Many of the characters of Netflix's latest original drama series Bloodline put forward the version of themselves they want to be instead of who they truly are. The same can said for the show's creators.
Although Todd A. Kessler, Daniel Zelman and Glenn Kessler suggest that their new series is a departure from their previous endeavor — the Glenn Close-fronted legal thriller Damages — the first three episodes of Bloodline display many of the same time-bending tricks and storytelling devices that defined the earlier series. But that's not necessarily a bad thing.
"We're not trying to avoid Damages for the sake of avoiding it," Zelman tells TVGuide.com. "From our point of view, the tools work for what we're trying to accomplish. When we say [it's not like Damages], it's more about exploring something very different, in terms of what's inspiring the stories. Damages was all about ambition and power. This is just about family. It's not a world where people are trying to stab each other in the back and playing power games. What we're exploring are the interfamily dynamics, and the roles that people play in a family."
Bloodline tells the story of The Rayburns, an upstanding family who owns and operates an inn in the Florida Keys. When the family organizes a 45th anniversary party for patriarch Robert (Sam Shepard) and mama bear Sally (Sissy Spacek), the trio of siblings — golden boy town sheriff John (Kyle Chandler), hothead Kevin (Norbert Leo Butz) and the baby of the family Meg (Linda Cardellini) — gird themselves for the impending arrival of their black-sheep older brother Danny (Ben Mendelsohn).
And, sure enough, the fears outlined by Chandler's (sometimes heavy-handed) voiceover narration are soon confirmed. Old wounds are reopened, tempers flare and dark sides are revealed, all of which builds to a massive cliff-hanger at the end of the first episode that will make all of Netflix's subscribers happy the next episode is only a click away. The cliff-hanger flashes forward in time, and subsequent episodes continue this intriguing story. It's all a perfect fit for the binge-watching model, which the creators embraced as an opportunity to slow down.
"Because there's a larger ensemble of characters, we're able to take our time introducing the audience to the characters," Todd Kessler says. "Often in the one-hour format of television, storytellers are forced to shorthand who characters are, so things become more stereotypical or less interesting because you're trying to sell who that character is to an audience in a one-and-a-half minute scene. This allowed us to say, "We're going to take the first few episodes of this story and really let the audience get to know the characters in their lives."
And, like Damages, that's where this show ultimately shines. The cast is great from top to bottom, and while Mendelsohn will most likely be the breakout performance, the show allows Chandler to show TV viewers something much different than his work on Friday Night Lights. "We had experiences casting actors throughout Damages and recognizing the value of playing off of an audience assumptions about that actor," Glenn Kessler says. "Coach Taylor was such a beloved, solid, whole person and family man that it was exciting to us to get Kyle to play this role. [But] how reliable is this narrator? We know the assumptions an audience makes about Kyle, but as you're watching him through this first episode and beyond, you have to start to call into question some of the things that he's telling us because they don't seem to match up with what he's doing."
Chandler says he jumped at the role for the very same reasons. However, he believes whatever darkness is in his character comes from years and years of having to be the good son. "I think of it like a coming-of-age story for John," Chandler says. "You get tired of playing some of the roles that you've had to play your whole life. I'm going to that place where, 'Wait a second, I'm my own person, I've got my own thoughts on things and my own ideas, and I don't have to play by those rules anymore.' It can be a liberating thing, but it can be sort of dark and spooky at the same time."
On the flip side, Danny becomes so tired of his family's resentment that he leans into their perception of him. "[Danny thinks], 'I can't change your view of me anyway, so f--- you, I'll be that person,'" Zelman says. "We feel that's a very real human thing. You try to change as much as you can, you try to make efforts, and when no one appreciates them, then you become what they're labeling you... because you're so frustrated by people's unwillingness to see the efforts that you're making."
Not everyone is dreading Danny's return. "She's thrilled that he's home," Spacek says of her character. "She adores him, much to the chagrin of his siblings. Most mothers protect their children from everything and everyone, including their father. She feels responsible for a lot of problems that [Danny] has. So she's trying to compensate for that." Adds Glenn Kessler: "The tragedy of Sally Rayburn is her whole life she's been forced to choose sides. ... From the very early stages of motherhood, she recognized, 'I've got to figure out a way to coexist between these two people who fundamentally can't.'"
But based on that tantalizing flash-forward, no one seems to be able to prevent the tragedy that's destined to befall of the family. (As the tagline suggests, the Rayburns aren't bad people, but they did a bad thing.) Then again, if Damages taught us anything, those flash-forwards aren't always to be believed. So how much should we trust that that "bad thing" actually happened?
"It's very important to us that, even if things aren't what they seem, that there are actual events that happen," Todd Kessler says. "In this show, what you are seeing actually happens. We don't pull the rug out. In fact, our hope is that by the time we get to that moment, it's much deeper and much more shocking, surprising, unnerving, and thrilling than you could ever imagine from what you are just seeing in the first episode. We don't shy away from it. It's all caught up and revealed, and the audience will know exactly what's going on by the end of the first season. It'll be a complete experience unto itself."
All 13 episodes of Bloodline's first season are available to stream on Netflix now.