The third and final season of Bloodline begins streaming on Netflix on Friday, and it wraps up the family history of the Rayburns, the deeply troubled owners of a family inn so cursed with bad luck, bad events, and bad mojo, there ought to be special Yelp warnings about trying to book a room at that Florida joint.
The series picks up where Season 2 left off, with youngest brother Kevin (Norbert Leo Butz) having killed cop Marco Diaz (Enrique Murciano). Will big brother-cop John (Kyle Chandler) help his screw-up sibling out of his latest jam? Does their sister Meg (Linda Cardellini) feel relief or pain over the death of her ex-boyfriend Marco? And will the family materfamilias, innkeeper Sally (Sissy Spacek), be a source of comfort for the children, or a constant reminder of the sordid secrets members of the Rayburn family keeps buried deep in each of their souls?
The 10-episode wrap-up of two seasons of deceit and lies — crafted by creators Todd A. Kessler, Glenn Kessler, and Daniel Zelman — ultimately pays off, but it takes a helluva a long time, and a very circuitous route, to get there. Bloodline has always been a showcase for excellent acting — not only from the principals named above, but also co-stars like Ben Mendelsohn as eldest brother Danny and Sam Shepard as family father Robert. In the new season, Chandler’s John takes much of the spotlight, and Chandler is fully up to the task. His piercing gaze and soulful stare get constant workouts, his muttered line-readings always distinct in the emotions he wants his words to convey.
It’s John who feels most heavily the weight of the family’s tarnished legacy, beginning with the drowning death of sister Sarah when the Rayburn siblings were just kids. Once again we hear John recite the core condemnation we’ve heard since the beginning of Bloodline: “We’re not bad people, but we did a bad thing.” There’s a sense in which much of Bloodline has been the TV equivalent of a Eugene O’Neill memory-play, a sort of Long Day’s Journey at the Inn. At its most electrifying, the show has given us long scenes of brother and brother, brother and sister, children and mother — each allowed to express the extremes of family-feeling.
In contrast to this, Kevin is the character who lives most vibrantly in the present, and the best parts of the new season involve his struggles. He’s working for Beau Bridges’ Roy Gilbert now, and like everyone Kevin seems to come into contact with, Roy leads him into more trouble. Bloodline is never more entertaining than when Kevin is sweating through his T-shirt, his eyes little dots of panic as he frantically tries to figure out how to extricate himself from some fresh dilemma he’s slipped into. Butz gives a superb performance in every second of this season.
That’s Bloodline at its best. There’s quite a bit of the new season of Bloodline, however, that showcases the series’ weaknesses and irritations. Boy oh boy, is this show dark. I don’t mean (just) emotionally — I mean, move-closer-to-the-screen, wait-what-did-he-just-throw-overboard dark. There are whole scenes that seem shot at night by the light of a half-dozen candles. The gloom deserves its own character credit. Then there’s the way Bloodline is filmed: Too often, we seem to be watching scenes shot from the point of view of a saltshaker half-hidden behind a glass coffee pot — it’s as though the producers had decided that for some climactic scenes, it would be really cool to tuck the camera in between two sofa cushions to give us a muffled perspective on the drama.
The show’s problematic visual style — its tendency to become too pleased with its own fondness for deception and obscurity — is what ultimately makes Bloodline a too-heavy piece of work. There are a few coincidences in the final hours that make the plotting strain credulity, and the second-to-the-last episode feels as though a big chunk of it was cut and pasted from previous seasons and leftover editing-room footage in order to reach the assigned 10 hours.
Lumbering along, dragging family history along in a way that slows down its thriller storytelling, Bloodline contains too many instances of a character saying some variation on the line, “When’s it going to end?” or “How did we get here?” or — one of Danny’s favorites — “The secret of life? Knowing when to leave.” Bloodline leaves us having worn out its welcome, but, like a sibling who’s always trying our patience, there’s still a lot to like, even love, about it.
Bloodline is streaming now on Netflix.