We gave it a B+
Sometimes you know something’s coming…and there’s nothing you can do to stop it,” says golden boy John Rayburn (Kyle Chandler) in the voiceover that introduces Bloodline. Anchored deep in the swampland muck of the Florida Keys, this new drama from the makers of Damages begins when the Rayburn kids reunite for the 45th anniversary of the hotel owned by their parents, Sally (Sissy Spacek) and Robert (Sam Shepard). From the beginning, there’s so much tension between the Rayburns’ drug-addict son Danny (Ben Mendelsohn) and everyone else, the only way things can go is wrong. And when they do, in a flash-forward reveal at the end of the pilot, it will make you press play on the next episode immediately.
Netflix is famous for its cliff-hangers, thanks to twisty dramas like House of Cards and their bingeable on-demand formats. What makes Bloodline different is that by the time the pilot’s over, you already know what’s going to happen, which only sharpens the tension. That creeping sense of dread John feels? It sums up the experience of watching this gripping thriller.
Bloodline isn’t the only recent drama to explore the dark side of family loyalty—co-creator Todd A. Kessler mined that theme brilliantly as a writer for The Sopranos—but it wrenches real suspense from showing how those loyalties shift. While giving a toast at the reunion, Robert introduces his children by hinting at the roles they play: Meg (Linda Cardellini) is the smart one, Kevin (Norbert Leo Butz) is the hothead, John is the caretaker, Danny is the black sheep. With each new episode, though, it’s clear that they’re constantly switching parts. John used to be the violent one. And Mendelsohn brings a vulnerability to Danny that suggests he wasn’t always the aggressor. As each sibling aligns with or against the others, so does the viewer. Just as you start to feel sorry for Danny, or turn against Robert, another big reveal at the end of the second episode makes you question both of their motivations.
Yep, two cliff-hangers in two episodes. That pace might be hard to sustain, and there are times when Bloodline feels closer to a soap like How to Get Away With Murder than the Sunshine State noir it wants to be. (Please don’t let that mysterious woman from Danny’s past turn out to be an actual ghost!) But three episodes in, owing to quick plotting and strong performances— including a sad, sleepy-eyed turn from Chloë Sevigny as Danny’s old crush—I’m hooked. Sometimes you know something’s coming, and you don’t want to stop it. B+