Daniel Zelman and the brothers Glenn and Todd Kessler carry the main responsibility for projecting one of the nuances of our contemporary zeitgeist into television: the experiencing of multiple temporalities simultaneously conveying a new way of exploring serial narratives.
With only two notches in their belts, the producing trio has already established their creative signature and interests where characters become fully dimensional only after exploring their three temporal faces –past, present and future. In addition, it is not only the audiences who are able to reconstruct the characters’ timelines, rather, the own inhabitants of these fictional worlds are heavily troubled by their own past facing their ghosts in every dark corner, yearning for a brighter future we know will never come.
Damages (FX, 2007-2012), the story of the mentor, Patty Hewes, and her protégée, Ellen Parsons, a story of treason and revenge, noir as their coats, where every character had enough reasons to basically kill the rest of the cast, was perhaps one of the most underrated dramas of the last decade. A legal drama with excellent scripts (one of the main influences of The Good Wife) that taught to “trust no one” not even ourselves and our expectations about how the season would end. Season after season the same trap was set to us. We watched the first episode and in the last minutes… that damn flashforward that told us how the season was going to end. Henceforth, every episode would indicate how much time was left until the future events would arrive, and the closer we were the least plausible it all seemed. Therefore, the key question of all narrative, ‘what is going to happen next?’, pivoted to ‘how is it going to happen?’ due to the temporal construction of the series. Moreover, Patty’s background scenes would also add a new nuance to her relationship with her son and colleagues. And then… that final shot (this post’s header), we could not have in any other way, Patty Hewes in the future looking back at her past.
Yet Zelman and Kessler reached a new creative peak this same year with their second series, Bloodline (Netflix, 2015-). The story of the Rayburn family, lead by a colossal Ben Mendelsohn as the black sheep Danny Rayburn, goes deeper into the psique of its characters by not focussing so much in their future –although we still get those damn flashforward where Danny seems to finally get his comeuppance– but in how the past has defined the family bonds, how the older generation has influenced in the bringing up of the four Rayburn children and how Danny is just a victim of his circumstances (and parents) in this lost paradise. The question here is not ‘what is going to happen next?’ nor ‘how is it going to happen?’, but rather ‘how did we get here?’.
By juxtaposing the three layers, past, present and future, Damages and Bloodline introduce us into the currents of the contemporary temporal malaise. As their characters (Damages at the end of most seasons and Bloodline in every episode) we also walk down that pier into the sea. Time, as the ocean tides, comes and goes stirring up the seafloor, revealing its secrets –a golden necklace, a horse ride– and leaving them on the shore. We stand there on the pier over this immense ocean of time.
* There is a small revealing detail on Bloodline‘s opening sequence. Near to the ending, we see all the shadows of the Rayburn family projected upon the sand.