TV review: "Bloodline" is quiet and passive, but immensely compelling

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

For many, binge-watching is Netflix’s most attractive quality, and for the streaming service’s latest original series, “Bloodline,” binge-watching is a great approach — just not how you’d expect. The series comes via the “Damages” team (Glenn and Todd Kessler, Daniel Zelman), so one could expect a big cliffhanger at the end of each episode. There’s a really big one in the first episode, which does compel further viewing, but “Bloodline” is more about building a rich world within its central family, the Rayburns.

We’re quickly introduced to the Rayburns as a complex unit. Patriarch Robert (Sam Shepard) runs an idyllic resort in the Florida Keys with his wife Sally (Sissy Spacek). Three of their children — sheriff John (Kyle Chandler), lawyer Meg (Linda Cardellini) and youngest son Kevin (Norbert Leo Butz) — live close by and help out with the family business.

On the resort’s 45th anniversary, black sheep and oldest son Danny (Ben Mendelsohn) returns home looking to make amends and reconnect with his family. This is obviously going to be tough, and that opening cliffhanger — a flash forward, which is what “Damages” often employed — is a dreadful harbinger.

What evolves after the premiere episode is a slow-burn portrait of how the Rayburns grew up, bonded, built grudges and became the flawed people they are now. It’s not a viscerally exciting narrative, but there are moments of powerful tension — all rooted in genuine family discord.

This may sound like a tame narrative compared to the likes of “Game of Thrones” or “Breaking Bad,” but that’s hardly the case thanks to an excellent cast. I could talk about how good Chandler, Shepard, Spacek and Cardellini are, but there’s one big reason “Bloodline” is this good and it’s the powerhouse performance by Mendelsohn.

Mendelsohn is an unknown quantity — unless you saw him act circles around a stellar Ryan Gosling in “The Place Beyond the Pines,” stealing every scene. After a couple hours with “Bloodline,” Mendelsohn will be unforgettable. As an immensely flawed and selfish character, you’re skeptical and uneasy with him. Then when you’re sympathizing with him, the teeth come out.

Through half of its first season, “Bloodline” doesn’t have many “oh s---!” moments, but the quiet, passive menace that looms over everything is harrowing.


Currently streaming on Netflix

3.5 stars