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A still from 'Ozark' season 3 (Netflix/File)
Good or bad, all actions have consequences. Some can be small, but some others can be deadly.
That, at least, is one of the few things that we can learn from Ozark, Netflix’s Emmy-winning crime drama about a middle-class financial planner who breaks bad after getting involved with a Mexican drug cartel.
Yes, the subject that the show explores is far from original. A lot of other shows like Breaking Bad, its spin-off Better Call Saul and The Sopranos have all explored the same themes. But unlike Walter White, the antihero of Ozark, Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman) isn’t fueled by his ambitions for power, rather simply by the needs of survival. He doesn’t choose to be bad. But due to circumstances, he has no option not to become so. And yet, even when he keeps laundering the Mexican cartel’s money and brings his family into his sinking ship, Marty always tries his best to keep his morals intact and be honest—though he’s willing to lie when it’s for the survival of his family.
This dichotomy is what eventually makes Ozark, despite its unoriginality, feel a little more refreshing and compelling. It’s not about how power and control can corrupt a person, but more about how an ethical man is forced to lose his morality in the name of family and self-preservation.
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The third season still examines those themes. But the showrunner, Chris Mundy, manages to find new territory to explore this season: how the consequences of Marty’s actions begin to fracture his already-volatile marriage with his wife Wendy (Laura Linney). Imagine Marriage Story, but it’s directed by Martin Scorsese or Clint Eastwood instead of Noah Baumbach. And this new subject successfully rejuvenates the show after the murky sophomore attempt.
Premiered last Friday, Ozark season three picks up six months after the event of the season two finale. Marty and Wendy are in a much better place.
Or so it seems.
The new casino that they just built to launder Omar Navarro’s (Felix Solis) money is doing well, with Marty’s right-hand Ruth Langmore (the Emmy-winner Julia Garner) managing the day-to-day business. Their eldest child Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz), who wants to be emancipated from her family, is now interning at Byrde Enterprise. But of course, those are just what things look like on the outside.
While Marty is busy finding a way to launder Navarro’s money more carefully in the casino, Wendy is eager to expand the business. She wants to buy a new casino and a horse ranch so that she can build a better future for Charlotte and Jonah (Skylar Gaertner). Marty, of course, opposes his wife’s idea, thinking that it would only cause more danger for their family. But Wendy is relentless. She finds an ally when Navarro’s cutthroat lawyer Helen Pierce (Janet McTeer) moves closer to them. She even makes a move behind Marty’s back by pitching her ideas directly to Navarro without consulting first.
This, of course, creates an intense power struggle between them. Each of them thinks that their way is better than the other. And all of these happen while an FBI agent Maya Miller (Jessica Frances Dukes) is breathing down their neck, Wendy’s bipolar brother Ben (Tom Pelphrey) is visiting, Wendy’s arch-nemesis Darlene (Lisa Emery) is plotting against the Byrde and a war between Navarro and another cartel is happening at the same time.
To put it simply, season three of Ozark is a lot. Yet somehow never once does it feel too bloated because the focus remains on the characters and their relationships.
Instead of packing the season with a lot of action and unnecessary death like in season two, the third season uses dialogue to build the tension. All the characters are scheming and manipulating each other to push their own agendas. Alliances keep shifting at every moment, making everyone a valuable player and a wild card in this never-ending war. It’s not an easy job for a showrunner to make all the supporting characters and even the new ones integral to the story. But Ozark gets the job done pretty well. And it allows all the cast to flex their acting muscles. Jason Bateman is able to offer depth underneath Marty’s stoic exterior. Julia Garner keeps proving her Emmy win by making Ruth the most sympathetic character of the show. Janet McTeer and Tom Perphley are also two welcome additions.
It is Laura Linney, however, that drives the season from start to finish. She’s able to display the cunning and strategic side of Wendy while at the same time providing vulnerability. Most of the season’s best moments are when Linney shares the screen with Perphley, especially in the heartbreaking ninth episode which puts Linney’s as the frontrunner in this year’s Emmys. It’s also through the transformation of Linney’s Wendy that the show successfully subverts the white male antihero trope of Breaking Bad into a female one while at the same time drilling the show’s message of the consequences of unchecked action and power. Throughout the season, Wendy is justifying her reckless decisions by telling Marty that she’s doing what she’s doing for him and for their children. But we all know that it’s clearly not the case. Wendy is obviously just blinded by the authority and power that she lost the minute she stepped into marriage. She used to be a powerful political figure before she married Marty. And when she finally sees an opportunity to regain that sense of control over herself this season, she does everything in her power to hold on to it. Of course, it’s empowering to see a wife try to reclaim her liberation. But when you’re in business with a drug cartel, and death is the price you must pay, that power and liberation can backfire.
The fault isn’t just Wendy’s though, part of it is also Marty’s. After all, marriage is a two-way street. Instead of communicating everything with his wife, Marty also chooses to do the same thing as Wendy, going behind each other’s back to make sure she does not have more power than him. What Ozark demonstrates through Wendy and Marty is how most of the time what really destroys marriage and family is a lack of communication. Though the second half of the season gets more explosive and anxiety-inducing, it’s Marty and Wendy’s journey toward making peace with each other that means the show remains emotionally grounded.
There is a lot of stuff that happens in Ozark season three. But by putting Marty and Wendy’s marriage at the center of it all, it reminds us that no matter how big and deadly the outside pressure is, what in the end will destroy a family and a marriage is the internal forces.
This is simply the show’s best season to date; one that is altogether addictive, fun and merciless. (kes)
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.