The expected death in the family occurs, but the Rayburn family is still thrown into emotional chaos as Bloodline nears the half-way point of S1.
Let’s bitch it out…
RIP Robert Rayburn (Sam Shepard). The Rayburn patriarch has been a goner ever since he had a stroke in ‘Part 2’, and the stay of execution last week merely delayed the inevitable. Robert barely survives a few minutes into the fifth episode and his death drives the remainder of the episode as the family organizes the details of his service.
Despite preparing for the worst over the last few episodes, the death still rattles the Rayburns. Meg (Linda Cardinelli) dodges Alec’s (Steven Pasquale) texts, eventually cutting him out completely when he calls in the aftermath of the service. Kevin (Norbert Leo Butz) breaks ties with Belle (Katie Finneran), angrily pulling her aside for a row in the kitchen when she appears at the service against his wishes. In a cruel off-hand comment, Belle reminds Kevin that he’s not his father and they break up, sending Kevin into a destructive drunken tail-spin for the remainder of the episode (Side Bar: if one good thing comes of this, it is that Kevin is much more lighthearted around his older brother, Danny [Ben Mendelsohn]).
And then there is John (Kyle Chandler). The family mediator is put in an uncomfortable position by matriarch Sally (Sissy Spacek) when she asks him to eulogize his father on behalf of the family. John clearly struggles with the task, not just because he worries that Danny will add his two cents, but because John doesn’t know quite what to say about his abusive father.
For the last few episodes, our perspective of the Rayburn family has been shifting. In my first episode review, I suggested that they were dysfunctional. Now I’m forced to reevaluate that statement and classify them instead as traumatized. Not only does the spectre of Sarah’s (Angela Winiewicz) death loom large in their collective consciousness, so too does the fall-out that occurred at Robert Rayburn’s hands. If ‘Part 4’ clarified the circumstances surrounding Sarah’s death, ‘Part 5’ details the abusive aftermath and how various family members conspired to keep the truth about Danny’s “accident” quiet.
The revelation that Robert hit Danny with a car and John lied during the subsequent police interview is handled in an interesting fashion. Thanks to the introduction of former family friend Lenny Potts (Frank Hoyt Taylor), Danny is provided audio evidence that John elected to protect their father rather than tell the truth. These scenes are intercut with John’s memories and his discovery that Lenny has removed the recordings of the family interviews from evidence. The decision to cut between the two reinforces how Danny and John are joined together (and now put into opposition with each other) by the events of the past. The visualization of the events in particular helps; it makes the exposition go down smoothly (contrast this with Sally’s monologue about Robert’s tough upbringing, which despite being well-delivered by Spacek still feels like an info dump).
The result is an episode that feels explicitly haunted. Previous episodes have felt more or less tied to a specific family member, especially Meg in ‘Part 3’ and Robert in ‘Part 4’. While John is more or less the de facto lead of this episode, there is a clear sense that everyone is haunted by these events. Sally explicitly avoids Lenny when she spots him at the service, Meg’s insecurities about her role as the lone surviving female daughter plague her as she and her mother select photos to display and Kevin’s problems with Belle are unquestionably prompted by his relationship with his father and his ideas about fatherhood.
- With the focus exclusively on the service, the will goes unmentioned. It will undoubtedly take center stage moving forward. It should be interesting to see which will is produced: right now it seems as though the outdated version (the one that includes Danny) is in play, but we know that the version where he has been excluded – which has been signed and dated by Robert and takes priority – is still floating around.
- I really liked Lenny’s introduction. Bloodline has been accused of being slow-moving and even methodical, but these tactics serve the narrative well here. We see a stranger en route to the Rayburn service and observe a gun in his car and our imaginations run wild. Initially I wondered if Lenny was a debt collector come to find Danny (I wonder if Danny’s former transgressions outside of Florida will come back to haunt him?)
- Eric O’Bannon (Jamie McShane) and Chelsea (Chloë Sevigny) sure do stand-out at the service. You know that Sally must really dislike Lenny if she chooses to speak to them instead of him.
- John’s off-script speech at the service reinforces our suspicions of Robert’s parenting techniques before we get confirmation via Lenny and the tapes. In that capacity it is crucial, but it sure is awkward to endure. I wonder what outside observers made of the suggestion that it was difficult to live up to Robert’s expectations?
- Still, that’s nothing compared to Danny’s reaction to the hotel guests who apologize for intruding on Sally’s grief. Their priceless reactions as he mumbles, rambles and confesses inappropriate family information is more than enough to make for a hellishly uncomfortable scene.
- As a fan of character blocking, I particularly liked the scene when the family gathers around the kitchen island to discuss their final interactions with Robert. While the others are all well-lit in the foreground, Danny is physically isolated in the darkened background. It’s a very clear indicator where he stands in relation to his brothers and sisters.
- Equally effective: the quiet simple moment that Sally brushes her teeth and spots Robert’s toiletries, waiting to be used by an owner that no longer has any use for them. It’s emotionally devastating and Spacek is great at conveying her grief without saying a single word.
- Finally, it sure is a good thing that Danny repaired the family truck last episode or else he might have had some difficulty finding a tape cassette player!
Your turn: what did you think of Robert’s (not entirely unexpected) death? Which version of the will do you think will surface? Is this the last we’ve seen of Alec? Will Kevin and Belle work out their martial issues? Did you anticipate John’s unscripted acknowledgement of how difficult it was to grow up under the weight of Robert’s high expectations? And what happens now that Danny knows John lied to the police to protect their father? Sound off below, but please refrain from posting spoilers about future episodes.
Bloodline is now available in its entirety on Netflix.