BLOODLINE and Flat Characters

Netflix’s original series Bloodline finally crossed my radar a few weeks ago when my sister was in town. I ended up watching about 4 episodes of the first season with her as she prepared for the release of season 2.

I re-watched season 1 in its entirety after she left, because I can’t just leave a story unfinished – that’s ludicrous! I’ve now started season 2, and I’m not sure if I’m going to finish it. Spoiler Alert – I’m going to discuss season 1’s events freely, but I’ll leave out season 2 since I’m only on episode 3 or 4.

I enjoyed season 1 of Bloodline, mostly because the gradual unraveling of the Rayburn family’s past, and Danny’s presumptive death was compelling enough to keep me in. But that’s about as far as my interest went.

For a prestige drama series that is supposed to be character-driven, I found the characters of Bloodline to be disappointingly two-dimensional through season 1. Every Rayburn just wants to do what’s best for the family, which I would empathize with if they didn’t each weave this tangled, confusing web of lies over their own perceptions of what the family should be. More on this later.

My frustration here is compounded by the fact that I actually like most of the actors; I just don’t think they were given much to work with. So here’s my run-down of the three main players:

John Rayburn (played by Kyle Chandler) has two sides: he either plays the overly concerned family man, or the earnest cop trying way too hard to appear menacing (and not quite getting there). Even his interactions with his two teenage children seem laden with trying too hard. His children’s apparent indifference to his concerns only make him look even more feeble.

Meg Rayburn (played by Linda Cardellini) starts off as a sweet, caring person who just wants to do what’s best for her family (much like everyone else I suppose). But by season 2 she has devolved into a petulant child, no more capable of holding her own life together than anyone else’s. I did feel a tinge of sympathy when Meg decided to confess to her fiancee, Marco (Enrique Murciano) that she had cheated on him. After that scene, however, Meg is mostly left reeling between fear of Danny and irritation with everyone else.

And then we come to Danny Rayburn (played by Ben Mendelsohn). Danny is certainly the most interesting character on the show, played by the actor with the most emotional range. For the first few episodes he is even sympathetic. He’s trying to rebuild his life; he just wants the Rayburn clan to accept him. But once you start to see how obsessed he is with his past and how he relishes his perennial role as Black Sheep, it’s hard to actually give a shit about what happens to him. He becomes a manipulative, vengeful, coke-binging low-life who everyone just wants to be rid of. By the end of season 1, I was actively rooting for Danny to come to an untimely end. Seeing the circumstances of his eventual death was the main plot-point that kept me watching.

Drama > Character

And that is the ultimate problem with this show. Despite the dramatic plot, despite the fact that I like most of the actors, it’s just not that good. In trying to follow the anti-hero trope of true-to-life characters with obvious flaws, Bloodline has gone too far. Its characters are, for the most part, just plain unlikable.

When season 2 opened with the family’s past — and recent actions — still haunting them, I found myself wondering why I should care. The giant hole of lies and betrayal the characters were frantically trying to dig out of was brought on by their own decisions and compulsive lies. Even after learning that they are not as secure in their secrecy as they thought, John, especially, still uses his “protecting the family” mantra to justify digging himself deeper, telling even more lies about Danny’s murder and exposing himself and his family to even further scrutiny.

I get that the web-of-lies drama is part of the enticement of the show. But it would be far more engaging if I actually cared about the characters. Maybe I’m missing the point; maybe this show really is more about the drama of the characters than the characters themselves. If that’s the case, it’s working, because I’m at least still interested in what happens in season 2.

I’m currently on episode 3 or 4 of season 2, and I haven’t decided yet whether I’m going to finish it out or not. Knowing myself… I’ll probably return to Bloodline after a brief hiatus. But I’ll be going back for the pure drama, not because the characters matter to me.

Steve D

4 thoughts on “BLOODLINE and Flat Characters

    1. Thanks! And I totally agree! Seeing how much poor character development can impact an otherwise good show has made me secretly afraid for my own character writing haha

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.