Returning to Netflix for its third season, ‘Ozark’ continues to tell the dismal story of financial advisor turned money launderer ‘Martin (Marty) Byrde’ (Jason Bateman), as he and his family postpone their dreams of escaping both the Ozarks and the ‘Navarro Cartel’s grip and instead expand their illegal operation by adopting the roles of corrupt casino owners.
After the Navarros are forced into a war with a rival Mexican drug cartel, the Byrde family are placed under increasing amounts of pressure from the head of the cartel ‘Omar Navarro’ (Felix Solis) and his Chicago-based lawyer ‘Helen Pierce’ (Janet McTeer), to source legitimate investments in addition to their ‘Missouri Belle’ casino façade to ensure his children and empire are protected after the war. Omar Navarro’s physical introduction to the show not only places a face to the cartel, but due to Solis’ frightening performance showcases Marty’s impossible challenge of ending laundering with his family’s lives spared. This feeling of inescapability is further amplified when Helen Pierce relocates to the Ozarks to observe and ‘assist’ the Byrde’s businesses. Also building on Marty’s stress, is the welcoming of his wife ‘Wendy Byrde’s (Laura Linney) brother ‘Ben Davis’ (Tom Pelphrey) to the household. Seeking solace from his sister in the Ozarks after causing an incident (bipolar disorder) and losing his teaching job, Ben forms close relationships with Marty’s protégé ‘Ruth Langmore’ (Julia Garner), as well as with Marty’s son ‘Jonah Byrde’ (Skylar Gaertner). Delivering outstanding performances across each episode, Pelphrey manages to bring to life a character that is understandable, loveable, yet unpredictable and one of the biggest liabilities to Marty and Wendy’s operation. Another notable inclusion to this season full of new characters is ‘Special Agent Maya Miller’ (Jessica Frances Dukes), who plays as yet another thorn to Marty’s side by representing the FBI’s interests in taking down the cartel and subsequently the Byrdes.
The inclusion of these well written and acted opponents to the core members of the Byrde family, contribute fantastically to grounding a story that almost lost its brilliance in Season 2. What made the show so great in the first season, was the impact the outside threats (particularly the cartel), were having on Marty and Wendy’s marriage, as well as the structure of their entire family. Therefore, bringing the cartel to the fore in this season was a stroke of genius by the creatives behind Ozark, as it shifts the story away from its overambitious narrative set in the previous season. Although story-threads such as Wendy’s political relations, Jonah’s increasingly unstable mind and Ruth’s family issues are downscaled to allow audiences increased exposure to the dangers of the Navarro Cartel, their influence over the story are still very much felt. This kind of pivot in the use of secondary characters is perhaps best seen with Sofia Hublitz’s character, Marty’s daughter ‘Charlotte Byrde’. Once a whiny teenage with lessening purpose in the show, is now a pillar of strength for the Byrde family and a great juxtaposition to the doomed marriage of her parents. Alternatively, after certain dramatic events within Season 2, characters such as ‘Darlene Snell’ (Lisa Emery) and ‘Wyatt Langmore’ (Charlie Tahan) are left with little direction and as a result both contribute to a side-story that is ultimately unnecessary and unengaging. These examples amongst a few others are in the minority however, and character growth overall along with a more focused narrative are this season’s greatest achievements.
When Ozark hit Netflix in 2017, streaming audiences across the globe quickly gravitated to this show with great talent and a dark premise, making it one of the platform’s best pieces of ‘Netflix Original’ content. Along with addressing a number of issues created in the previous season, Season 3 establishes fantastic new story threads and characters that challenge the Byrde family further than ever before, making for a viewing experience that you can’t turn away from. If you like shows exploring the underbelly of the drug world, then you’re going to love Ozark and especially this season.
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