*Spoilers for the first seasons of Wayward Pines and Bloodline
Although sci-fi Wayward Pines and crime/family drama Bloodline are completely different, they share one key similarity. It appears, from viewing comments on various blogs and critical reviews, that generally people do not believe these shows warrant a second season. That’s not to say they are not good. In fact, it’s the opposite. Aside from the last thirty seconds of both shows’ series one finales (which set up future plot-lines), the seasons felt complete. Story-lines were wrapped, main characters were dispatched and the majority of people (myself included) would have been satisfied if the shows had remained once-off event series (which was the original plan for Wayward Pines). However, both returned this week and it’s interesting to see how the shows have dealt with the transition to their sophomore seasons.
For those who don’t know, Wayward Pines revolved around U.S Service Agent Ethan Burke (Matt Dillion) who, following a car crash, awoke in the mysterious Twin Peaks-esque titular town. The show revolved round him trying to understand the mysterious rules and practices of the town (no mobile-phones, public executions, cameras in every person’s home). Halfway through the season, in an M. Night Shyamalan-like twist (he is executive producer), it was revealed that the community was living in the year 4032. Everyone was frozen by visionary scientist David Pilcher (Toby Jones) as a means of keeping humanity alive in the face of humans’ devolution into the abbies (short for abberations), feral and cannibalistic creatures. In the finale of the first season, as the abbies breached the town’s gate, Ethan and his fellow community members rebelled against Pilcher’s iron-fist dictatorship. The season two opener takes place three years following these events. Despite Pilcher’s death, the coup was ultimately a failure and the late scientist’s student Jason Higgins (Tom Stevens) has taken control of the town, utilising his master’s former tactics. Meanwhile, a new lead character, Dr. Theo Yedlin (Jason Patric, Narc), has just awoken from cryosleep as a new revolution is about to begin.
Wayward Pines benefits from a thrillingly frenetic pace and cool premise, ensuring that even when the dialogue becomes burdened with plot exposition (particularly the opening narration by Charlie Tahan’s Ben, Ethan’ son), it is always engaging. Pitting essentially fascists against freedom fighters in a confined pressure cooker setting, all while monsters loom outside the town walls, guarantees action and excitement. Plus, as before the show isn’t afraid to kill major actors unexpectedly, adding a constant palpable tension. Former showrunner Chad Hodge (who passed on the mantle to Mark Friedman) stated during the first season that Wayward Pines was “always designed to be just … ten episodes”. However, on the basis of the series two premiere, it appears more compelling stories can be mined from the premise and I’m looking forward to seeing how the show will progress.
That said, aside from some solid work by newcomers Jason Patric (even with a tired subplot involving marital strife) and Hannibal’s Kacey Rohl, as Jason’s intelligent girlfriend, this season features notably less charismatic performances. Having only ten episodes before meant actors did not have to commit long-term, enabling the show to get bigger names to appear. Wayward Pines’ first season featured a number of reputable actors (Matt Dillon, Juliette Lewis, Terrence Howard, Toby Jones, Mellissa Leo and Carla Cugino). Thus, it’s a little disheartening to see the credits for this season noticeably less star studded. Even actors whose characters didn’t die previously no longer receive top-billing (Shannyn Sossamon, Cugino and Leo) and it’s hard to not miss them when judging this season’s performances. For instance, Tom Stevens’ villain isn’t necessarily badly acted. However, it feels in its delivery two-dimensional and simplistic in comparison to Jones and Leo’s season one performances which were always mutating as the show progressed and felt more layered. It has been noted that some of last season’s actors are scheduled to appear in minor roles (we saw Howard’s quirkily menacing town sheriff in a flashback) so perhaps their brief appearances will inject some much needed magnetism.
Bloodline is more difficult to discuss as the show has proven in the past it’s a slow-burn. While the first series received mildly positive reception upon its release, critics were only given the first three episodes in advance. Those who followed it to the end, predominately found it a far more rewarding as the show revealed its many intricate mysteries upon reaching its final, stellar string of episodes (Netflix’s strategy of releasing all episodes at once encourages this binge-watching). The first season centred upon Florida inhabitants The Rayburns, a seemingly happy family consisting of local cop John (Kyle Chandler, Super 8), lawyer Meg (Linda Cardellini, Age of Ultron), boat mechanic Kevin (Two-time Tony Winner Norbert Leo Butz) and their hotel owning mother Sally (Sissy Spacek, Carrie). Their lives were disrupted by the return of their scheming, ostracized but ultimately sympathetic career criminal sibling Danny (the brilliant Ben Mendelsohn, Killing Them Softly, Starred Up). In the previous season’s climax, John killed Danny while his relatives (bar Sally) helped cover it up. This series deals with the fallout of these actions as the trio are crippled guilt, Danny’s long-lost son appears on John’s doorstep and their late brother’s criminal activity haunts the family (particularly as John runs for county sheriff).
From the first two episodes, the show in attempting to create a new story, appears to be moving away from its simple but ultimately engrossing Greek-tragedy plot, which focused heavily on family dynamics. Instead, in attempting to fill the void left by Danny’s death, the writers have been forced to mutate Bloodline into a more standard crime show, filled with ludicrous plot twists. As a result, the show is still compelling but is ultimately less interesting as its plot drifts away from family bonds into a tale about a group of people covering up a murder.
That said, the acting remains as the brilliant as ever and there are a handful of excellent scenes to be found. For instance, John’s speech lecturing his brother on what to do when someone mentions Danny feels like the clip they will play as Kyle Chandler’s name appears on the Emmy or Golden Globe best actor list. Similarly, the scene in which Kevin is interrogated by police while under the influence of cocaine features terrific work by Norbert Leo Butz.
Although its cliché to say, the Florida setting feels like a character in the show. Like the opening shots of Blue Velvet, its idyllic beauty contrasts with the darkness of its inhabitants. Also, the visceral heat of the area contributes to the paranoia of the characters as the sweat drips down their foreheads. The show continues Netflix’s streak of producing televisual content which feels just as cinematic as many films. The constantly jittering and swirling camera-work contributes tremendously to the atmosphere, creating a constant feeling movement, almost akin to a nervous tick. Whether or not, this season can top its predecessor (a tough task considering its best character is dead, only appearing in visions and flashbacks) it’s too early to say. However, I can report on the basis of these opening episodes that Bloodline is still worth watching. Expect a full review when I finish this season’s ten episodes.