Samuel Brace on the final season of Bloodline…
Bloodline was always the underdog. It arrived without a lot of heat, in the midst of high profile Netflix offerings. It would stay as an underdog throughout its run while secretly being one of the very best shows around. Boasting a top tier cast, a colourful cast of characters, and of TV’s very best settings in the Florida Keys, Bloodline gripped audiences from start to finish, impressing critics and awards givers along the way. Season three was deemed to be the show’s last – a blessing in disguise, no doubt – and thankfully more than delivered on the series’ promise, resolving its themes without wrapping things up in the neat way one might expect. It was exactly what the series deserved.
The story of the Rayburn family has been a desperate one; dark, dangerous, fuelled by a lifetime of lies and a series of awful decisions. It became very obvious early on that Ben Mendelsohn’s character — dark sheep of the family Danny — was the show’s livewire and initial hook. This was a man that would make things happen whenever he walked into a room or a sandy stretch of beach. So it was quite the surprise when he was murdered by his brother John (Kyle Chandler) at the end of season one. His character ultimately would haunt the rest of the series, making hallucinatory appearances during season two. So it was sad that he remained vacant for much of this final season. He did appear however during the closing two episodes, pushing John to finally break the family curse. However, this wasn’t Danny’s story anymore; John was our hero, and a pretty bad one at that.
Everything had been so awful for the Rayburn family, and everyone they had touched, that things had to get worse before they had any hope of getting better. It didn’t seem possible but this family had way lower depths to sink than what was previously seen. Season three was all about hitting rock bottom and John’s ultimate attempt to finally put things right, to finally end the family curse. Of course it wasn’t a curse at all but a series of immoral decisions stemming from two immoral parents. John’s task therefore was to simply stop the lies, a challenge made difficult by the myriad webs his family have weaved throughout the years.
John would ultimately be successful in his mission, or so it seemed with the series’ closing moments, approaching Danny’s estranged son, Nolan, to tell him just what had happened to his father. But nothing about this season was clean cut, and justice didn’t arrive in merely traditional ways. On paper, this family all deserved to end up in prison, but through various machinations and schemes, only one it seemed would end up that way. Kevin was no doubt Bloodline’s main culprit for hair pulling bad decisions, and only made things worse for him and his family throughout season three. And after his actions at the end of last season, it’s not entirely surprising to see him as the one to go down, all be it for another crime. Everyone else in the family escaped such conventional justice, but fittingly, none of them got off lightly. Lives were ruined forever this time around. Meg perhaps got off the easiest, running away to start a new life, understandingly abandoning her family for any chance at a normal life.
Then of course we have Sally Rayburn, who perhaps lost more than anyone else and throughout the season’s events, and through certain revelatory reveals, showed herself to be more deserving of eternal damnation than anyone of her children. There were a lot of despicable people occupying the world of Bloodline, but it turns out none were more cruel or capable of such vile behaviour than Sally. Not only was she the orchestrator for the sequence of lies that would destroy so many lives, but she revealed herself to be a truly nasty piece of work. The scene when she described the birthing of her children to John and Kevin was wholly despicable, eradicating any sympathy that might have been built up towards her. John and Kevin were right to leave her in that house she had grown to hate; their only regret would not have been doing it sooner. “You never understood what it meant to be a family” John tells his mother in a moment of rare honesty. Sally’s punishment will be everlasting of course, not only having to live with her actions but now completely alone. Her children gone forever, left to stew in a house she despises until it finally and suitably sinks underwater. Good riddance.
And John? Well, he didn’t exactly have it easy. Like his mother’s, his own family is gone, though on much better terms than he could have ever hoped. His ultimate punishment turning out to be the demons deep inside his mind, none more so than his big brother. John will never be able to escape the evil acts he has committed, acts that didn’t stop at Danny’s slaying. Nearly losing his mind during the course of these ten episodes, John’s hell manifested itself on the streets and beaches of the Florida Keys, the ghost of his brother trying to lead him to a place where he could finally put it all to rest. To his credit, John did attempt to turn himself in, though perhaps could have tried a little harder. But at this point prison would have been too light a punishment for the ‘good one’ of the family. In the end Bloodline left John with very little light left, the weight of the world crushing down on him, and with no one left to save. You can’t say he got off easy.
Bloodline was all about decisions, which ones to make and how to deal with their varying repercussions. The last decision John had to make was whether to tell his nephew the truth about his father’s death. On one hand it could finally stop the lies and give Nolan the chance to break the chain. On the other, he would have to live the rest of his life knowing that his uncle murdered his father. The truth is Nolan already knew something was up, and that his extended family killed his father decades ago through their bevy of lies and betrayals. This however was ultimately more about John, could he finally do the right thing, and would someone hear and accept him doing so. The truth had to be told for John to have any chance of living through the rest of his days. Whether he was successful or not is left for the viewer to decide.
In the end this was a supremely fitting end to a fascinating series. And while there were plenty of stars and winning attributes, this was all about Kyle Chandler. Giving a truly Emmy worthy performance as John Rayburn, every inch of pain and despair was written across Chandler’s looks of anguish, pain that in the end could not help but burst through his initial stoic exterior. Bloodline was a car ride through a sundrenched hell, and if Mendelsohn was laughing at us from the backseat, it was Chandler that was driving us around, trying desperately to keep us on the road. Things were never going to end well for John, but it was thanks to Chandler that there was anyone remotely worth rooting for, and we did root for him, even if it was only to finally do the right thing. As John once famously said, “We’re not bad people, but we did a bad thing”, and this seems to be the show’s true theme. People aren’t born bad, but just because one isn’t an evil individual, that doesn’t mean the punishment for their transgressions mustn’t be just and crushing. And Bloodline did crush the Rayburns, and indeed all the neerdowell’s that were connected to them. No one got out of this unscathed, justice found everyone, one way or another.
“We’re always going to be living with this”.
This is a series that many haven’t yet discovered, and probably never will, but for those that were there, we were treated to one of TV’s finest dramas, and one that won’t be forgotten anytime soon. These were three season’s of quality, premium content that everyone who was involved in its construction should be immensely proud of.
It was quite a ride.