TV Review: Kyle Chandler and ‘Bloodline’ Make a Last Stand

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In the age of digital streaming, it’s exceedingly rare for a TV series to get canceled. Yet Netflix canceled the Emmy darling “Bloodline” and put it on the path for a final season. The series had already drawn rave reviews and owned a space in the Emmy awards race similar to “Grace and Frankie” or “Ray Donovan” has over the past two years. While the series itself hasn’t received significant love, both Kyle Chandler and Ben Mendelsohn received multiple nominations for their performances. Mendelsohn even took home the award for Outstanding Supporting Actor last year.

Despite this critical acclaim, many believed that Season 2 was a step back for the series. Part of this stems from a reduced role for Mendelsohn. The void left by his reduction gave both Linda Cardellini and Norbert Leo Butz larger roles. Sissy Spacek felt like she wasn’t given all the material she needed to shine. John Leguizamo, Chloe Sevigny, and Beau Bridges provided strong guest spots. Despite all the talent involved there was still something missing. With a final impending season, showrunners Todd A. Kessler, Glenn Kessler, and Daniel Zelman are not only able to right the ship but deliver a satisfying conclusion to conclude the series.

The events of last season put the Rayburn clan in a very difficult space. Kevin (Butz) killed a police officer, Marco (Enrique Murciano) for threatening to put away John (Chandler). Meg (Cardellini) admits to her mother (Spacek) that John killed Danny (Mendelsohn). John gets on a bus to leave the Florida Keys, and finally, escape his family. With everything seeming to unravel at once, the family makes a choice. To protect each other, they have to put Marcos murder on the man trying to seek justice for Danny, one Eric O’Bannon (Jaime McShane).

Over the course of the series, “Bloodline” has proven that family is above all else. Yet the latest events push each character to their limits. Some characters, like Spacek’s Sally Rayburn, double down on defending her family. John lies to protect Kevin, and Kevin lies to protect John. Meg flees the Keys and is attacked for doing so. The family remains incredibly close-knit, but the seams are coming undone on the intricate web of lies they’ve told for 30 years.

The series has always featured incredibly strong storytelling that highlights the noir style the show has cultivated. The tension is palpable in many scenes, whether at a “Godfather” style baptism or in pathos-driven courtroom scenes. With no more groundwork to lay, the Kesslers and Zelman let their crew reach new heights, not only below the line but above it as well. However, there are still issues in the narrative of the final season.

Perhaps the biggest issue at play in the last season is the overarching feeling of familiarity. While the show kicks the habit in the final four episodes, the first few feel like clones of earlier episodes. Covering up a murder can only work so many times as a narrative device. The family melodrama can also feel like a retread at times. The character who receives the short end of the stick is Kevin, who never truly develops enough in the series. Butz works his hardest to bring Kevin to life, but the way the character is written is extremely frustrating.

Yet as the series begins to wrap up in the last few episodes, the series becomes as electric as it has ever been. Specifically, Chapter 32 is one of the best episodes of TV this year, channeling “The Leftovers” in a hazy memory episode that will undeniably be Chandler and Mendelsohn’s Emmy submission episode. It’s an easy reminder of why so many fell in love with the series and showcases the incredible cast the show has assembled.

Both Chandler and Spacek are absolutely dynamite this season. Chandler continues to showcase why he is one of the best television actors of his generation. He is a broken man, pushed beyond his limits after the events of the previous two seasons. The guilt is still present in every scene, and Chandler expertly performs John’s anguish. Late in the season, he gets a pair of standout episodes that make a case for Chandler to take home Emmy gold.

Spacek finally cashes in on the meaty material here. With very strong material to work with, Spacek dives in head first. While other seasons she was limited to the role a grieving mother, she takes control in this season. With a strong sense of agency, Spacek becomes one of the standouts of the season and should push hard for an Emmy nomination in a field with four open spots. Spacek has the room to be the supporting nominee now that Mendelsohn is not eligible.

Speaking of Mendelsohn, he again gives extremely strong performances but doesn’t appear in enough episodes to qualify for supporting actor. Instead, he might take home a guest acting trophy for his limited screentime. Perhaps the strongest unrewarded aspect of the show to this point is the cinematography. Every bit as essential to the style of the series, Jaime Reynoso delivers throughout the season. The visual composition of the shots make the series one of the strongest on TV today, equal to the work “Homeland,” or “Man in the High Castle,” put forward this year.

The final season will likely draw some mixed results because of its pacing. The late release date might hurt some of its Emmy chances for its performances as well. However, with strong episodes to close out the series, standout performances, and very strong below the line work, the series stuck the landing. While some may look back at “Bloodline” as the show that ended too early, this time courtesy of Netflix, the show is going out on top. Ultimately, the 33 episode story of the Rayburn clan is leaving at the perfect time. The excellent sendoff should only work to solidify its place in Netflix’s history.

What do you think? Does season 3 of “Bloodline” work as a sendoff for the series? Can it expand its nomination count with the final season? Let us know on the Awards Circuit Message Boards and in the comments below.

All three seasons of “Bloodline” are now available to stream on Netflix.

GRADE: (★★)