KZK Productions, 2015-17
Glenn Kessler, Mikael Håfström et al
📷 : Used with permission, Netflix
Movies and TV shows with heavy subjects
Movies and TV shows with a springtime feel or with images of the season
When I was in graduate school, my professor stated, “Inequality is violent.” I listened attentively to his explanation then, and while I thought he made a solid case I never fully bought into it. Even the most socialist and altruistic countries have inequality, which indicates it is something that is inevitable and occurs naturally. I do agree, however, that the scale of inequality in the U.S. is obscene and must be remedied through policy. What is violent is unequal treatment and unequal access to opportunities because they allow for castigation, marginalization, and even dehumanization of people who do not have the resources valued in the culture—or in the case of Bloodline, the family.
Bloodline is a Netflix original series about a traditional family of six in present-day Florida Keys, an untraditional but serene setting. Sam Shepard and Sissy Spacek head the cast as Robert and Sally Rayburn, a set of older Baby Boomers who own Rayburn House, a beautiful resort set on the ocean. As the patriarch of the family, Robert is loved and revered by his four adult children, while Sally is adored and overprotected by them.
Skeletons haunt the family, as we learn through flashbacks, old pictures, and of course the dialog between the characters. While the family is highly respected in the community and appears to be close‑knit, it harbors strong anxieties and a general distrust of Danny, the eldest sibling. At the root of these are Robert’s sentiments for his son and the lifelong purgatory he has relegated Danny to because of a pivotal moment of poor judgment he exhibited as a teenager. As the siblings follow Robert’s lead in his ostracism of Danny, we painstakingly realize that outcasts and monsters are not born, rather they are molded and shaped through years of harsh and unequal treatment.
The style and setting of Bloodline are reminiscent of the 1960s Elvis Presley movies shot in Hawaii. White sandy beaches, palm trees, and tropical foliage are omnipresent. Boomer hippies sit around in straw hats singing songs backed by the music of Robert’s ever-present ukulele, along with a speckle of teenagers to draw young audiences. The tone and subject matter of the story, however, are serious, making Bloodline a stark contrast from Blue Hawaii, Girls! Girls! Girls! and Paradise, Hawaiian Style. When he is unable to stay an extra day, a guest jokingly says to Sally “I feel like I am being kicked out of paradise!” Far from paradise, the series is particularly disturbing in season 1, where I often found it difficult to sleep after watching an episode.
Generation-X is well represented with the 40-something children led by Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights, Early Edition) as John Rayburn and Ben Mendelsohn as Danny (The King, Ready Player). And while Robert and Sally Rayburn present as hippies, Rayburn House offers very little in diversity by way of its employees, guests, or friends of the Rayburn family. Except for the Hispanic workers who have stereotypical roles of carrying the guests’ suitcases, driving the hotel shuttles, and turning down the beds, the resort—indeed the cast—is overwhelmingly White. But according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Key West is 60% Non-Hispanic White. This means 40% of the island consists of other groups, namely, Hispanics who comprise just under a quarter and Blacks who make up about 14%. Their absence in Robert and Sally’s circle after 50 years on the island reinforces the show's ‘60s aesthetics feel. Interestingly though, each of the siblings has a working or personal relationship with a member of one of these groups, as if the writers were positing the message that time has moved on.
Finally and annoyingly, Sally is flappable at every unexpected turn of events. Despite establishing the reputation of the Rayburn House with her husband over the last 50 years, she repeatedly asks how, why, and when questions like she’s clueless, and she defers meaningful business and family decisions to her husband and children. They, in turn, consider the degree to which their decisions will please or upset “Mom.” Sally’s relinquishing of her power is another example of the throwback feel of the show. She is the matriarch of the family, but she does not assert her authority by making her wishes known. Instead, she retreats, refusing to deal with the difficult things and expecting the men in her life to “take care of [them].”
Unlike her mother, Meg, played by Linda Cardellini (The Green Book, Daddy’s Home 2), is a strong‑willed, tenacious, and competent lawyer who handles the legal aspects of the family business. Throughout the series, she is revealed as fun‑loving and quite the opposite of a traditional wallflower. Her portrayal hammers home the generational difference between her and her mother.
Make no mistake about this show. While it is a ‘60s feel story in a contemporary, bright, beach setting, the subject matter is serious and can be quite disturbing. Stories about family dysfunction often are this way, some less scratch-the-chalkboard-surface than others. But our tastes and appetites vary. While I struggled to get past season 1, this series might just work for you.