Missouri Macabre: A Review of Ozark (Season 3)

I was thrilled when the third season of Netflix’s drama series Ozark was first announced, and–I must admit–somewhat wary. Could the show possibly continue to develop its complex storyline and maintain its level of excellence? After a marathon bout of housebound bingeing (here in the time of the coronavirus pandemic), I am happy to report that Ozark has come back better than ever.

Part of my initial trepidation stemmed from the fact that a slew of characters, both heroic and villainous, did not survive last season’s bloodbath. Fortunately, plenty of viewer favorites return, starting with money-launderer extraordinaire Marty Byrde, a mostly understated figure whose pressure-cooker of a life leaves him prone to some explosive outbursts. Good as Jason Bateman is in the role, he is eclipsed by Laura Linney’s utterly brilliant turn as Marty’s cunning yet caring, formidable but vulnerable wife Wendy. Julia Garner’s Ruth Langmore once again exhibits spunk in spades (dropping enough f-bombs to make George Carlin blush), but the tenderer side of her character is much more evident here in Season 3 as she is given a love interest. Local sociopath and hillbilly Lady Macbeth Darlene Snell (Lisa Emery) remains unfailingly unnerving, while stone-cold cartel lawyer Helen Pierce (Janet McTeer, in a welcome extension of her role from last season) forms a no-less-chilling adversary. The real season-stealer, though, is cast newcomer Tom Pelphrey as Wendy’s lovable but combustible brother Ben. Subsumed into the Byrde family drama, Pelphrey’s Ben transcends secondary-character status and proves integral to the story arc.

The action picks up six months after the events of Season 2, with the Byrdes working to keep their new riverboat-casino venture afloat, amidst an intensifying drug war in Mexico (whose violence spills over onto American soil) and the intrusive presence of Kansas City mobsters and F.B.I. agents alike. Ozark offers a master class in plot complication, as the web of deceit grows ever more tangled and the protagonists’ predicaments more dire. Forget Breaking Bad; this show could be called “Breaking Worse and Worse.” Thankfully, though, three seasons’ worth of relentlessly escalating stakes has not caused a loss of plausibility. This is prevented by a refreshing sense of self-awareness–Wendy even goes so far to admit a certain addiction to the perennial chaos swirling around the Byrdes. Also, Ozark takes pains to demonstrate the inescapable and soul-crushing toll of the road the characters have chosen to travel, of the regrettable, if necessary, decisions they have made all along the way.

Safe to say, Ozark is not for the faint of heart. Savage cartel attacks are dramatized here, and the season opens and closes with scenes of shocking violence. This third iteration of the series might not be quite as grisly as seasons past, but the show still furnishes a perfect example of how easily noir crime can shade over into the macabre.

Season 3 of Ozark is at once gut-wrenchingly tense, wickedly funny (its black humor is pitch perfect), and heart-breakingly tragic. There aren’t enough Emmys to be awarded to this amazing Netflix effort.

 

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