by Will Linhares-Huang
Season 1 Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5hAXVqrljbs
Ozark is one of the craziest and most underrated shows on Netflix. Season 3 of Ozark was brought to Netflix audiences on March 27th. Though only a couple weeks have passed, I have already binged the ten episodes with my family. Netflix’s Ozark follows the hectic story of a family from Chicago forced to launder millions of money for a Mexican drug cartel from a base of operations in Missouri vacationland known as the Ozarks. The Byrde family is led by their father Marty (Jason Bateman), a sharp-witted financial advisor, and mother Wendy (Laura Linney), a crafty political operative. On top of the fact that the Byrdes are under immense pressure from the Mexican drug cartel to launder their millions of dirty money to stay alive, they are constantly finding themselves scrambling for solutions to their problems arising from a large cast of eccentric side-characters in Missouri. These problematic role players include the FBI, the Kansas City mob, and even heroin farmers. All these aspects of the show have helped create a thrilling, gritty drama series. WARNING: there are spoilers ahead for seasons 1-3.
One of the main reasons why this show is loved is because it draws parallels with arguably one of the most beloved series in history, Breaking Bad. Marty Byrde and Walter White both represent an antihero archetype, where audiences root for their characters even though they commit horrible acts. For AMC’s Breaking Bad, it is cooking meth and for Netflix’s Ozark, it is money laundering but violence, double-dealing and dead bodies are common to both. Even the actors are similar, with Jason Bateman and Bryan Cranston using their bland average dad demeanour and backgrounds in comedy to highlight the absurdity and lighten the mood during their respective shows when things get either too violent or too dark. In addition, one could argue that Ruth Langmore draws similarities with Breaking Bad’s Jesse Pickman with their street smarts and inherently good morals swept into a dark world of drugs and violence. However, there are new things that Ozark brings to the table which gives the show a different flavor. For one, the Byrde family children are almost as involved with their parents’ double life as Marty and Wendy after they learn of their family’s situation in the first couple episodes of Season 1. Moreover, contrary to the traditional antihero theme where the wife plays the role of an obstacle to her antihero husband’s aspirations rather than a partner, Ozark’s Wendy is refreshingly different. She undergoes a Walter White-Esque transformation herself and during the second and third seasons of Ozark, Wendy turns into a queenpin of sorts when she blackmails politicians, murders for the first time, and embraces the dark world of the Mexican drug cartel. On top of it all, the acting performances and directing of Ozark have garnered many honors much like Breaking Bad. Julia Garner (Ruth Langmore) and Jason Bateman (Marty Byrde) are both Emmy Award Winners for their acting performance and directing brilliance respectively.
There are moments of the show, however, that leave me puzzled and frustrated. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy this show and the brilliant writing and acting make it easy to look past the shortcomings, but the decisions characters make can just be outright stupid and thus unrealistic. Take Season One for instance, which is arguably the best of the three, where at the climax and finale of the season we see Marty use his financial wizardry and persuasiveness to come to a compromise with the murderous cartel operative Del and the quite literally insane Snell family. Throughout this entire season, Del has proved to be a complex and terrifying villain, but the writers decide to kill him off for no apparent reason at the end of Season One. Yes, this served as a twist which no one anticipated and it was exciting and thrilling, but Del was replaced by less complex villains in the forms of Helen and Navarro. This action of killing emotionally complex and actually interesting characters for the sole purpose of twists and turns has become a theme with Ozark and it is frustrating. In the most recent season, characters like Ben (Wendy’s brother) were introduced for the sole purpose of plot twisting and troublemaking which led to so many unnecessary problems for the Byrdes that it just seemed unlikely.
Ozark has its flaws but it remains a sturdy and gripping series. I just wish the writers found more organic ways to keep the twists coming and that it had faith in the strength of its central thread instead of making silly decisions. Nevertheless, Ozark is definitely worth watching and I truly recommend this show if you are into gritty, thrilling crime dramas.