Episodes 2 – 7
The brutal reality of “Ozark” is utilized and subverted throughout the subsequent episodes. Each family member beyond Marty is better developed as new characters are introduced. Wendy, especially, gets a much-needed backstory to keep her from becoming the villain and Marty the hero. Much of it comes in the later episodes, when we learn about her depression and struggles finding a job after taking a break to care for their children. But Wendy stands up for herself whenever Marty crosses the line. She’s not willing to beg for forgiveness; not when he’s made mistakes, too.
Before we dig into the best hour of the season — Episode 8 — here are a few highlights from the preceding episodes:
- “The satisfying sound of your lover smacking the pavement is the only thing that gets me to sleep every night.” That Wendy doesn’t just smack Marty, but punches him square in the mouth, is absolutely fantastic. It’s a key physical gesture to lend a put-upon wife unpredictable authority and it’s a signal to both Marty and the audience that Wendy isn’t just going to sit here and take his shit. It’s the first step in making it believable that Wendy would agree to Marty laundering Del’s money in the first place. She’s not a quiet housewife. She’s a woman with plans, ambition, and passion.
- Telling the kids, Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz) and Jonah (Skylar Gaertner), the truth feels like a bold, risky decision in the moment, but it’s also their only evident option. Lying to them would be impossible at that age, and it would prove taxing on an audience who’s seen that kind of secret stretched out beyond reason before. Plus, Wendy’s line — “Your father is laundering money for a Mexican drug cartel. I shit you not.” — is hilarious.
- That being said, it was important the parents pay a price for ruining their children’s innocence, no matter how necessary it became. “You made us adults the second you told us about what Dad is doing. You can’t take it all back now,” Charlotte says in the finale. That hit home because the series never bluntly addressed Wendy and Marty’s decision to tell them the truth; it played out in their actions. Charlotte stole a boat. She had sex before she was ready. Jonah acquired a dangerous new hobby. These were cause and effect actions presented plainly, rather than drilled into our heads with exposition.
- Bateman makes for a glorious asshole. His vehement, unblinking snark fits perfectly into roles where he can really let loose, and “Ozark” lets him off the leash through trying circumstances (to put it lightly) and years of pent-up anger. He can lash out at Wendy and the locals without the audience resenting him for it. (God, who wouldn’t say those things when under that much pressure?) We just wish we could say it as well as Marty does.
- Ruth. F’ing. Langmore. Few things in this season provided more joy than when Marty and Ruth plotted to rob the strip club, and if the entire series were to become these two running around the midwest stealing shit, that would be fine with me. Not that I wouldn’t miss Wendy — bring her along! — but Ruth is an excellent character played with great pizzazz by Julia Garner. That she later tries to kill Marty only makes her more intriguing.
- “I know cartels, dude. I’ve seen ‘Traffic.'” This line from Episode 6 is likely a make or break moment for each viewer. Either you roll your eyes at how blatantly “Ozark” elevates its brutal portrayal of Mexican drug dealers above other entertainment or you chuckle to yourself and say, “Famous last words, dude.” Personally, the “Ozark” writers were likely aiming for the latter.
The idea that “Ozark” is equal parts horror and drama cannot be emphasized enough. There are so many examples of the worst happening, or of the audience being made to think the worst is happening long enough for it to leave a mark. Take, for instance, Episode 7, “Nest Box”:
As Marty and Wendy finally put it all the on table, going back and forth with hurtful remarks as they attack one another more than they defend themselves, Charlotte is swimming in the lake — and it’s not going smoothly. Long before she started struggling, the consistent cuts to her growing distance from shore and her parents’ ignorance to her position made it clear something bad was about to happen.
And for at least five agonizing minutes, it looked like Charlotte was about to drown. Given the gruesome deaths already depicted on the show and the ruthless nature of its story, this didn’t seem like a bluff; “Ozark” set up the anything-goes mentality from the very start so that moments like these would carry genuine suspense. Was it a slightly nauseating suspense? Absolutely. Director Ellen Kuras even had the gall to cut from Charlotte’s immobile feet at the bottom of the lake to a wide shot of the water above her, as if to say, “Yes, that’s the last we’ll see of Charlotte.”
But then they went back. Charlotte stirred, and swam to the surface. “Ozark” consistently threads the line between making us feel like the worst will happen and keeping us from bailing on the show because it’s just too damn sad. Just often enough, it turns out OK, even though we know that won’t always be the case.
Continue reading for analysis of the finale and what’s next for “Ozark.”