The Byrdes are finally gracing television screens again in their third season on Netflix. Ozark has been one of the streaming platform’s most underrated gems, already delivering two wholly satisfying seasons of dark, twisted delights with seemingly effortless precision. The show’s third season not only skillfully builds on the two that preceded it, but is able to deliver the best thrills and twists yet, anchored again by two nuanced performances from stars Jason Bateman and Laura Linney.
When audiences last saw the Byrdes, they had just opened a riverboat casino in the Ozarks, a new operation to continue laundering the money for the drug cartel they work for. In season three, Marty and Wendy are operating the casino, but are at odds with one another when it comes to the future of their family and business operation. New alliances and rivalries are formed, the law is closely watching, and a cartel war is in full swing.
A Fractured Partnership
One aspect of season three that the show set up wonderfully in its previous installments is the disintegration of Marty and Wendy’s personal and professional relationship. In the first two seasons, the seeds were planted for their falling out, the two constantly bickering with one another and second guessing each other’s decisions when it comes to the family and business. However, this comes full circle in season three as the two actually begin couple’s therapy in order to settle their disputes and grudges. This is where Bateman and Linney shine, the two delivering their best performances yet as they fully develop the prickly, but loving relationship they share with one another. Their chemistry is still palpable and both performers are able to elevate one another without trying to outshine each other.
The erosion of their marital and professional relationship is the catalyst for the couple’s biggest problems of the season and the show is smart using this as the impetus for various conflicts. Both characters undermine and unilaterally make their own business decisions that put their family and safety at risk. Wendy is more power hungry than ever this season, refusing to live in Marty’s shadow and play housewife any longer, a move that not only makes her character more engaging, but more exciting and unpredictable as well. Marty, on the other hand, has an evolution of his own, showing new, darker shades of himself as he buries himself and his family deeper into trouble while experiencing some more personal trauma of his own. These character evolutions keep the show fresh rather than stagnant.
There are some new additions to the cast this season, but easily the most notable is Tom Pelphrey as Ben, Wendy’s brother, who suffers from bipolar disorder. Ben could’ve easily been an extraneous character that wore thin quickly, but Pelphrey and the writers make sure that his character is essential to the season’s progression and momentum as he gets intertwined with Wendy and Marty’s business conflicts. Pelphrey delivers easily the season’s best performance, selling the character’s mental disorder perfectly, allowing the audience to empathize with his character even when he begins to start making self-destructive decisions that put himself and the Byrdes in danger. It’s a powerhouse performance that is equal parts magnetic and heartbreaking, cementing the actor as a talent to watch going forward.
After Ben comes into town, he slowly strikes up a romantic relationship with Ruth played by the extremely talented Julia Garner. Though it’s easy to see their relationship turning romantic, both Garner and Pelphrey sell the maturation of their relationship, particularly the personal trauma that gives them common ground and draws them to one other. Through this relationship, Ruth is able to see the Byrdes without rose-colored glasses, setting in motion a personal and business related discord between herself and Marty that feels earned, not forced.
Another relationship that is explored well in the season is that between Wendy and Helen, the cartel’s attorney and helping hand played by Janet McTeer. Her character felt more like an extension of her boss in season two than she did her own character. Luckily, her character is given considerably more depth especially as she begins something resembling a friendship with Wendy as the season moves forward. McTeer has been great at exploring the dark, sinister side to this character, but seeing her explore the warmer, more accessible facets to Helen were particularly enjoyable this season. She not only matures and sets herself apart as a character, but helps Wendy grow into the strong, intimidating businesswoman she always had the potential to become.
An additional dynamic I enjoyed this season was that between Marty and a forensic accountant for the FBI played by Jessica Frances Dukes. The law is onto Marty now more than ever and her continued presence throughout the season keeps things tense especially as the cartel war heats up and Marty begins making reckless decisions as he’s put under tremendous pressure by his boss as a result. Their relationship is less cat and mouse than it is therapist and patient. She’s able to effectively get under his skin as she points out the destructive nature of his work, the lives he puts at risk and the morally bankrupt profession he’s found himself in. Through her, the audience is able to see the inner turmoil bubbling within Marty as he stars to question his future and the safety of his family.
Season three has a lot of plates in the air between the cartel war, Marty and Wendy’s marital woes, the FBI swarming in and Wendy’s brother entering the picture so a character like Darlene (Lisa Emery) feels extraneous. Her character played an instrumental role in season two, but here she feel like an aimless leftover character for the majority of this season. Following the murder of her husband which she herself committed, she strikes up a romantic relationship with Ruth’s kin Wyatt (Charlie Tahan) as she begins to literally and metaphorically plot the resurrection of her heroine business. She clearly is using Wyatt as a replacement for her late husband as she tries to manipulate him and Ruth into turning on the Byrdes. While that development is well set up and explored, her relationship with Wyatt is icky at best and the momentum of her plan is sluggish. Her storyline simply doesn’t mesh well with the rest of the season until its conclusion which is disappointing to say the least.
Also drawing the short straw this season are the rest of the Byrdes. Jonah (Skylar Gaertner) and Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz) are now fully aware of their family’s precarious situation, one of the show’s smartest moves early on, but they don’t play much of a role this season. While the two offer up some help and relatively smart ideas in regards to keeping their family from harm and pushing the business forward, they’re pushed to the side and given table scraps. Jonah is mourning the loss of his pal Buddy (Harris Yulin) and playing with his new drone for most of the season while Charlotte tries to prevent Helen’s daughter from losing her virginity to a bad boy. While the former benefits from a warm, newfound relationship with Ben, both of their subplots feel more like distractions than instrumental plot developments. As a result, their screen time this season causes the show’s narrative momentum to come to a screeching halt.
Ozark continues to prove why it’s one of Netflix’s very best shows. The direction, writing, performances and tense, foreboding atmosphere continue to be stellar and highly immersive while these characters continue to grow and evolve for the show’s betterment. The storytelling is top notch and the finale of season three is not only wonderfully shocking, but it also sets up a myriad of exciting storytelling possibilities for the next installment of the show. If you’re sleeping on this series, it’s time to wake up from that slumber and give this show the attention and recognition it so rightfully deserves.
Have you watched Ozark yet? If not, are you now more interested in giving the show a chance? Let us know in the comment section below!
Ozark is now streaming on Netflix.
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