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TV Review: Ladies Take the Reigns in Second Season of “Ozark”

Martha Trydahl Martha Trydahl TV Review: Ladies Take the Reigns in Second Season of “Ozark”Photo still from Ozark, via IMDb.
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The Netflix powerhouse Ozark is now in its second season, and moving on to the third. With obvious ties to Breaking Bad, the series follows the life of mild-mannered financial advisor Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman) who is laundering money for the Mexican drug cartel.

Ozark’s first season was a vicious cycle of catastrophes. The characters barely had time to breathe between rapid-fire fiascos. But this season, the plot slows down a bit to allow the characters to evolve, and to create space for strategizing.

The family matriarchs are making more of the moves this season, proving that women are just as powerful as their male counterparts. Wendy Byrde (Laura Linney) uses manipulation and bribery to move the casino bill forward; Ruth Langmore (Julia Garner) takes charge of the family when Daddy keeps messing up; and Darlene Snell (Lisa Emery) is trying to pull a legacy out of thin air and can’t put a lid on the hot temper she’s sporting.

In spite of all of the criminal activity and the violence that accompanies it, Ozark is a quiet show. Yelling and screaming are rare, and music nearly nonexistent. The vibe is mostly quiet contemplation and whispered discussions in the Byrdes’ poorly-lit house.

Marty and Wendy Byrde have made it so far in this game because of their uncanny ability to talk their way out of anything. They can verbally dismantle their opponents while appearing honest and truthful.

The irony here is that everyone highly values trust and loyalty, the classic honor among thieves. Unfortunately, trust, like finding the the part in Jason Bateman’s hair, is elusive. Even life partners like the Byrdes or the Snells can hardly trust each other.

From the first episode, we’ve always empathized with Marty. He’s a good guy doing bad things. He’s constantly on the move, always answering his super-annoying cricket ringtone. But this season, it all gets to be too much. He’s tired of pleasing everybody else, solving their problems for them when he’s incapable of solving his own. But when he breaks his own moral code by kissing Rachel (Jordana Spiro), and even killing someone, he can’t handle the burden.

Marty starts to crumble under the weight of the situation, while Wendy’s political talents take center stage to help set up the casino. This plot line is very House of Cards with the constant bribes and deception. Wendy is in her element this season, and Laura Linney does a superb job.

Strip club manager Ruth Langmore has historically been tough as nails, but now she’s struggling between loyalty to her deadbeat father and her new boss, Marty. She spends a lot of time ugly crying this season, but actress Julia Garner is careful to not overdo the drama. She plays Ruth expertly, balancing out emotionally dead Marty Byrde.

In fact, both Ruth and Charlotte seem to be struggling to take a stand against their parents. In the most frustrating plot twist, Charlotte asks for emancipation. The move really just makes her seem whiney and immature. She has no plan, and just hangs out with Wyatt Langmore (Charlie Tahan) who has an even more volatile home life.

We are introduced to the cartel’s Chicago-based attorney, Helen Pierce (Janet McTeer) this season. She’s yet another powerful lady on the Ozark roster. She and Wendy Byrde strike up a bit of a friendship, admiring each other’s tactics and bravado in this typically-male business.

Agent Petty (Jason Butler Harner) is by far the most despicable character on the show. He’s hell bent on winning the war on drugs, but feeds oxy to his key informant, Rachel. It’s behavior that doesn’t make sense, but perhaps this shows how desperate he is?

Marty’s also been making a series of bad choices, but his plan to leave the entire operation to Ruth just doesn’t fit with his character. Nor does his choice to give Darlene Snell the baby she’s always wanted. First season Marty would never do these things.

Like Agent Petty, it shows just how desperate he is. Charlotte’s threat of emancipation seems to spur Marty into enforcing his escape plan. He tells Wendy, “Nothing’s working…our family is falling apart.”

By the end of the season, the Byrdes have achieved the impossible: they’ve outsmarted their opponents, and the casino is approved. Yet ironically, things have never been more tense at home. Their goal had been to escape to Australia’s Gold Coast after the casino opens, but that seems impossible now, not without the Byrde’s working together as a team.

Based on how the second season ended, I doubt the Byrdes will leave the Ozarks in the third season. And now with the Kansas City Mob at their throats, I’m interested to see how they’ll talk their way out of that mess next season.

Grade: B-

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