The series begins with an eerie narration by John Rayburn: "Sometimes you know something’s coming. You can feel it. In the air. In your gut. And you don’t sleep at night. The voice in your head is telling you that something is going to go terribly wrong and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. That’s how I felt when my brother came home."
Danny Rayburn returns home to Monroe County, Florida for the 45th anniversary of his parents' Robert and Sally Rayburn's seaside hotel, The Rayburn House – a pier will be dedicated in their honor to mark the occasion. Danny is the black sheep of the family, with a poor reputation amongst them, including his three younger siblings: John, Kevin, and Meg. John is a detective with the local sheriff's office, Kevin owns a local marina, and Meg is an attorney with a local law firm. Danny wants to make his return permanent as he wishes to stay to help his parents at their Inn. Robert is reluctant to let Danny stay, but leaves it up to the three siblings to decide Danny's fate. The siblings decide against Danny staying as they conclude that he will only break Sally's heart in the end. John decides to break the news to Danny, but lies to him by telling him it was their father who wanted him gone, rather than the siblings. Ultimately Danny does not leave, despite allowing John to take him back to the bus stop. Danny's dysfunctional relationship with his father inadvertently causes Robert to have mini-strokes and eventually leads to his death.
The Rayburns' past is full of dark secrets that are revealed throughout the season. Danny's dysfunctional relationship with his family primarily stems from the untimely death of his younger sister, Sarah, when he was a teenager. Danny took Sarah out on a boat, where her seahorse necklace fell into the water, and as she attempted to retrieve it, she drowned. Her death caused Robert to give Danny a beating, which Sally covered up by having John, Kevin, and Meg lie to the police.
Robert's death opens the door for Danny to have a permanent job at the Inn. Danny appears to be changing his ways with hard work and dedication, which puts him in Sally's good graces. However, Danny's problem past is shown with childhood friend and troublemaker Eric O'Bannon. The two begin siphoning gasoline from local docks for drug and human trafficker, Wayne Lowry. As they gain Lowry's trust they are given larger jobs to complete. Danny eventually uses his job at The Rayburn House as a front to smuggle in cocaine for Lowry.
John and the sheriff's department collaborate with the DEA in an investigation into the deaths of unknown women and drug trafficking in Monroe County by Lowry and his men. The investigation leads John to Danny and his recent activities. While secretly investigating Danny, John finds the cocaine that Danny has been smuggling in a shed on The Rayburn House property. During a meeting between John, Kevin, and Meg the three siblings conclude that the only way to fix the situation and not put the family's business at risk with the Feds is to move the drugs to Danny's home in Miami. Unbeknownst to Danny, the drugs are moved, and replaced with empty suitcases. The drugs being moved puts Danny in a bad situation with Lowry, who believes that Danny has stolen the cocaine from him. Lowry sends a hitman to assassinate Danny, but Danny instead kills the hitman.
Under pressure, Danny begins to act erratically. Danny attempts to get to John by taking his daughter Janie out on a boat and giving her a seahorse necklace, like the one Sarah had. John and his wife Dianna take this as a threat against the family, so John sends his wife and children away for a few days. The ominous seahorse necklace causes John to reach his breaking point. During a confrontation, John murders Danny by drowning him in the ocean. Distraught from murdering his brother, John turns to Kevin and Meg to defuse the situation. The three decide to cover up the murder by moving Danny's body. John eventually covers up the murder by igniting a boat on fire to create an explosion that would frame Danny's death. Unsatisfied with the explanation of Danny's death, Sally turns to family friend and retired detective Lenny Potts to privately investigate the matter. In the aftermath of Danny's death Meg moves to New York City to take a job with a large firm, Kevin reunites with his estranged wife, Belle, who is now pregnant with Kevin's child, and John reunites with his family. The season ends with the arrival of Danny's son, Nolan, at John's home to find out what happened to his father.Kyle Chandler as John Rayburn, the second son; a detective and local deputy with the Monroe County sheriff's office
Ben Mendelsohn as Danny Rayburn, the oldest son and black sheep of the family
Linda Cardellini as Meg Rayburn, the daughter and youngest sibling; an attorney and the family peacekeeper
Norbert Leo Butz as Kevin Rayburn, the hot-headed youngest son; he refurbishes boats at Indian Key Channel Marina
Jacinda Barrett as Diana Rayburn, John's wife; she runs a plant nursery
Jamie McShane as Eric O'Bannon, Danny's friend and Chelsea's brother; a parolee
Enrique Murciano as Marco Diaz, Meg's long-term romantic partner; a detective with the Monroe County sheriff's office and John's partner
Sam Shepard as Robert Rayburn, the patriarch (main, season 1 – guest, season 2)
Sissy Spacek as Sally Rayburn, the matriarch
Katie Finneran as Belle Rayburn, Kevin's estranged wife (recurring, season 1 – main, season 2)
John Leguizamo as Ozzy Delvecchio, a man from Danny's past (season 2)
Andrea Riseborough as Evangeline Radosevich, the mother of Nolan Rayburn who has unfinished business with the Rayburn family (season 2)
Chloë Sevigny as Chelsea O'Bannon, Eric's younger sister; a nurse
Steven Pasquale as Alec Moros, Meg's legal client and lover
Mia Kirshner as Sarah Rayburn, Sally and Robert's deceased elder daughter. Angela Winiewicz portrays young Sarah in flashbacks.
Brandon Larracuente as Ben Rayburn, John and Diana's son
Taylor Rouviere as Janie Rayburn, John and Diana's daughter
Glenn Morshower as Wayne Lowry, a local drug distributor who owns a bait shop
Gino Vento as Rafi Quintana, smuggler and Wayne Lowry's employee
Eliezer Castro as Carlos Mejia, a former employee of the Rayburns' who hires Meg as a lawyer
Bill Kelly as Clay Grunwald, a DEA Agent
Jeremy Palko as Nicholas Widmark, Kevin Rayburn's neighbor
Randy Gonzalez as Manny, employee at the Rayburn House
Frank Hoyt Taylor as Lenny Potts, an old Navy friend of Robert's and a retired Monroe County detective
Owen Teague as Nolan Rayburn, Danny's son, whom the rest of the Rayburns were unaware of. Teague also portrays young Danny Rayburn in flashbacks.
Beau Bridges as Roy Gilbert, a political supporter and ally of John Rayburn for county sheriff.
David Zayas as Sheriff Aguirre, the incumbent sheriff running against John Rayburn.
Bloodline was announced in October 2014 as part of a partnership between Netflix and Sony Pictures Television, representing Netflix's first major deal with a major film studio for a television series. The series was created and executive produced by Todd A. Kessler, Glenn Kessler, and Daniel Zelman, who previously created the FX series Damages. According to its official synopsis released by Netflix, Bloodline "centers on a close-knit family of four adult siblings whose secrets and scars are revealed when their black sheep brother returns home."
The writing trio settled on the theme of family as they tried to determine what their next project would look like. According to Zelman, "Over the years we've found ourselves talking a lot about family and how family dynamics have changed — or not changed — as we've gotten older." Glenn Kessler added, "As we've hit our 40s, our understanding of our family dynamics has begun to change. And because we all come from families with three sons, we recognize the roles we play. It's something we'd been talking about. So the thought was, why not try to mine some of that in our creative life?" They settled on a Florida Keys-set family-thriller genre experiment, exploring the ghost of the past in family role formation. The pitch was attractive to a number of outlets before Netflix landed the drama as a 13-hour season to launch all at once — a structural advantage very important to the show's creators.
The creators were intrigued by the idea of casting Kyle Chandler, whose on-screen persona in Friday Night Lights was warm and inviting, to play the ostensibly noble but deeply damaged John Rayburn. They met with Chandler in Austin, Texas, and pitched him the part. "They said, 'This is like an experiment. We're not quite sure if this is going to work the way we're doing it, but we want to try to create this family dynamic we're aware of and create this family around it'", he recalled. "And their hesitancy of whether it would work or not... made me, thinking back on it, realize they were into it 110% because they were trying to create something new. I didn’t know what would happen with it or where it could go... But I was like, I’m in."
Ben Mendelsohn was the only actor the producers met with for the role of Danny Rayburn; they found his combination of intellect and acting ability perfectly suited to the part. Glenn Kessler was grateful for Netflix's hands-off approach to the decision, explaining, "They very much supported us finding the best actor that we thought could play the role." In addition, seeing as much of the show's dramatic tension comes out of the relationship between John and Danny, a certain chemistry between the two actors was vital. According to Chandler, "[Mendelsohn]'s so easy to work with. And yet, he's tricky — when you're working with him, [psychologically] there's so much going on."
Linda Cardellini and Norbert Leo Butz subsequently secured their parts as siblings Meg and Kevin Rayburn, respectively, through meetings with the creators. According to Kessler, Sissy Spacek and Sam Shepard were actually described prior to casting as the "dream" actors they'd want to play the Rayburn parents. A Damages fan, Spacek signed on after the cast started coming together, explaining, "There's so much good work coming out of television. I wanted to be a part of it."
The second season features the additions of John Leguizamo and Andrea Riseborough as series regulars, both playing characters from Danny's past. Ben Mendelsohn returns as a series regular for the second season, despite his character's having been killed off in season one. Glenn Kessler said, "The DNA of the show is such that the past is always with us", and, "We're going to learn more about Danny's effect on the family and more about his past, and also what his effects are in the present day." He added that Mendelsohn's return "was always part of the plan. When we first hired him, it was for more than the first season."
Todd A. Kessler described the reason for shooting the show on location in the Florida Keys: "We looked at several places and realized there is no place quite like the Keys and the color of the water and being outside and it really feeling like paradise and then having this kind of underbelly of what's going on underneath it." The creators acknowledged Crime and Punishment as a major narrative influence for what they described as a 13-hour movie. As Todd Kessler explained, "in that story the murder takes place at about page 60 and there’s another 400 pages of the book to go. The tagline that we use for promotion — 'We’re not bad people, but we did a bad thing' — is very much the fabric of the series. The first season just gets us to the starting line."
The show favors a mix of classic noir and hyper-realism in its look. Cinematographer Jaime Reynoso said, "he never saw [Bloodline] as a TV show", finding the all-at-once Netflix model useful in lensing the series as if it were film. He explained, "The concept the writers had was they wanted it hyper-realistic, almost documentary style." Consequentially, he found first takes were often the best, with actors not rehearsing to maintain spontaneity. Bloodline editor Naomi Geraghty echoed the importance of realism to the show in her approach: "Nobody is ever saying what they’re saying, so part of how you build on that is by staying with those moments and you save sharp or jarring cuts for flashbacks."
In September 2016, Vulture.com reported that the cost per episode for the show was approximately $7 million to $8.5 million per hour, with a total cost for the 33-episode between $231–$289 million. Despite the fact that the show derived tax credits shooting in Florida, shooting in the Florida Keys was particularly costly. The total production cost to Netflix from Sony Pictures Television was cited as one of the reasons for cancellation, regardless of positive reviews and award nominations. Executive producer Todd A. Kessler said: "We decided to set the show there...because it's crucial to what the show is, not because of the tax incentive, but it does affect things financially for us and the show will be challenged because of that. It makes things more difficult."
Critics received the first three episodes of Bloodline for initial review, and reception was positive—the season received a score of 75 out of 100 based on 31 reviews on Metacritic. Rotten Tomatoes gave the season an approval rating of 80%, with an average rating of 7/10 based on 44 reviews, and a critical consensus of: "While Bloodline's tricky timeline detracts from the potency of the story and its characters, the show remains an addictive, tightly drawn brainteaser framed on a believable canvas."
Especially positive reviews came from several sources. Ken Tucker of Yahoo! TV called it a "twisty mood piece ... well worth your time". Dorothy Rabinowitz, writing for The Wall Street Journal, said the series possesses a "magnetic pull". David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter raved, "Chalk up another forceful punch [for Netflix] with Bloodline, a riveting, superbly cast slow-burn family drama set between the oceanfront paradise and the murky mangrove swamps of the Florida Keys." Other strong reviews came from The A.V. Club, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, Variety, Entertainment Weekly, and the San Francisco Chronicle. Cinema Blend, Decider, Badass Digest, and Forbes have hailed Bloodline as the best Netflix original to date.
Debate ensued among some critics who felt the three episodes Netflix provided for review were insufficient. As Hank Stuever wrote in his review for The Washington Post, "I’ve enjoyed Bloodline so far, but it’s impossible to say if it’s consistently this good, because Netflix would share only three episodes (out of 13) with critics." For HitFix, Alan Sepinwall (who awarded the three episodes a B-) echoed the sentiment, saying, "We'll see if they play those [time-shifting] games to this extent with Bloodline — Todd Kessler has suggested to at least one reporter that the flash-forwards won't be a series-long (or even season-long) device — but for now, the new show seems more style over substance." He later revised his opinion on the matter, writing that Bloodline ultimately "played fair" with its narrative. He summed up his thoughts on the season in its entirety thusly: "In the end, Mendelsohn was so great that I'm glad I made it to the end, but this one feels better-suited to the anthology miniseries model than as an ongoing."
Other mixed reviews came from James Poniewozik of TIME, Robert Bianco of USA Today and Margaret Lyons of Vulture. However, Sean Fitz-Gerald, who reviewed the season as a whole for Vulture, wrote in sum: "Bloodline was a gripping, slow burn of a journey, so stressful, engaging, and uncomfortable ... KZK did a fantastic job crafting something real enough to find introspective truth in."
The Playlist named Bloodline the normative successor to Breaking Bad because of its complex and tragic anti-hero narrative. The piece's author, critic Nikola Grozdavonic, explicated the assertion by determining the show's value, writing: "As TV shows continue to soar during this golden age of television, the bar keeps rising higher and higher ... Right now [Bloodline is] the greatest example of how profoundly effective the 13-episode format can be in modern storytelling. Of course, shows have to be technically sound in order to represent their story in the greatest possible light, and the team behind Bloodline does an outstanding job in every technical department. Breathtaking cinematography, an immersive soundtrack, and a coyly observant camera all enhancing the viewing experience by a noticeable degree. The picturesque location of the Florida Keys, divided between gorgeous coral reefs and dark mangroves, is captured with an eye for the sensual and the symbolic. And yet, all of this would turn to dust if the story didn't reach as deep as it does, and the writing and performances weren't as spectacular as they are. IndieWire asserted that Bloodline's mix of noir and family drama allows it to successfully confront complex familial dynamics. According to author David Canfield, "The opening minutes of Bloodline rather perfectly ascertain a new trend happening in dramatic television right now: the family noir ... The conceit of these new series is to realize what's common to family-centric fiction within a construct that is both unsettling and pessimistic ... Bloodline identifies the origins of familial roles, each shaped by a cataclysmic event in the Rayburn siblings' childhood. The time-shifting is intrinsic to the show's ideas, exploring the formation of identity through flashbacks and, via glimpses of the future, affirming their inflexibility."
Critics' reactions were more divided to Bloodline in its entirety, with end-of-season reviews from publications, such Vox.com, IGN, and Uncle Barky, ending up very favorable. While reviews from HitFix, and Vulture were more mixed.
The first season was named among the best of 2015 by Rolling Stone, The Star-Ledger, Vanity Fair, The Guardian, IGN, The A.V. Club, The Week, Maxim and The Hollywood Reporter. However, IndieWire named the show one of the most disappointing TV shows of 2015.
Season 2 of Bloodline received mixed reviews from critics, with many reviewers criticizing the pacing, but praising the performances and cinematography. On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, it has a 50% approval rating, based on 16 reviews, with a rating average of 6.1/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Despite impressive performances and attractive cinematography, Bloodline's second season fails to recapture its predecessor's dramatic intrigue." On Metacritic, the season has a score of 60 out of 100, based on 9 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
The official trailer was released in mid-February, containing the Lissie cover of Metallica's song "Nothing Else Matters". After the trailer's release, Bloodline ranked eighth among all cable/streaming programs in Digital Audience Ratings and was the top trending program, despite being a month out of its premiere. According to Variety, "The first full trailer release for [Netflix's] upcoming drama “Bloodline” ... already has nearly 1 million more views in just a week’s time, landing the show on the Cable/Streaming and Trending leaderboards this week."