Ozark Season 3 is quickly proving the show as one of TV’s greats [SEASON REVIEW]
I have just caught up with the Netflix crime drama, Ozark (2017-) and it is one of the best shows of its time. Season three was an almost perfect slice of television and the producers and writers have set up an incredibly tense, unpredictable final season which was announced a couple of months ago as being split into two parts.
I have been a major fan of Jason Bateman for the past year or two after properly digging into his work first as Michael Bluth in Arrested Development and in some of his recent movies, so naturally Ozark was my next stop. Bateman’s role is the polar opposite of his comedic portrayals, but he executes the dark, dingy nature and themes of Ozark masterfully. He is a perfect fit as Marty Byrde and his part in producing and directing the show is a testament to his multi-talented repertoire.
Ozark is a complex drama with a million things happening at the same time on and off screen. The out-of-the-blue scenes where major action and tension are slapped across the screen shock and bewilder. The likes of Game of Thrones (2011-2019) and The Walking Dead (2010-) share these qualities but what distinguishes Ozark is its gritty realism in the real world which is akin Breaking Bad (2008-2013). Now, the comparisons between these two shows are exhausted almost so I won’t reach too far into them but Ozark, for me, with season three has reached that level of brilliance.
The show, overall, has shown so much growth and is fleshing out into something truly special and one-of-a-kind. The first two seasons laid down the pipework for the plot but had not yet actualised its potential though now it is evident that the show is as the peak of its powers.
The acting performances in season three were sublime with Julia Garner duly garnering yet another Emmy for Best Supporting Actress. Her role as the hard-headed, astute, hip hop loving Ruth Langmore has cemented her as one of television’s finest characters and a personal favourite in my book. Her character this season has sky-rocketed into an even more integral part of Marty Byrde’s money laundering operation. Her work at the casino has raised the stakes and proved her worth and talent which Marty recognised all the way back in season one.
I am a massive hip hop head and vibe with the show’s inclusion of classic rap songs all thanks to Ruth Langmore’s character trait. This is a relatable love of rap which I share with the character and the season finale incorporates the Eric B. & Rakim number ‘Paid In Full’ (1988) – ironic given the nature of money in the show. Additionally, the end credits of this episode play the more recent rap song ‘ooh la la’ by the underground rap duo Run The Jewels from their 2020 album ‘RTJ4’.
Hip hop plays a small but impactful role in the show and Ruth uses it as a coping mechanism with her favourite rapper being The Notorious B.I.G. a symbol of her rap passion and something which Ben, her short-lived beau, first noticed when he first properly asked her out; to her stubbornness they settled on having a water together.
Jason Bateman and Laura Linney yet again provide stellar performances as the reluctant husband and wife Marty and Wendy. Their acquisition of The Missouri Bell following the hectic season two finale sees them in their stride with their money-laundering business.
WARNING : SPOILERS AHEAD
Bateman’s workaholic, genius financial adviser goes through some truly tasking events this season as his involvement with the Navarro cartel gets more intimate. This feeds into Wendy’s season three character arc as she forms a connection with Omar Navarro (Felix Solis) behind Marty’s back. We see her attempt at proving herself as equally capable as her husband. Linney’s character harbours a great responsibility this season and her personal, family problems are amplified by her brother’s arrival. The acting which accompanies this struggle is characteristically stunning as the sharp minded matriarch falls apart in dramatic fashion. Linney manages to sustain and even better her prior performances in the series as she battles her toughest demons.
Marty is kidnapped when the cartel discover that he is tapping the phone line between his wife and Navarro and Wendy, Helen and Ruth must run the operation on their own. This is reminiscent of Breaking Bad when Walt is forbidden from meth making in favour of Jesse. However, this doesn’t work out just like in Ozark when they fail to launder due to Marty’s absence. Byrde’s imprisonment and torture is merciless, and his character is pushed to his utmost limits. We see Bateman’s portrayal exemplify this battle of wits with the uncompromising Navarro. The actor captures the depressed, overworked Marty as an even more oppressed individual. Bateman is long overdue an Emmy for his role and season four may be that clenching moment.
The family patriarch is all but losing his family, but this has been a constant theme in the series. In season three we see this disunity as Jonah and Charlotte are immersed further into a world they are thoroughly unfit for. This is highlighted in the season finale when Jonah berates his mother for leaving Ben for dead.
In essence for me, this idea of the children being compliant and aware of their parents’ illicit dealings is a fresh take. Although it is somewhat outlandish, Ozark makes this dynamic work and the young actors who play these roles do so with aplomb.
The writers have done an exceptional job with Ruth’s character arc thus far. We were introduced to her as a low-level criminal with the Langmore curse working for Byrde and now as a fully-fledged, witty businesswoman. Her worth to Byrde was questioned this season with her being told that she was ‘untouchable’ until she was subjected to Frank Jr.’s brutal abuse. Her loyalty and closeness has been frayed and slowly throughout the latest episodes she departed from Marty with Ben’s death proving unforgivable. Her love for Ben was a new aspect to her character and as sweet as it begun it was tragically snatched away following Wendy’s mental overload.
Tom Pelphrey who joined the show this season to play Linney’s brother steals the show with his depiction of Ben’s crippling, detrimental bipolar disorder. The nuances and intensity he portrays is some of the best acting I have seen in recent times. Since his first appearance as a psychotic substitute teacher who confiscated his students’ phones and threw them in a garbage truck he has established himself as an intriguing character with a complex, dark past.
Ben wasn’t an instant favourite of mine but as he developed and began to get close to Jonah and Ruth I became quite fond of him. When we find out about his long-suffering psychosis it is a major plot point which triggers the tension of the latter half of season three. His superb performance is largely seen when he is off his meds and invokes utter chaos with outbursts about the Navarro cartel and the Byrdes’ schemes. This takes place in episode nine ‘Fire Pink’.
After his ill-advised discharge from the mental hospital and subsequent actions against Helen, Ben is a murder target unbeknownst to him due to his delusion. While on the run with his sister Wendy, we see his ineptitude at realising the gravity of his actions. The way Pelphrey’s small, elusive motions and behaviour emerge really emphasise Ben’s paranoia as his bipolar leaves him so out-of-the-loop as to his situation. His intense breakdowns into tears after being told not to phone Helen are repetitive and incredibly tragic and cathartic expressions of a raw inner struggle.
From a narrative perspective, Ben’s introduction was a massive spanner in the works as the Byrde’s had seemingly sorted out their messy business deals and were plain sailing. Ben disrupts this flow of normalised criminality and the consequences are grave. Thusly, as a plotline Ben’s inclusion is somewhat out of place or even simply random nontheless Pelphrey performs the role with such attention to detail and believability this minor imperfection is nullified.
Laura Linney compliments Pelphrey’s acting with equally intense emotions as her brother is mentally collapsing before her eyes. It is additionally saddening when Linney contacts Helen and gives up Ben who is so far gone she is overwhelmed. When she leaves him at the service station restaurant and cries on her drive along the freeway we see Wendy’s angst and regret. The episode ends as Ben walks out of the restaurant and sees Helen’s hitman as the screen cuts to black.
Season three was a rollercoaster ride and definitely the best Ozark has offered us so far. I have focused on the acting and character arcs in this review but the production and directing were just as great. Bateman’s notable role in these categories was rightfully celebrated in his Emmy for Directing in season two. All in all, this season was impeccably directed the final scenes where Helen is abruptly shot in the head as Navarro embraces Wendy and Marty was a tense shocker. The cinematography with the lakes of the Ozarks, the forest and fields of the Snell’s, the cartel in Mexico were a sight to see along with countless other moments such as the lorry explosion on the Kansas City Mob.
The season finale was such an important episode with repercussions which the show will embed ingeniously next season I’m sure. Ruth’s departure from Byrde Enterprises and her siding with Wyatt and Darlene will prove instrumental in season four which will pit the Byrde’s against the poppyseed heroin grower. This is such a gripping storyline as Ruth, as discussed earlier, has bloomed into an experienced, shrewd businesswoman and her alliance with Darlene will prove potent and deadly. However, fan theories have suggested that Darlene may be at odds with Ruth.
After Darlene shoots Frank Jr.’s crotch as payback for his attack on Ruth, Ruth jokingly responds, ‘You really are batshit crazy’. Darlene gives a smirk and leaves but this may have fuelled a tryst between the two as Darlene, who is acutely sensitive and retaliation-bent at the smallest of insults, (evident in her reaction to being called a ‘red-neck’ in season one) may have took offence. Ignoring or taking Ruth’s words on the chin may be a learning curve in her character, and she may tame her ‘batshit’ craziness as Ruth is Wyatt’s cousin, but this is Ozark, so you never know.