Coming off an improved second season over the first, Ozark has returned once again in its third season with the statement that this is currently the best series streaming on Netflix. And they’re not wrong. Finally clicking on all cylinders, the crime riddled series has matched the series it takes inspiration from – Breaking Bad & The Sopranos. Everything that show creators Bill Dubuque and Mark Williams has gotten right is continued without a single misstep when the show premiered in March 2020. Picking up steam from the season 2 finale when the Byrde family – Marty (Jason Bateman), Wendy (Laura Linney), Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz) and Jonah (Skylar Gaertner) purchased a casino to launder the drug cartel’s money, Season 3 proves that there’s more story to tell.
If the scheming was turned up a notch in season two, season three sees an even higher increase in it. Full of double and sometimes triple crossings, running is no longer the answer for Marty and Wendy, they must face this cartel sized problem head on. They made their bed and now the family is knee deep in the weeds alongside their business partner Helen Pierce (Janet McTeer) who replaced Del after the explosive season 1 finale. Helen is perhaps more intense and intimidating than ever before. McTeer becoming part of the main cast gives her plenty of opportunity to strike fear in those who cross the cartel in anyway. One look from Helen says it all when she decides that a character is dead.
But McTeer is dwarfed by Laura Linney who commands every scene she’s in. If a look could kill, Wendy would have a respectable body count by now. The two leading ladies accomplish what Skyler White never could. It’s the Wendy Byrde show, mixed with a sprinkle of Marty here and there proving her wit, charm, and intelligence is not to be taken with a grain of salt. After taking punch after punch, Wendy could run the entire operation if Marty wasn’t around. She even dreams about it – foreshadowing her worth to the head of the cartel Omar Navarro (Felix Solis).
Raising the stakes, season 3’s narrative follows the Byrde family more desperate than ever to break free from Navarro, the cartel, and any criminal associations despite getting in bed with more criminals. To compound their desperation, the Byrde house is in utter chaos. To keep the foundation from completely fracturing, both Marty and Wendy agree to see a therapist. Leave it to the two of them to look for an upper hand against one another. It’s all about who holds the most power and leverage in the relationship. Wendy uses her political prowess whereas Marty flashes the dead presidents. Corruption has taken their souls, leaving very little morality left. But we still root for them, somehow, as evil as they are, Marty and Wendy are nothing compared to their boss.
Starting the season with some optimism – the usual somber, bleak aesthetic that has shrouded the first two seasons is replaced with cloudless skies. Things might be looking up for the Byrde family, finally. The riverboat casino is successful, Darlene (Lisa Emery) is not causing any mayhem now that baby Zeke is in her control, Charlotte has cooled down with talks of emancipation and the FBI isn’t currently pressing Marty for laundering. But leave it to the greed mixed with a touch of desperation of Wendy to protect her family.
Family is always the centralized theme with a family stuck between a rock and a hard place like the Byrde’s. Involving Charlotte and Jonah from the moment the family landed in the Ozarks makes Ozark stand out from Breaking Bad or The Sopranos. Both Charlotte and Jonah have not only become more involved in the series, Dubuque and Williams have expanded their roles and deservedly so, Sofia and Skylar both have become more comfortable in this mess, able to separate themselves and understand that normalcy isn’t an option anymore. but the position they are in can either prove rewarding or fatal depending on how Marty and Wendy approach their marriage.
Dubuque and Williams have steadily increased the tension and wildcard’s season to season. If it isn’t Frank Cosgrove (John Bedford Lloyd) or his son (Joseph Sikora) breathing down Marty and Ruth’s (Julia Garner) neck, its Wendy purchasing another casino triggering an FBI warrant and agent Maya Miller (Jessica Frances Dukes) to audit and work alongside Marty. On top of all that, Wendy’s brother only mentioned in passing Ben (Tom Pelphrey) visits town – well, gets fired from his substitute teaching gig after a bi-polar flare up and has nowhere else to go. He’s this season’s Buddy – bringing a moral compass to an area full of shady locals while also streaking his way to the lake and growing close to Jonah.
Pelphrey brings so much energy and unpredictability to Ben Davis. He’s given a sandbox to grow his character in by Dubuque and Williams and Pelphrey constantly pushes the boundaries of Ben. The cast is talented already, but Pelphrey is on another level than his co-stars. He’s raw, sweet, and funny while also proving to be a ticking time bomb that can explode at any moment once triggered.
Perhaps the shows biggest strength, and there is an abundance of them, is the atmosphere. With weather patterns that easily reflect the current mood of any single character, tension is easily built from scene to scene across the 10 episodes. Marty and Wendy are under enough stress, but every day comes a new challenge to overcome and conquer. It’s a sense of claustrophobia that make this expanding world feel like its shrinking in on itself. Keeping a head above water means double crossing someone else in the organization. At any given time, a single character can be the most imposing one on screen. That kind of emphasis on character is what makes Breaking Bad or The Sopranos as endearing as they are. Everyday gets more difficult to hold on to the little bit of control Marty and Wendy have left.
Chemistry from the main cast has evolved in unexpected ways inseason three with a fierce loyalty driving some and fear driving others – Whatever Ruth sees in Marty and Wendy to betray her entire family only adds to her characters development. Garner gets better and better every season. From the accent to the way she walks and finally to how she presents herself to others has come a long way from season 1 and stealing thousands of dollars from Marty. She’s now capable of running the operation on her own.
Ozark season 3 is the strongest of the series. All aspects involved are picking up momentum heading into the next season which will be broken up into 2 parts – something that has been done before from a show of this caliber. And with a jaw-dropping cliff-hanger at the end of episode 10, Ozark’s unpredictable nature Is what will keep the show the best Netflix has to offer while every other original series is either being cancelled or in-between seasons.
Created By: Bill Dubuque & Mark Williams
Episodes Directed By: Jason Bateman, Cherien Dabis, Amanda Marsalis, Ben Semanoff, Alik Sakharov
Music By: Danny Bensi & Saunder Jurriaans
Cinematography: Ben Kutchins & Armando Salas
Starring: Jason Bateman, Laura Linney, Sofia Hublitz, Skylar Gaertner, Julia Garner, Janet McTeer, Tom Pelphrey, Jessica Frances Dukes, Felix Solis, Lisa Emery, Charlie Tahan
Where to Watch: Netflix
Release Date: March 27, 2020
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
My Score: 4.5 out of 5