded actor. So frequent is the theme of estranged blood relations in his plays that Shepard's most-lauded works are bracketed under the title "The Family Trilogy."


So it's fitting that Shepard, Lord of the Lineage, Duke of the Dynasty, would play paterfamilias to Bloodline's brooding brood. In the pilot, Robert and Sally Rayburn (Shepard and Sissy Spacek) host their four adult children back home for a celebration. Home, it so happens, is their charming, family-run boutique hotel in the Florida Keys. Troubled, estranged eldest son Danny (a transformative Ben Mendelsohn, The Dark Knight) returns for the reunion, and old hostility and secrets begin seeping out of the sand.

I don't want to tell you more about the plot because it's so important and addictive to be drawn into the drama. But I will name-drop the other Rayburn kids because the cast list is its own savory dramatic treat. Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights), Linda Cardellini (Freaks and Geeks, Mad Men) and Norbert Leo Butz (who IMDB says is "known for" Dan in Real Life, but my fellow theater kids will know as Jamie from the original cast recording of The Last Five Years) round out the Rayburns.

As the show progresses, it grows long roots that start to trip up even the most stable of the clan. The Rayburns are Shakespearean in their flaws and Biblical in their deceit. Maybe these ancient themes make Bloodline seem heavy, weighty, slow. But even if their tale is old, the show is a modern one.

For one, Bloodline makes use of an interesting and often-difficult storytelling technique: the flash-forward. It's astonishing to me how well this mechanism works on the show, a show that otherwise takes itself extremely seriously. What could be a gimmicky move is effectively put to use creating stinging, tantalizing dramatic foreshadowing. Glimpses into a confusing, increasingly-sinister future make for a fit-the-puzzle-pieces-together game with the audience. ("But if that's true, then how did they end up in the seersucker suits!" my husband and I exclaimed to each other approximately 1,000 times during the season.)



Bloodline also takes great advantage of the scenic juxtaposition between the sunny Florida Keys and its characters' very dark decisions. The show's worst confrontation happens over Coronas at a festive beach bar, and, because the Rayburns run a hotel, the backdrop to every difficult day is still someone else's vacation. The Keys achieve that small-town, insular feel of nosy locals who stick around after August. We're uncomfortably reminded that other people are visiting, but the Rayburns have to stay.

There's just something so heavy about living your life in paradise. Luckily for you, dear reader, Bloodline's entire first season is available for a binge starting RIGHT NOW. And even luckier, the second season premieres in just THREE DAYS, on May 27th. There's nothing slow about that.
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