Will the secrets all come out?

Last season of “Bloodline” ended on as taut a cliffhanger as ever, with all the Rayburns’ secrets on the verge of being exposed. Desperate as ever to protect himself, Kevin (Norbert Leo Butz) ended up brutally murdering Detective Marco Diaz (Enrique Murciano), when he realized Marco had figured out that John (Kyle Chandler) had killed Danny (Ben Mendelsohn). Meg (Linda Cardellini) was on the verge of spilling all the family’s secrets to their mother (Sissy Spacey). And our erstwhile hero John Rayburn (Kyle Chandler), was running away from it all, driving away into the Florida darkness.

That this third season — which debuts May 26 on Netflix — would be the last came as a surprise to all involved, when Netflix made the announcement last fall. Here, executive producer Todd A. Kessler — who created and produces the drama along with Daniel Zelman and Glenn Kessler — tells Variety how that decision impacted the plans for the coming season, what price the Rayburns will ultimately pay for their crimes, and what’s in store for the finale.


What’s the overall theme of this season?

This season is really about holding the Rayburns’ feet to the fire. They have to face down their actions. They’re accountable for their actions. It’s a question of whether they’ll be able to rationalize what’s been done — or will it blow the family apart as each of the family members face their own crisis of conscience. And potentially lead to the disintegration of the entire family.

The decision to end the show now, after three seasons, wasn’t what you wanted. How did it impact the planning of the season?

When we had conceived the show, we had thought of it as a five or six-season arc. After coming off “Damages” which we had run for five seasons, we didn’t want to enter into another series unless it had the potential to run that long, because it allows for us to have much more depth of story and character. When we sold it to Netflix, that was the idea, that it would run in success for five or six seasons. And when we got the call, that they wanted us to end the Rayburns’ story after three seasons, it just meant looking at our notes for what we had planned for seasons four and five and six, and figuring out what we could pull and combine in order to make the most entertaining and emotionally satisfying and fulfilling story that we could. As with everything, ideally in any of storytelling, there’s always more than what you have the time to put on the screen. This was just one of those cases. We’re very excited about this third season. And also the way it concludes. It will give the fans of the show a very fulfilling and emotional experience that continues to deepen the characters that they’ve spent 33 episodes with.

Does it answer all the questions that have been raised throughout the series?

Yes. It’s in keeping with “Bloodline.” It doesn’t end in a sentimental way. It doesn’t end with everything all wrapped up. But there aren’t dangling threads at the end. We think that the final episode is one that we’re extremely proud of — in terms of the performances that the cast are giving, the depth that they got to emotionally. It’s very lucky to work with this level of talent across the board on a series. The final episode is one that’s going to be both intriguing and deeply satisfying for fans of the show.

It’s been reported that we’ll see the return of Ben Mendelsohn, who plays Danny. Can you confirm that?

Yes, Ben is in the last two episodes. His performance and work adds so much to the story. Obviously Danny played such a pivotal role in the entire series, the events of the first season and the second season that we thought it would be very fitting to have him come back. Without ruining anything, it’s something we’ve never seen with him and this character in this series so far. We’re very excited to give that to the audience.

In what capacity will we see him? Another flashback? A ghost?

I don’t want to ruin that. It’s something that as the story emerges is very organic to the storytelling. But he is dead. (Laughs.) I can reveal that he is definitely dead.

What’s in store for John Rayburn this season? You’ve really pushed Kyle Chandler beyond that Coach Taylor identity. 

Kyle is extraordinary. That’s the reason we had such a desire to work with him is everything we’d seen. And wanted to explore areas that we hadn’t seen him go to. In this third and final season, Kyle is doing things that he’s never done in his career, and deeply moving and affecting and really raw. That’s something that’s been so exciting is his desire to go there. After such a tremendous body of work to then strip away layers and continue to find nuances in his character and also reach into himself and put it all on screen.

What’s motivating John? How far is he willing to go?

What turns him around from just trying to leave is Kevin. He’s pulled back into the family fold because of the murder of Marco. That’s the catalyst that gets him back. And events unfold that gets further nuances as to why he’s staying and all the way to the last shot of the season and the series. He’s definitely grappling with his conscience. And how to live a life that’s very different from what he thought he ever would be living.

Again and again, actions in the show hinge on Kevin’s mistakes. How much can he screw up?

That’s a great question. We’re so thrilled with Norbert’s performance. Season three really brings Norbert very much into the spotlight as does Sissy Spacek’s character, Sally. The desire if this series was going to go into seasons four and five was to really look at each of the family members and give them each a very complete season, so what we did in season three was pull up storylines for Sally and for Kevin. They’re very much in the spotlight in this third season.

I get the feeling we’re going to see a darker side of Sally.

Yes. By design, Sally has been kept out of what the kids had done for the first two seasons. Again, you’re working with these actors, and they’re inspiring. It makes us want to write the best that we can possibly give to them. And then they make it even better.

She’s made her share of mistakes in the past, to be sure — but are there more to come?

She goes to Beau Bridges’ character (Roy Gilbert) and there’s some stuff hinted at about what’s happened in their past. So much of this show is about adult family relationships and things that happened in the past and unless we really take a moment to discuss those things as adults. The understanding of all the children is at different places, because events happened when John was 14 and Kevin was 9 and Meg was 5. They all have a different perception. They will definitely see their mother in a different light by the end of the season.

This becomes an examination of the impact of family secrets long kept buried.

Like we did with “Damages,” extreme events aren’t meant to be taken literally. But through those extreme experiences, we can then examine the smaller things. What they stand in for in audience’s life and in our life. so it’s kind of going to an extreme to then look at higher stakes. And recognize that those stakes exist in all of our lives.

As with Kyle, you have Beau Bridges playing against type as the manipulative Roy Gilbert. How much do you enjoy that as a creator?

It’s been so much fun writing for and collaborating with Beau. He rarely has gotten the chance to play this kind of character. And he’s been thrilled with it. In a similar way we’re using Kyle; his Coach Taylor persona doesn’t fully jibe with John Rayburn, that’s what’s been very fun is to subvert expectations. It’s so exciting to see him take on this persona that he normally doesn’t play.

Will we learn why it’s so important for him to have John become sheriff?

We will.

Will there be more bodies by season’s end?

Oh, come on now! (Laughs.) Yes, there’s always more bodies. I think for our taste what we’re trying to do in season three is use the events of the first two seasons to go deeper emotionally and psychologically as many degrees close to 360 as we can for John, Kevin, Meg, and Sally this season. It’s not so much as a body count stacking up as it is the internal crisis that it’s thrown these characters into and an exploration of that.

What’s next for you?

I’m hoping to turn to comedy and direct a film, a relationship comedy. I want to hand a script to an actor and discuss the whole arc of the story. This is my 20th year in television, and I would love to have that experience, of knowing the end when we start. And have more laughs. Hopefully there are more laughs in this third season than there were in the first two.