This Ozark season 3 review contains no spoilers.
In December, filmmaker Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story was celebrated for its painstaking depiction of divorce, its adept use of Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson’s performances, and–to the surprise of no one–its meme-ability. Three months later, another dramatization of a failed marriage on Netflix, the crime series Ozark, continues to do the same for subscribers with its third season, which drops next Friday.
And chances are good that even more memes, this time involving Marty (Jason Bateman) and Wendy Byrde’s (Laura Linney) depressingly contrived couples therapy sessions and incessant backstabbing, are soon to follow on social media.
Co-created by Bill Dubuque and Mark Williams and showrun by Chris Mundy, the first two seasons of Ozark tracked the trials and tribulations of the Byrde family. Season 1 gifted viewers with a shockingly violent update to the Walter White trajectory popularized by AMC’s Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, as Marty’s partners in a money laundering scheme for a Mexican drug cartel were caught stealing and murdered for it. This forced him to move his unfaithful wife and their two disaffected children from Chicago to rural Missouri in the scant hopes of staving off the cartel’s vengeful behavior.
Season 2 muddied the waters somewhat, offering viewers a stagnant update to the Byrdes’ new lives in the Ozarks now that they were working with the cartel (though always under duress) while local parties tried to snuff them out. The family was no longer on the run, which meant the action and thrills-heavy first season’s formula would no longer work. Instead, the writers offered up a weightier, slower slog of a story that, like far too many Netflix original series, allowed numerous episodes to balloon with unnecessary details. (Though, to the showrunners’ credit, this did result in acting and directing Emmys for Julie Garner and Bateman, respectively.)
So, where does Ozark season 3 fall on the spectrum? Judging by the new batch of 10 episodes, all of which were made available to reviewers, it seems Dubuque, Williams, Mundy and company have taken some of the criticisms to heart. The result is a much better organized and, thankfully, more streamlined new season of television in which Marty and Wendy’s increasingly fraught relationship, and a host of new threats from unexpected places, make their triumphant riverboat casino operation feel like a fart in the wind. There’s still plenty of bloat to go around, though thankfully nowhere near as much as in season 2.
Six months have passed and the Byrdes’ long-promised riverboat casino, “The Missouri Bell,” is up and running with Marty’s defacto protege, Ruth Langmore (Garner), captaining the ship. Kansas City mob boss Frank Cosgrove (John Bedford Lloyd) and his son Frank Jr. (Joseph Sikora) are no longer causing the operation any trouble, so aside from Ruth’s constantly shifting allegiances and the cartel’s regular meddling, everything is going smoothly. Right?
Wrong. For starters, Wendy’s final act of defiance and treachery against her husband last season has devolved into another round of subtle (and not so subtle) aggression between the pair. These two do not like each other at all, and though they continue to see a couples therapist at the insistence of their children, it seems as though nothing can possibly reunite them. Not for love, not for business, not for anything. Or, at least that’s what the conniving husband and wife pair was probably thinking before one of the show’s wildest turns to date rears its ugly, violent head. It’s definitely a narrative move that, in retrospect, makes perfect sense and isn’t actually all that surprising, though this sea change’s swift arrival on the scene is sure to keep audiences talking for some time.
Aside from trimming much of the fat from its previous seasons, Ozark season 3 also makes good on two of its most promising performers, Linney and Garner, who shine throughout. This is especially true of Linney, whose Wendy seems hellbent on roaming the same criminal grounds Marty is now too afraid to retread while avoiding (or repeating) his mistakes. She wants to expand the family business. She wants to increase their profile, despite its obvious fallbacks (like attracting the FBI). And when her husband refuses to continue laundering money for the cartel and their other interests, Wendy picks up the pace of her campaign against him.
Yes, Ozark is still an incredibly violent show that, to its detriment, relies far too heavily on shock and awe instead of decent plotting and regular character development. Though when season 3 actually takes the time to introduce new explosive threats and relationship dynamics, it excels far more than it has any right to. So, when the new season drops next week, don’t be too surprised if Marty’s smug expressions or Wendy’s conniving smirks are immediately transformed into Internet comedy gold. The GIFs are coming… and so is, per the show’s many hints, the final dissolution of their marriage–if not their lives.
Ozark season 3 premieres Friday, March 27 on Netflix.