Created by: Todd A. Kessler. Glenn Kessler. Daniel Zelman.
Starring: Kyle Chandler. Ben Mendelsohn. Linda Cardellini. Norbert Leo Butz. Jacinda Barrett. Jamie McShane. Enrique Murciano. Sam Shepard. Sissy Spacek. Katie Finneran. John Leguizamo. Andrea Riseborough.
Number Of Episodes: 10
*Season One spoilers within*
The first season of this unlikely series from Netflix was like a hidden treasure you would expect to find buried beneath the very beaches it’s set upon. Looking at first like any other family drama it quickly became much more, a mysterious swelling storm of intrigue and moral desperation. A story of the Rayburns, a respected family in the Quays of Monroe County, Florida. A bedrock of the community and respected by all and loved by each other. The first season took a slow and intense look at the shadows of past mistakes beginning to creep and loom over their sun drenched lives. Our perfect family dynasty soon slowly reveal they have more skeletons in their closets than a shifty politician on Halloween night. Ghosts of decisions haunted our characters as their moral compasses span wildly in the ever changing winds of doubt and uncertainty. It ends with brother against brother as the fantastic Kyle Chandler’s John strikes down his tormented sibling Danny only for his apparent son to appear as the final curtain. Reduced in length by three episodes, can this second season continue this unraveling legacy of family woes or will it struggle to keep the pace?
The second season is set in the aftermath of John killing his brother Danny and trying to handle the living embodiment of guilt that is Danny’s alleged son, Nolan. With Danny gone i feared for the quality of the series, all the mystery and writing of the first series was almost drowned out by the cacophony of talent that was Mendelson and Chandler, every scene they had in the opening season was a thunderous clash of acting forces sweeping any other factors aside with glorious ease. They sizzled and sparked with seething talent and any scene they shared was a fierce pleasure to watch. Luckily they dodge this self inflicted bullet with another strength which are the admirably bud sadly rarely utilised scenes of inner perspective. John is prodded and probed by the mentally manifested image of his brother, reading his thoughts and appearing at will like a chain smoking Jacob Marley with worse taste in shirts. Not only does he torture John for the decisions he’s made but it’s John’s worst nightmare, Danny but with access to all of his mind and intentions he fights so hard to hide. It’s admirable because the series doesn’t lean on these too hard but like the first season these shots of memories and ghosts blurring with real world are by far the most effective scenes and are frustratingly few and far between. John witnessing a scene of a possible future as his family prepare to visit him in prison is a fine example being landed another swift uppercut to the brain by his punch-happy conscience.
This second season is fully taken over and consumed by the guilt of Johns actions just like the minds and souls of the family themselves. Johns partner and Megs ex-partner Marco investigates with his inexplicably keen and annoyingly on point detective senses. Marco is well played and justified but unlikable and unrealistically overpowered in the instinct department, he’s like if Columbo got bitten by a radioactive bloodhound and handed all the cheat codes to the game of crime. Marco is aided by the sturdy David Zayas’ character Aguirre, Johns competitor in the race for Sheriff and an entertaining side story with an ex wife cover up emerges to highlight and diversify the exhibition in the unraveling of the Rayburn’s moral fiber. It’s difficult to decide who to root for in this storm of deception as individuals desperately cling to each other for buoyancy and claw at any way out around them. The setting is perfect, the initial idyllic beauty of the Quays makes way for the ugliness beneath like the simmering mirage of the Rayburn legacy. The exotic sun soon turns to a relentless heat causing characters to sweat, like a physical manifestation of the spotlight shining upon them with its glare of guilt. The uncomfortable humidity looks as close as the noose tightening around the necks of this wonderfully appalling family.
Nolan is up and down as a character, the mystery wears off to leave an emotionless annoyance Golem chiseled from stony angst. but he imitates mannerisms of Danny very well and does garner your affection memories come to light. The flashback add broader strokes to this portrait of madness which is interesting but sometimes unsatisfying and obvious. Danny’s restaurant, his empire of taste crumbled around him but the reasons behind it are painfully predictable. John Leguizamo is entertaining as a lively thorn jabbing at the family’s side but sadly doesn’t pierce deep enough to justify the build up. Evangeline, Nolan’s mum is a vital but ultimately dreary siren wailing from the rocks of her self made misery, desperate for someone to steer off course from the main course and take notice. Sissy Spacek as Sally starts an interesting narrative of her downfall but watching her dig into her own family is like viewing a narcoleptic elderly man with vertigo play 18 hours of golf, slow, aimless and unsatisfying. Chloë Sevigny and Jamie McShane are surprisingly good support as the O’Bannons helplessly being kicked from one influence to the next as they merely struggle to stand up and matter. Mendelsohn’s Danny is sadly lacking in this series but Kyle Chandler’s John and Linda Cardellini’s Meg truly hold this show together. Chandler has very realistic moments of rage, denial and conflict while Cardellini manages to be self destructive but with subtlety and without becoming detached and irritating sadly the fate of the infuriating living plot device that is youngest sibling Kevin.
Performances are still the best ingredient in this show but the cuts are merely harder to chew. The story lacks the intrigue and longevity of the first. I was interested and invested but distinctly less satisfied when this second outing ended. The Lowry narrative is a much worn and heavily trod path of blackmail and how it’s resolved is disappointing and heavily telegraphed. It’s a plot solution that thinks it’s far cleverer and stealthy than it is, like a suave ninja creeping in the shadows but while dressed in neon orange and with his head set on fire. John’s marriage is by far the most convincing story thread, Jacinda Barrett does a great job as a refreshingly aware wife Diana and Chandler acts out crestfallen silences with amazing aplomb, his heavy pained eyes drop a nuclear bomb on a silent scene. Even Jane and Ben their achingly wooden children who i can only assume grew from the mystical boredom tree, can’t ruin these family scenes as they creak and moan in the background swaying in the breeze of their own pointless indifference.
All in all this is a well shot and acted series which walks a tricky path, how many dramas and lies can you dig up before the foundations crumble or the show sinks under the weight of becoming too unbelievable. And how do your characters descend into evil and compromise before they also fall from the graces of your audience, can you stay invested in a story quickly running out of heroes? To keep this tale intense and slow but not to become boring, this show is a challenge to make and for some this second season will be a challenge to watch, failing to match the searing atmosphere of the first one. The conclusion of the second series with Kevin feels lazy and is too close to the first and may bring the suspension of disbelief crashing down. John’s end scene however is brilliant and it’s those flashes of blinding brilliance that hope to keep you hooked
The Verdict: This showcase of people’s steady decline into madness unfortunately suffers a decline in quality also. For all it’s faults though it is a fascinating and well performed play on the quest for legacy and the writers haunt and torture their characters wonderfully well. There is a dark part of us that know we are a few bad memories away from becoming shadows of ourselves and wants to watch it happen to these mercifully fictional people. This show is wavering on uncertain sands but it’s still brave and uniquely different on a much visited topic, and that in itself is worth the effort of watching.