Hello everyone and welcome to Bloodline! If you’ve been counting the days till Kyle Chandler (Coach Taylor from Friday Night Lights, a.k.a. the BEST MALE HUMAN in the history of the world) returned to television, you are most definitely not alone. But, quite honestly, this entire cast is insane. Let’s talk about living legends Sam Shepard and Sissy Spacek as the heads of this family drama. Then there’s the incredible character actor Ben Mendelsohn—whom you may have seen in the truly terrific 2010 Australian film, Animal Kingdom. (And if you haven’t watched that movie, I highly suggest you do as soon as possible.) We have Freaks and Geeks‘ lovely Linda Cardellini; Broadway star and Tony winner Norbet Leo Butz not to mention Chloe Sevigny in a supporting role. I mean… Netflix, how do you do it? But I’m getting ahead of myself.
We begin with some beautiful wish-you-were-here vistas of the Florida keys. Coach Eric Taylor, whom we’ll all soon learn to call John Rayburn, darkly says: “Sometimes you know something’s coming. You can feel it. In the air. In your gut. And you don’t sleep at night. The voice in your head is telling you that something is going to go terribly wrong and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. That’s how I felt when my brother came home.”
The brother, in question, is a real down-and-out looking Ben Mendelsohn, full on, mouth-open asleep on a bus. We also get a quick look into what the other Rayburn siblings are up to. There’s John (Chandler), looking alert and capable while driving a big car. There’s Kevin Rayburn (Butz), who wakes up in his underwear, curses when he sees the time, and appears to be sleeping in an office. Parked in a car and getting it on in the backseat is Meg Rayburn (Cardellini) with an unidentified man. Back to John: riding shotgun is his wife (hey, it’s Jacinda Barrett! Remember her from The Real World? She plays Diana Rayburn), who reminds him that this weekend is supposed to be fun. Kevin gets on a boat and told to party like it’s 1999. Meg gets interrupted in flagrante by the phone and tells Alec (hey, it’s cute campaign guy from The Good Wife, Steven Pasquale!) she has to go. He’s all, oh say hi to your mom for me and they laugh and laugh the way you do when you’ve just had excellent backseat car sex.
Sally Rayburn (Sissy Spacek, looking amazing) exposits to some guests that they can’t stay at the hotel even though it’s their favorite on the Keys because, as we’ll learn, there’s a private party. This is a beautiful place that I would like to stay in, all green lawns and palm trees, blue waters and sun-faded buildings. Sam Shepard, who plays patriarch Robert Rayburn, sea kayaks in a funny hat and watches a dolphin dive. Even dolphins cannot resist the power of Sam Shepard. (Not that any of you guys care, but I feel compelled to tell you that Sam Shepard was a formative crush for me growing up and my love for him only grows with the years. A television program with both Shepard and Chandler? Breaks my poor mind in half.)
John is tasked with getting Danny from the bus. Kevin, in a very believably brother way is all, isn’t he a grown man who can get himself home? Cut to Danny on the bus. He pops some pills and sees a mysterious dark-haired woman playing with a gold seahorse necklace. “Did you write something for tonight?” Danny looks spooked, throws his paper in his pocket and abruptly realizes this was a bad idea.
Meg arrives home and is immediately busted by her mom… but for stopping to see the wrong dude. Apparently she dates a Marco and not an Alec? Uh-oh. Sally/Sissy is all aflutter with arrangements and Meg tries to calm her down with the not encouraging words that with friends and family in attendance what can go wrong? HAHA. Just you wait!
Speaking of waiting, John is at the bus depot looking for his brother who does not arrive. Kyle Chandler says a curse word I cannot repeat and man, it is weird to hear Coach Taylor curse. (This happens a lot and the strangeness of it never seems to go away.)
Back at the Rayburn House, people are arriving. Hugs, alcohol, children, etc. Kevin puts his arm around his wife and says she’s the most beautiful woman in the world. She replies he’s never even left the Keys. “I went to Orlando once. But it was too cold,” he replies.
The Rayburns are the kind of family that drinks a lot and has rope-pulling competitions. Of course. John isn’t there because he’s still waiting at the bus station. Another bus, still no Danny.
Danny is instead hanging out at the bar, telling the waitress a thing or three about how bad the food is. What’s crazy is that Ben Mendelsohn has managed to make his chameleon face look just how you’d imagine the son of Sam Shepard and Sissy Spacek. He listens to the voicemail from John asking where he is and hangs up before it is finished. He then runs into an old friend—we later learn this man is named Eric O’Bannon—who promptly gets him chillin in a boat and smoking a joint. We learn the big celebration all the Rayburns have been assembled for is because the pier is being named after their dad. We also learn that Danny opened and closed a seafood restaurant. This tracks. Eric offers him a way to make some cash. Uh oh. Eric’s phone rings, and it’s John Rayburn. Eric is all, listen Sheriff, I’ve been seeing my probation officer! And John is all, no dude. I’m looking for my brother. Eric covers for Danny and says he hasn’t talked to him.
We get a scene of Rayburn rivalry at its best as the rope pulling competition begins and John arrives back sans Danny. John is left with the task of telling his mother that Danny didn’t show up. Sissy Spacek crushes this scene as her face falls. She reassures her son she’s okay—but seconds later Danny shows up, his dirty T-shirt and jeans a stark contrast to everyone else’s bright florals and linens. Sally’s joy at seeing her eldest cannot be contained, even as John’s face registers a fairly obvious oh-god-he-is-here-now-what expression.
NEXT: Things are looking even darker in the future
“I couldn’t have known then where all this was going to end up,” future John Rayburn’s voice tells us. And we cut to John trudging through a rainy forest with a maybe-unconscious—maybe-dead?—Danny over his shoulder. They are both wearing seersucker suits. “I didn’t know why he decided to come back. I didn’t know then what he was running from. None of us did.” They collapse in a rain puddle. Looks bad.
But back in the sunny past, the family gathering is going great. We get to see Kyle Chandler as John Rayburn dance awkwardly with his teenage daughter, which is truly worth the price of admission. Meg’s boyfriend Marco (mos def not the dude from the car) arrives, saving her from the horrific why-aren’t-you-married-with-babies talk her sister-in-law was trying to start up.
Danny approaches Meg with a request. He wants to bring a date, Cheryl, to this shindig and was wondering if they could squeeze a chair in at the family table. On the surface, this does not seem an unreasonable request. But if you have ever had to deal with a family reunion of any kind, you know that we’ve now entered Game of Thrones territory. The other siblings’ spidey-sense goes off and before you know it, Kevin and John have gone over to talk it out. The great thing about the scene is how you instantly understand the family dynamics at play here. Meg tries to be accommodating. Kevin bristles immediately. Danny gets defensive and aggressive. Then John comes over as authority/peacemaker. A lot of talk ensues about “the family table” and things get heated and Danny storms off and John laughs grimly to himself.
Cut to: the night’s festivities. Danny and his date, who is hilarious and boozy and inappropriate, are indeed at the family table. Patriarch Rob/Sam Shepard leads a toast about how 45 years ago with Sally he opened the doors to the inn. It’s a sweet speech about Sally and their family. “Many years ago we had some trouble,” he says vaguely as his family members make hurried eye contact. He goes on to say that many in the crowd helped them through this unnamed trouble and he should have thanked them then. He then moves on to a few words about his kids. He starts with Meg, his “sunshine,” who moved to Tallahassee to study law. Kevin, is the youngest who apparently loves the sea and the 3 p.m. cocktail and so stayed in the Keys. John takes care of the whole island. Before he gets to Danny, his oldest, Rob takes a meaningful drink. “The one who got away,” he says. “He always finds a reason to come back. Even if it is to ask for money.” Eeek, this is getting real life awkward. Just kidding, Rob adds. Augh.
But oh no, then Danny makes a move to talk! He pulls that piece of paper out that we saw from the bus and all the other siblings look REAL nervous. But in the end he goes for the joke: “Can I borrow a $20?” Hmmmm.
Everyone drinks and dances. Danny’s date is hammered and boozily throwing herself around. Danny and his dad exchange nice passive aggressive words. Danny takes himself across from the party and sits on his own, smoking what may be a joint. He watches from a distance. There’s a drum circle. Oh, Florida Keys.
Danny is bunking at John’s house. Danny waits for Diana to go to sleep before apologizing for making his brother wait for him at the bus. It sounds sincere. And oh, John Rayburn’s dog’s name is Surf! How great is that? He gets a call from Marco while he’s out with the dog and sounds like he needs to go into work. Also we learn that the gators eat cats down there. Yikes.
Danny asks John if he’d be willing to talk to their father about him sticking around, helping out with the inn. John has a hard time believing this but agrees. “Do me a favor,” John says before pulling his big brother into a very sweet man hug. “Find my f–king dog for me.”
And it’s a rough cut to the future where the brothers are in much different circumstances. John gets Danny’s body (alive? dead?) on a boat. Looks bad.
Back in the past/present we flip between two parallel narratives. In one, Danny wanders around his brother’s house, taking in the happy family pictures. Diana thinks it’s John, but instead she finds weird Danny. And Danny is so weird! There’s a strange menace to him I can’t put my finger on, but wow, was this scene uncomfortable. Danny tells Diana all about this girl—”a good one”—he was dating. The story gets increasingly dark and inappropriate as Danny tells his sister-in-law about how this girl who wanted to be hit in the face during sex. There’s all sorts of tense pauses as he continues to tell this story about how she tried to make him mad enough to hit her back. If I was Diana I would have thrown a robe on and gone to bed and locked the door. “Why didn’t you just leave?” Reasonable question, Diana, and one I would pose to you. Then the story sort of levels out and Diana sympathizes with Danny about the loneliness of single life. “Yeah,” he says. “I’d love to see John single! I’d love to see him try to play the field.” Again, Danny, NOT appropriate to say to your sister-in-law!
On the other side of things, Coach Rayburn is out on his boat in the swampy darkness with a searchlight. He’s friendly with a fisherman who called the sheriff’s office. They cut the engine and John jumps into the water. What about the gators? Thanks to the darkness you can hear the bugs and the hot summer air. Nice work, show. They find a body, one they decide can’t be more than 16.
The next day, Danny tells his deadbeat friend, O’Bannon, that he can’t get mixed up with him because he’s trying to play it straight and right with his family. O’Bannon tries to dissuade him. Danny dives for lobster traps. When he dives again he sees the same gold necklace we saw on that mystery lady on the bus. Confusing. Especially when he brings it to the surface and it’s not the necklace at all but something sharp and making him bleed. Doubly confusing.
The Rayburns continue the revelry back at the inn with a volleyball game. Rob Rayburn sits to the side, strumming a ukulele. Not for nothing, but I’d watch 45 minutes of just Sam Shepard and a ukulele. Augh, then it’s Kyle Chandler and Sam Shepard side by side chatting and I can’t concentrate because….Kyle Chandler and Sam Shepard! Together at last! John cuts to the chase: Danny wants to come home and help out with the business. Rob is having none of it, but John stands his ground and says it will help his mother be happier. Rob counters just till Danny will inevitably screw up again. Then he says that Danny’s three siblings should decide and that he’ll abide with whatever decision they make. Tricky.
NEXT: The Sibling Situation
The three Rayburn siblings discuss the Danny situation. Kevin is strongly against it: Danny always ends up screwing things up and he’ll crush their mom’s spirit. Meg doesn’t want to say no. He’s their brother. John, as what seems to be the usual, tries to stay sort of neutral. John worries if they say no Danny will leave and never come back.
Cut to Danny partying it up and doing a bump of coke. O’Bannon is not helping: He counsels that he shouldn’t be begging his family for a job, he should come work for him. His family doesn’t care a whit for him—”They treat you like a plague. Your family? They’re the enemy.” Gee, that’s helpful. Danny sees what looks to be that woman from the bus. Is this lady a ghost? The hell?
Back with the siblings, Kevin predicts that if they say yes it will be John who will have to deal with the fallout. John says that Danny did a lot for him when they were kids that Kevin knows nothing about. Interesting. John wants Danny in his life. You don’t give up on family. John seems to be leaning toward letting him stay.
Danny and the maybe ghost walk on the beach. She is gentle, and he is gentle back. He suggests a bit of skinny dipping. Oh, this seems like a terrible idea! Danny struggles in the waves and the mystery lady seems to be out of reach. He sees that seahorse necklace again and thrashes about in the dark.
In the morning Sally gazes onto the docks with an expression of sadness that will break your heart. Danny is passed out, naked, and she sighs and covers him with a towel. Danny staggers to his feet as she walks away, and gee—use that towel, Danny! John looks out at the situation, notices that there are guests out on the front porch who are seeing all this, and you can basically see him change his mind.
Danny and John are out on a boat, having awkward fishing talk. Danny admits he screwed up the night before and can’t even remember what happened. “I know it’s not easy not having him here,” he starts and John cuts him off. Danny alludes to still owing John money. John tells Danny that their father gave him his answer and the answer is no. Ooof, white lie territory here but understandable. Danny isn’t buying that John tried all that hard to convince their father. He doesn’t know the half of it! “Your life won’t always be this perfect,” he says rather menacingly. “And then you’ll need me.” John, reasonably, is all WTF dude. Danny is all, fine, I’ll leave tonight. John wants him to stay through the pier dedication, but Danny isn’t having it.
Sally and Rob are having a great time at the party while Danny and John drive silently. At the bus station John asks Danny if he’s sure he wants to leave. Danny is all, don’t worry about it and leaves. John calls out through the window that maybe he’ll see him at Christmas and they look at each other both knowing that probably isn’t happening.
“I always thought the greatest thing to happen to me was being born a Rayburn,” John says, while in the future we see him fussing in the rain with Danny’s body and the boat. Danny—back in the past—just pretends to get on the bus. “I’m going to tell you everything,” John’s voice-over continues. “It’s not very pleasant, but it’s the truth.” It sure isn’t! John pours gasoline all over the body and the boat and lights it on fire. Um….Sheesh! “What we did to our brother we had to do. Please don’t judge us. We’re not bad people. But we did a bad thing.” Wow, okay Bloodline. I’m in.