There have been many ups and downs over the three seasons of Emmy-winning Netflix original show Ozark. The drama series, which stars Jason Bateman and Laura Linney, tells the story of Marty Byrde (Bateman), a talented financial adviser who gets roped into laundering money for a Mexican drug cartel and drags his wife Wendy (Linney), and their two children, Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz) and Jonah (Skylar Gaertner), from Chicago to the Missouri Ozarks, where they plan to open a casino.
Season one was full of shocking twists and turns, brutal murders and fascinating insights into the murky underworld of “washing” money. It was gripping and unpredictable, and highly praised. Season two slowed down somewhat, as Marty and Wendy buried themselves deeper into the hole of corruption they’d rather hesitantly dug. It lent itself more to character development than action, as screen time was given to other, lesser-known characters, and the Byrdes saw out their plan to take over the casino. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t as good as the first. Importantly, however, the end of it left us with a glimpse of what Wendy is truly capable of.
Season three takes the best of both previous instalments and gives us healthy doses of action, unpredictability and character development. It starts six months after the Byrdes acquire their casino, the Missouri Belle, which is now up and running. The first half of the show is about the breakdown of Marty and Wendy’s marriage, as they attend couple’s counselling (as promised to Charlotte in season two, when she tried to emancipate herself) and basically betray each other at every turn.
Wendy is outshining Marty in the eyes of cartel lawyer Helen Pierce (Janet McTeer) and drug boss Omar Navarro (Felix Solis), who is embroiled in a bitter, vicious war with the Lagunas cartel. Wendy’s new plan is to take on a second casino and hotel with a view to using political clout to make them – and the Navarro cartel – more powerful than their enemies and even the law. Marty prefers to fly under the radar, quietly laundering money in the background, going unnoticed by the FBI, which, after agent Petty’s murder in season two, is waiting for any opportunity to catch him out.
By the second half of the show, after Marty has been abducted and tortured in Mexico, and they become more wary of Helen, the pair is on the same page. Plans for the second property move ahead as Marty realises this, along with other seemingly impossible measures promised to Navarro, is all that will keep his family safe and alive.
Ultimately, the women in this season steal the show. Wendy proves there’s not much she wouldn’t do to keep her family safe. Ruth Langmore (played by award-winning actress Julia Garner) demonstrates she’s more vulnerable than we might have believed. Helen, who brings her own children into this series as she relocates to the Ozarks for the summer, demonstrates new levels of brutality.
From the men, Tom Pelphrey (Iron Fist) plays new character Ben, Wendy's brother, masterfully. The substitute teacher is introduced in an explosive and memorable scene, later explained when Wendy reveals he has stopped taking his medication for bipolar disorder, which starts to become a problem for the Byrdes, Helen and the cartel. As he becomes more unstable, story arcs get less predictable.
At the same time, a few less clear storylines emerge. For example, the blossoming relationship between Darlene Snell (Lisa Emery) and Wyatt Langmore (Charlie Tahan), Wendy’s attempt to take baby Zeke back from Darlene, and Jonah’s slow slide into despair. These seem to be distracting, but are perhaps instead setting us up nicely for what’s to come in season four. It’s yet to be confirmed that there will be one, but considering how the season ends – and how many questions we’re left with – there would be a lot of disappointed viewers if there weren’t.
Ozark season three airs on Netflix on Friday, March 27