If nothing else, the furore Jason Bateman faced following that tense New York Times interview in May inadvertently teed up Ozark season 2 perfectly. Justified or not, he was perceived as curt, selfish and arrogant, all core traits of his protagonist Marty Byrde, who resumes his descent from white-collar minor money launderer to hardened denizen of the criminal underworld on Netflix 31 August.
First off, let’s address the elephant wearing a pork pie hat in the room – yes, Ozark bears similarities to Breaking Bad so clear I don’t think I really need list them, and yes, it continues to in season 2; less so in some senses, even more so in others. But so what? Breaking Bad doesn’t have exclusive rights to ‘family man indulges worst impulses’ (and boy did nobody ever go broke overestimating the ubiquity of that in America) nor would it want to. If Ozark can manage even half the excitement that came with watching Breaking Bad then strap me the hell in.
And the good news is that it does with this new season, which is a little slow off the blocks but has a full head of steam by the climax. I watched all 10 episodes pretty much back-to-back as a matter of professional duty, but dare say I would have engulfed them at similar speed if I were not here appraising them for you.
I can’t speak for the real Missouri, but it’s no accident that Ozark‘s version of the state sounds a lot like ‘misery’, as there’s plenty of it here. The Byrdes (what would be their collective noun? Not a flock or a murder...A cancer?) brought death and destitution to the Lake of the Ozarks’ bars, strip clubs and churches (those three pillars of American civilisation) in season one, and the family continue to spread through its economy and infrastructure like a disease in season 2, even reaching its political organs. I do mean family here, as we see Wendy really hit her criminal stride and even the kids, Charlotte and Jonah, show some nascent talent.
Walter White’s signature product may have been crystal blue, but Marty Byrde’s is good old-fashioned green, and he can’t launder it fast enough, digging himself out of one hole – spadefuls of cash flying in the air – but deeper into another. I’m not going to give away any specific plot spoilers and why on Earth would I, but suffice to say that his problems were far from over when the Snells blew a fatal chunk out of cartel capo Del in the season one finale, and it leads to plenty of new ones.
That said, these aren’t necessarily presented by new characters, which is probably a good thing as it means the writers’ room wasn’t out of ideas for the original set. One of the few new additions, and a welcome one, comes in the form of a cartel lawyer, a fearsome, statuary, Claire Underwood-type played by Janet McTeer who gives Marty a run for his money, more than once literally but also in terms of the art of manipulating a conversation. Jason Butler Harner is back as creepier-than-ever FBI agent Roy Petty meanwhile, and Julia Garner is just a revelation in the role of scrappy wildcat Ruth Langmore; I’m certain her turn in this season will have her agent’s phone ringing off the hook, if it hasn’t been already.
The cat-and-mouse game at the centre of Ozark is a very familiar one, but the show still manages to find fresh ways to play out hackneyed procedural plot points, particularly when it comes to a character wearing a wire this season which resolves ingeniously. The same goes with the subverting of a kidnap scenario in episode 7, which is the closest the show has come to a bottle episode and is probably its best instalment to date.
There are, of course, shortcomings, and this takes us back to Breaking Bad. If there was one thing I never quite bought about Walt it was his supposed bottomless love for his family. The whole ‘everything I do is for my family’ motive, a faint streak of humanity, strained credulity when he was liquifying corpses on the regular. The absence of this in Marty Byrde, of him pretending to give a crap about his family, was devilishly enjoyable and original. When his wife and children protested about him upending their lives and putting them in mortal danger his response was little more than ‘deal with it’. We see less of this in season two sadly and a move to a more classic ‘family over everything’ action genre logic, coupled with less of the sharp exchanges between Marty and his adversaries that made season one sing. Ozark is also guilty at times of keeping the viewer too informed, with characters typically explaining what the plan is and then just executing it, rather than dropping us in the situation and leaving us to work out what they’re up to.
But, on the whole, this is a very enjoyable season of television. A definite page-turner (we’ll have to come up with a boxset equivalent term for this, I refuse to use “binge” any longer) and one that goes to some incredibly dark places you might have thought impossible for two characters named Marty and Wendy.
All 10 episodes of Ozark season 2 hit Netflix on 31 August.
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