[Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers for “Bloodline” Season 3, including the finale.]
A major problem with Season 3 is that most of its plot can be summed up very briefly. In response to Kevin and John’s predicament at the end of Season 2, the brothers end up framing Eric O’Bannon (Jamie McShane) for both crimes. There’s a five-month time jump that takes us from Marco’s funeral to two weeks before O’Bannon’s trial, but it all works out as the brothers planned. In the end, it’s Kevin’s connection with Roy Gilbert (Beau Bridges) that proves his undoing, and — despite Kevin’s attempt to help — he’s arrested. John tries to confess to his own crimes, but the sheriff refuses to hear it. John then decides to tell Danny’s son, Nolan (Owen Teague), what really happened to his dad and let the kid decide his fate. Then…well, that’s it. We don’t see the conversation. The series ends with uncle and nephew standing on the Rayburn dock, preparing to talk.
We’ll get into the anti-climactic final moments in a bit, but I’m not going to lie: Going eight episodes without Ben Mendelsohn really hurts the sheer enjoyment factor of the show. Though I was one of the few who enjoyed his ghost-like appearances in Season 2, even that may have been a stretch to recreate throughout the final season. Especially given the time jump in the middle of the season, seeing John continue to be haunted — literally — by his dead brother for 10 hours would’ve been taxing.
But Mendelsohn proves an irreplaceable talent when he returns in Episode 9, and the final season feels like it finally starts. To put it bluntly, Danny is just a much more interesting character than Kevin. Butz does a great job with the third Rayburn brother, painting Kevin with more shades than he actually has, but Danny is just a better character. He mirrored John in such a way that they brought out new sides of each other. John was “the good son” who Danny resented, but John obviously harbored a dark, sinister side that his black sheep brother knew about. They basically switched roles by the end of Season 2, as John’s good/bad 60/40 split reversed to 40/60, and Danny did the opposite — ending up more likable than he was when the series began.
Kevin, meanwhile, didn’t wrestle with his demons. He accepted who he was and what he’d done fairly quickly. He put his wife and child above everything, and used them to justify the murder, the drug dealing, and the lying. John and Danny struggled with everything, creating suspense within what they’d do next. Kevin had no such struggles. We knew what he was going to do every time a hard decision came up.
This was exemplified in the most problematic part of Season 3: the courtroom drama. Stuck right smack in the middle of what felt like an overly lengthy season — even after being cut down from 13 episodes to 10 — everything surrounding Eric on trial was exhausting, from the family taking the stand to O’Bannon’s slow car ride to his mom’s funeral — which perfectly embodied his arc overall. The perspective shift worked in forcing us to see the darkness within the surviving Rayburn brothers, but we already knew they’d done a bad thing. We suspected they were bad people, despite what John always argued, but we didn’t need to be taken out of their perspective for so long, so often.
Moreover, of the three family members that took the stand, only one was interesting. Big surprise, it was John. His testimony carried legitimate suspense: Was this the moment Good John came back? Was he finally going to tell the truth? Considering Lenny Potts (Frank Lloyd Taylor) stopping by to warn John about lying at the wrong time and John’s already conflicted conscious, there was genuine tension in what he’d say. The same could not be said with Kevin or Sally. Kevin was going to stick to the script, and Sally was going to protect Meg. Both happened. Both took up a lot of time. Neither moved the plot forward; not in regard to the family coming to terms with what they’d done, who they are, or how they could move on.
That’s why when Danny returns, via an episode-long dream sequence in Episode 9, “Bloodline” peaks again. John and Danny share the core relationship of the series, and Danny was needed to effect change. (Plus, Chandler and Mendelsohn are incredible together. Their scenes crackle like none other, partly because the material is better, but also because these two Emmy nominees earned their honors.) Even the creators knew as much, which is why Danny didn’t show up until the very end. We always knew it would come down to these two brothers, in one way or another. And it did.
The finale, spanning an unnecessary 68 minutes, built up to two moments: First, it teased John’s confession in the opening via an ominous voiceover: “I don’t need to be read my rights. I’m here to confess.” The formal reasoning behind this is obviously to call back to the pilot, where John began to unveil murdering his brother, which was then shown later in the episode. But much like Season 1 proved frustrating because of this forced structural decision, the finale backed off its own opening promise in the end.
John tried to confess, but Franco refused to hear it. So instead, we reach moment No. 2, when John had to confront his biggest fear: telling the truth to Nolan. This is a better ending than John merely going to prison, but considering we didn’t even see the discussion, it’s not exactly a thrilling or fully satisfying conclusion to the family saga. John is set up to inherent the role of sheriff, and while the final few episodes made it easier to accept that he’d stay on the straight and arrow, his brother, Kevin, going to prison while John, a murderer, lives out his life alone, but free.
That’s far from fair, and “Bloodline” didn’t earn an unfair ending. “We’re not bad people, but we did a bad thing.” Well, whether you’re bad or not, there needs to be a takeaway from all this other than, “Some people are good and bad.” John was never really held accountable, even if you count losing his entire family. O’Bannon is still rotting in jail for a crime he didn’t commit. (And Eric telling John he’s “over it” at the start of the finale was one of the most ridiculous moments of the series.) Chelsea (Chloe Sevigny) will never be a nurse again. Sally is stuck with a soon-to-be worthless property and no family. Kevin is in jail. Danny, Sarah, and Robert (Sam Shepherd) are all dead.
Not all of these things are connected to John killing Danny, but “Bloodline” seemed content with providing internal resolution for its lead character instead of answering for the incredible amount of tragedy stirred up over three seasons. The ultimate impact of the series ends up being as murky as the water in Key West is clear. “You never knew what family was,” John told his mother in their last conversation. Well, she may not have understood the complexities of that concept, but tracking this bloodline didn’t give us a better understanding either.
“Bloodline” Season 3 is streaming now on Netflix.