‘Bloodline’: In this family, they’re all black sheep

John (Kyle Chandler) and Sally (Sissy Spacek) are part of the Rayburn family in the Netflix drama “Bloodline.”
John (Kyle Chandler) and Sally (Sissy Spacek) are part of the Rayburn family in the Netflix drama “Bloodline.” NETFLIX

Scratch beneath the surface of anyone, and previously held assumptions about the individual may be proved inadequate. Scratch beneath the surface of a family and necessary revisions increase exponentially.

“Bloodline,” the gripping new drama from the creators of “Damages,” is about family secrets – truths hidden from the rest of the world, from each other and, in some cases, even from the Rayburn family members themselves. All 13 episodes become available for streaming from Netflix on Friday.

Robert and Sally Rayburn (Sam Shepard and Sissy Spacek) run a successful resort in the Florida Keys. Three of their four children live nearby. John (Kyle Chandler) and his wife, Diana (Jacinda Barrett), are the apparent ballast of the family. John’s sister, Meg (Linda Cardellini), is a lawyer living unmarried for five years with Marco (Enrique Murciano). And Kevin (Norbert Leo Butz) is the family hothead whose marriage to Belle (Katie Finneran) may not be as perfect as it seems.

The resident Rayburns are all dedicated to keeping peace in the family – almost, we soon realize, as a defense mechanism, but against what?

Matriarch Sally dreams of the day when her entire family will be united again, including black sheep Danny (Ben Mendelsohn), her eldest. The dream is almost entirely Sally’s alone, however. Meg is cautiously OK with Danny coming back, but since her entire life has been spent trying to win her father’s love, she is hesitant to go against Robert’s steadfast belief that Danny is a rotten apple.

Kevin is especially resentful of his prodigal brother, while John, trying to walk a fine line between his parents’ differing opinions about Danny, at first concocts a lie to get rid of him when he turns up for a family celebration.

John is also the narrator of the story, informing us from the start that “we’re not bad people but we did a bad thing” as the story of what happened after Danny returned is told in extended flashback. As it unfolds, the secrets of each family member are revealed – something John did to Danny when they were children, Kevin’s struggle to live up to what he believes is the ideal standard set by his brother, what Meg did against her father’s wishes and how self-destructively desperate she is to have her father’s complete approval.

It’s especially gratifying to watch old pros (and onetime Charlottesville, Va., neighbors) Shepard and Spacek play off each other. The more we learn about their children, the more we want to go beneath the seemingly placid surface of the parents’ marriage to understand how they’ve managed to both love and tolerate each other’s differing views of life and family after all these years.

The three episodes made available to critics are instantly compelling, taut with edge-of-your-seat drama and thick with credible melodrama. As anyone who’s ever been to the Keys knows, the weather can change in an instant in that part of the world, and it does, quite regularly, in “Bloodline.”