When Ozark season one wrapped, viewers were left with a sort of state-change. Marty Byrde’s cartel contact, Del, had been killed in sudden fashion by Darlene Snell. The new Byrde family goal is a desperate plan for a casino (requiring partnership with the Snell family), and the complication of Del’s death felt like it could upset the entire show.
The new casino goal seems to involve not only cartel criminals, but state politics, and while I am excited for more of Wendy Byrde’s involvement, the new direction risks turning the show away from the setup that has worked for me so far. I’m not certain I wanted state politics as a plotline, but my trust in the show is strong. Plus, we still have to deal with Ruth Langmore and her own murderous actions, and the Byrde children processing their lives in the aftermath of the season 1 assassination attempt.
I hit play on season two excited to see how the fallout from so many bad plans would possibly come together, but nervous that the new developments wouldn’t move the show directly forward. Ozark risks stagnation with an endless series of next-emergencies for the Byrdes to handle. Fortunately, the show deftly moves through all the plots, and remains consistently strong both in terms of acting and camerawork. There’s a blue, dusky lighting I’ve come to recognize from the show, and the sureness of atmosphere helps keep me hooked.
We start at a charity ball, slightly forward in time, as we see Marty and Wendy stalking political prey. Wendy has a spark to her, and Marty mentions it. Given what we know of her history with depression, it’s a positive change in her. The beauty of Ozark is that this verve from Wendy stems from such awful circumstance. We know right away this season will be about the casino, with the cartel forever looming. It’s this constant, desperate drive toward the next task that keeps the energy of the show alive. The Byrde family must have this church, this funeral parlor, and now this casino. Whatever is next, their lives depend on it.
Thankfully, Ozark season two understands that the new ‘thing’ the Byrdes need is about more than raising a cap on number of casinos in Missouri. The casino is certainly the big, involved plan of the season, but it’s always just a task in service of the cartel. After slowing establishing this world and these criminal relationship in season one, we now have a show with all the players on the board. Everyone has their own plans. Everyone came through season 1 changed.
Marty and Wendy are now a team, bonded by their crimes, but also by the lack of options and danger to their families. Guilty, fear, and a cold acceptance are their glue now. Jonah and Charlotte are feeling the wake of their near-assassination last season. Jonah particularly is reeling from his dry-fire of a shotgun in the face of their would-be killer. The show doles out his processing with a steady precision. In this episode, we see the siblings bond over money Charlotte stole when the family was packing the walls with cash.
Ruth is changed from killing Boyd last season, though in this episode we don’t find out anything new about the FBI investigation Boyd was in. Ruth testifies at her father’s parole hearing. Cade Langmore comes home, and will surely complicate things. Ruth is just now finding a strange sort of mentor in Marty, and there’s a sick and dangerous tone to her bond with Cade. (Case in point, she gets him a prostitute upon his release from prison, and directly afterwards he tells her he knows she killed Boyd. Every scene between them has a pain and a danger to it, even when they’re friendly.)
We find Darlene Snell starting season two in the woods with Ash, disposing of Del’s body. Darlene almost expresses remorse for killing Del, but Ash corrects her thinking. (Let’s remember, the insult in question was ‘redneck’). Ash feels the killing was appropriate. He travels to Chicago to use Del’s credit cards and lay a false trail for the cartel, in hopes of Darlene getting away with the murder. The Snell’s nonchalance about this is dark, and though Darlene remains the hair trigger, both husband and wife possess a hardline fanaticism to some weird rural code. Their adherence to this as a central character motivation begins to grind on me, but I can’t tell yet if it actually feels false, or if I’m simply as tired of it as Marty appears to be.
The Byrdes face a key political problem this season, tapping the established background of Wendy’s character for the task. Solving the problem requires the political clout of a very conservative donor, Charles Wilkes. We see Wendy truly shine as she finds out his identity, develops a way to contact him, and closes the deal. This is the charity ball that serves as the frame to what is otherwise a flashback episode.
We meet cartel lawyer Helen Pierce this episode, as well, sent to both negotiate the casino and to solve Del’s whereabouts. Janet McTeer plays her with such matter-of-fact air that I hope she stays around all season. Once she learns of Del’s death and the Snell’s involvement, there is no delay. The cartel’s knowledge translates immediately to action. They hijack Marty and Wendy on their way home from the charity event, and explain they have one hour to make reparations to the cartel for Del’s loss. The Byrdes go immediately to see the Snells, and make a few suggestions as to fair compensation for Del. In a stunning move, Jacob has the final say. His cold application of some twisted moral balancing ends the episode.
Crime fiction is at its best when you watch regular people choose between several bad options, where against all odds and everything you know about them, you still want it all to work out. Ozark is nothing but those people, making nothing but those choices. None of it will end well, but I can’t wait to watch it burn.
Best moment: Wendy telling Marty that “no one drives four hours to tell you to stay away…” and Wendy’s orchestrated meet-cute with Charles Wilkes. I am all in for Political Wendy.
Thing to Watch: Whether the Snell’s strange ‘cult of the prideful farmer’ mentality will spin out into dogma, or whether I’ll find a way to sympathize with their crazy negotiation outbursts.