By sheer coincidence I watched Rogue One and the first episode of Netflix’s “Bloodline” on the same day. After my wife and I had finished watching “Dark Matter” seasons 1 and 2—highly recommended, by the way—she scoured Netflix for a new show. She found Bloodline and started watching. Somewhere in the week leading up to the release of Rogue One, she commented that the bad guy in the Star Wars movie is in this TV show she was watching. I asked her which character and she said “Darth Vader?” My eyebrows raised, thinking “Wow, the guy in the suit must be good outside of the suit.” I must have said something to the fact, because in the next few moments, she pulled up a photograph of the actor in question. Ben Mendelsohn. Oh, he’s not Vader, he’s….well, I didn’t know the character’s name yet. I hadn’t seen the movie. Come to think of it, I didn’t know Mendelsohn either.
But holy cow do I now.
And not only because of Rogue One.
Bloodline is a mystery/drama series produced by Netflix. Two seasons have been produced, but we’ve only seen the first, having concluded just last night. On the day Rogue One was released, my wife attended the show with me. Later that night, having already consumed the entire first season herself, she asked me to watch the first episode. Just the first one, mind you, to see if I’d like it. Now, I was more than willing to go along. I was curious about Mendelsohn as he, unfortunately, didn’t get a lot of screen time in Rogue One. So we cued up the show.
And I was hooked.
Bloodline has a terrific tag line: “We’re not bad people…but we did a bad thing.” The tale involves a family who owns an inn in the Florida Keys. Sam Shepherd plays the father, Sissy Spacek the mother. Three of their adult children live in the area: John (played by Kyle Chandler) is a cop, Kevin (Norbert Leo Butz) is a blue-collar man who works on boats, and Meg (Linda Cardellini) is a lawyer. As the show opens, black sheep son Danny (Mendelsohn) is returning to the Keys. There was a bad event back in the day—not spoiling it here for the gradual revelation is part of this show’s wonderful pacing—and Danny went off on his own. But he wants to come back to the family. He’s even got the words he wants to say to his family written on folded yellow notebook paper.
As you might expect, not everyone is thrilled that Danny’s back. And it is in the interactions with the other cast members where Mendelsohn just shines. When he talks with his cop brother, Danny acts a certain way. If it’s with his sister, it’s another. The nuances in Mendelsohn’s performance and in the performances of the other actors that make this slow burn show so dang compelling to watch.
Typically while engrossed in a show, I don’t usually notice how the story is put together. Not so, here, but that’s a perfectly fine compliment. As a writer, I was amazed at how the show runners were able to craft such an elegantly sculpted piece of storytelling art. Throughout most episodes, you get flashbacks to the bad event in the past, but you also get glimpses of another event in the future. The openings of each episode have the policeman, John, doing a voiceover that so engrosses you in the show that it all but compels you to keep watching.
The twists and turns of the plot are enough to keep your attention engaged, and the payoffs surprising and satisfying, but the performances are what truly sell this show. Mendelsohn is the scene stealer. He’s like Heath Ledger’s Joker: whenever Mendelsohn’s on screen, you are riveted. He transforms Danny throughout the course of the 13-episode first season via words, actions, and even body language. Kyle Chandler’s John plays the straight arrow cop like he was born to play it. (I never say Friday Night Lights so this was the first time I saw Chandler act.) Norbert Leo Butz, who I literally just discovered is a two-time Tony winner, plays Kevin as the down-and-out man who needs just one more break, not unlike Danny himself. When I saw Cardellini, I thought “Velma!” since she played that character in the live action Scooby Doo movies, but she plays Meg as a combination of small-town charm with a haunted darkness underneath her eyes. All the performances are fantastic.
And then I learned Mendelsohn won an Emmy for his role as Danny (I purposefully didn’t research too much into the show while watching it for fear of reading a spoiler). Well deserved.
For eight seasons, my favorite show on TV was “Castle.” Now it’s “The Flash.” That’ll give you a sample of where my interests typically lie. But I’m going to split hairs here. I’ll still contend that “The Flash” is my favorite show on network TV. But giving “Stranger Things” its props for what it did and how well it accomplished its goals, “Bloodline” season 1 might be the most compelling thing I’ve watched on TV in 2016.
Now, on to season 2!’
P.S., Having seen this first season with Mendelsohn as Danny, two things come to mind. One, there are certain actors that I enjoy so much, I’ll watch anything they’re in. Mendelsohn is now on that list. Heck, his mere inclusion in “The Dark Knight Rises” is now going to make me have to watch that movie again. (I haven’t since the day I walked out of the theater in 2012 despite it being a Batman movie.) Two, I know Rogue One was chock full of characters—and I immensely enjoyed seeing the movie a second time having watched half of Bloodline by that time—but boy would I have liked to have seen more of Mendelsohn’s Orson Krennic.