Since it’s coming back for a third season this week, I reserved today to talk about Ozark. I have to mention I breezed through the first 2 seasons, clicking “next episode” until I ran out of buttons to click. It’s the kind of show that, no matter how many distinct and wonderfully woven layers it has in each episode, it doesn’t tire you out but makes you want to keep watching. For 2 hours, for 3, for 5, for 20. Thankfully, since it’s on Netflix, I could watch as many episodes as I wanted until I ran out.
In short, Ozark is about Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman), a financial advisor who drags his family from Chicago to the Ozarks in order to launder money for a cartel.
Although the premise doesn’t exactly sound like the most original thing in the world, trust me, the show is a fresh take on the idea of a good guy forced to turn bad to protect his family. One might mention Breaking Bad as a similar show, but when I compare Marty with Walt, I gotta say that at least to me, Marty wins by a landslide.
1. I need to start by applauding Jason Bateman. He does a wonderful job both as Marty and as the show’s director, and he really knows how to engage you in both his roles. As a character, Marty is a joy to watch. He speaks fast, factually, throwing statistics around and framing his words so he can goad his conversation partner into giving him whatever he needs at the moment. He’s sharp, full of love for his family, but also scared, reckless, and cold. He’s a very well fleshed out character, a true masterclass in Real, Believable Characters. As a director, Bateman knows exactly how to engage both the characters and the audience emotionally, and the framing of the show makes for a very beautiful and pleasing watch. If you’ve been with me for a while you know I care about the aesthetics of something as much as I do the story.
2. Although initially disappointed in Marty’s character in Season 2 (in a good way; his evolution was natural and made total sense, he just became more reckless and unlikeable as the schemes and lies and issues kept popping up), it became clear to me that, at least in my eyes, this wasn’t just his progression as a character, but an opportunity for Wendy (Laura Linney), his wife, to shine more. And boy did she shine. The fact that the show balanced these two characters’ journeys like this is very satisfying, as I didn’t want to be stuck in a show that’s all about Marty and less about all the other fascinating people in his life. It’s my hope that season 3 will explore more of Ruth (Julia Garner)’s life as well, especially since she’s basically been given the reins of the operation more of less.
3. The show does a great job of upping the stakes at just the right times, solving an issue only for 3 more to pop up, never quite letting the family relax. The Byrdes are stuck in a life of crime now, so it’s only natural the threats and problems keep coming. From money going missing to partners going rogue, the Byrdes have to scramble and fix issue after issue, often compromising or creating more trouble just to put out one metaphorical fire. Although it might sound like an exhausting journey, never quite giving you time for a breather, it’s paced in such a way that it packs a punch, but does so when you’re ready for it. You can’t really predict where things go, which is a plus, but you know when trouble comes a-knockin’.
4. As mentioned above, Marty isn’t the only character that shines in this piece. Sure, you can say it’s about the Byrdes and their struggle to appease their (mob) boss, but this is really an ensemble piece. The Langmores, of which Ruth is the star and also my favorite character, the Snells, the FBI, the Cartel, each of these groups put forth incredibly interesting characters. Ruth starts out as a thief, an arguably smaller threat to Marty than the cartel, but a threat nonetheless. So it’s a joy to watch her grow into her character, earning Marty’s trust and finding care and acceptance with the Byrdes. The Snells also start out as a threat, and a very scary one at first, but become an example of a ride or die couple (literally), two opposites working together and clashing, guiding the action to a higher level of tension or helping bring it down, if only as long as Darlene Snell doesn’t meddle too much. Agent Petty is someone you’ll love to hate, or hate to appreciate as a character. He’s reckless, obsessed, unhinged, and incredibly amoral. From sleeping with an informant to giving drugs to another, he’s a total mess, but he makes for an incredible hitch in the Byrdes’ plan, as well as a great catalyst for events. Helen and Del from the Navarro Cartel are still pretty much enigmas, but their mystery is what makes them so interesting. They’re friendly, despite being with the cartel, they’re incredibly sharp, and most important, they respect the Byrdes. When comparing them to Petty or the Snells, I’d say they’re way more stable and quite moral.
5. Wendy is fascinating. She starts out as someone you’d probably hate, an adulterer who’d rather take all the family’s money and run away with her lover. I always tell myself cheaters are one of the worst people around, so I couldn’t see how I’d ever like her. Ozark found a way to make me not only like her, but adore her. I won’t spoil her journey too much, but she becomes such a strong and stable part of the business while also evolving as a mother and wife. Objectively, she’s way cooler than Marty ever hopes to be. She plays the game with a cool head, earns Helen’s respect, and even begins to enjoy the life she’s initially scared of. Truly a legend.
6. Going from that, the relationships here are such a tangled mess of brilliance. Marty and Wendy’s marriage should be in shambles, yet I find them to be true couple goals. Their relationship with the kids should be troublesome, and yet I enjoy watching their youngest, Jonah, embrace the life and learn the hustle. Although Charlotte, the daughter, got on my nerves more often than not, she provides the balance the family needs in order not to tilt too far into the criminal life. The Byrdes’ deals and partnerships with the Snells and Ruth make for a quite comical but emotionally packed journey, “giving” a home to one while taking it away from the other. Petty worms his way in by using Russ Langmore, testing loyalties and creating more secrets and leverage against other players.
7. Everything happens for a reason, everything ties into everything, there are no loose ends.
8. I gotta remark the title card is genius in its simplicity. An O split into four, each piece showing a different symbol that would tease a plot point of each episode while also representing the remaining letters of OZARK. Really builds up the anticipation of what’s to come.
9. The setting is gorgeous. If you’re here for nature and pretty visuals, this is a show for you.
10. The premise isn’t uncommon, but the writers and directors know exactly how to make it shine and stand out as something fresh and captivating.
I honestly can’t find a flaw in this show. It’s done in such a beautiful way, with so much care and attention, it keeps you engaged for literally 20+ hours and at no point do you want to ever stop watching. I only did because it was time for bed.
Every single episode is wonderful, which is why it’s so hard for me to pick any favorites, but I’ll try:
Season 1 Episode 4 – Tonight We Improvise
Ruth and Marty start working together, Marty teaches Jonah the Way of Laundering, and the Snells are revealed to be big players in the show. An episode as poetic as it is dynamic.
Season 1 Episode 8 – Kaleidoscope
A non-linear look at how We Ended Up Here. Gives a really nice review of the story that brought the Byrdes to the Ozarks as well as to this chapter of their relationship. Del is a joy to watch.
Season 2 Episode 4 – Stag
The beginning of the episode is very Noire-esque, and offers us a glimpse into Petty’s life in the Ozarks after losing Russ. The ending is a tilt in Petty’s favor, finally.
Season 2 Episode 8 – The Big Sleep
The “flashback” technique used at the beginning of this episode was very fun to watch. We also see the effect taking a life had on Marty and Wendy grows into a cooler character by the second.
Ozark will start streaming Friday on Netflix, so if any of my points have made you intrigued, make sure to give it a watch.
Thank you for your time!