The more ingrained the Byrde family becomes in the Lake of the Ozarks community, the more trouble they kick up on OZARK. No matter what Marty does, he always steps on someone’s toes, and now the Snells take aim at Marty when all he wants to do is keep his family safe from Del and the Mexican Cartel.
Seven episodes into Ozark, and I’m still really enjoying the way the story is expanding, the characters are developing, and the troubles continue to mount for Marty and his family. What could have been a cheap knock off of Breaking Bad in the Midwest has turned into an intense fight for the Byrde’s lives after they upset the delicate ecosystem of the Lake of the Ozarks. The Byrde family is an invasive species and they’ve already upset the balance of things, throwing the locals (most prominently the Snell’s) lives into disarray. As ecosystems change, there’s bound to be a push and pull as the way things were are no longer feasible, and a new pattern or balance must reemerge, possibly forever altering the Lake of the Ozarks community.
Invasive species often bring debilitating diseases the likes of which the original populace has no experience or tolerance built up for. In Marty’s case this is the Mexican Cartel and its money. It reaches into every business Marty buys, every person he comes into contact with, and threatens to tear the entire community apart by the roots. It spreads like a cancer amongst everyone they work with or for. First it was the Langmore’s after Ruth originally stole Marty’s money, and it continues to eat away at her as she attempts to find a way to kill Marty and make it look like an accident so she can steal all of his money. It’s infected the Blue Cat Lodge once Rachel realizes Marty has been cooking the books, and it’s also changed the strip club. The Snell’s feel it the most as every move Marty makes causes damage to their own business, and now it’s also spread to the local preacher Mason and his wife, as well as Wendy’s boss Sam and his mother Eugenia. Will any of these people survive contact with the Byrde’s, or will everyone succumb to it?
For the most part the Cartel is a hidden threat, helpful to take the target off of Marty and his family for fear of retribution, but in reality it just keeps the Snell’s at bay. If they knew the true relationship between Marty and Del, Jacob and his wife wouldn’t hesitate to end Marty and his family after the disruption he’s caused to their businesses. Marty has already taken possession of the Snell’s main source of money laundering when he took over Bobby Dean’s strip club. The message was sent to Marty once Bobby Dean’s bloated body was found at the end of their dock. Do not mess with the Snell’s. Not only was it a warning, but it put a spotlight on Marty by the local police who found out Marty’s old business partner Bruce and his girlfriend are presumed to have run into foul play and are missing.
The Snell’s own the town, and both the locals and the police fear them. With each move Marty makes to try to clean enough money to get Del and the Cartel off of his back, he inadvertently ends up stepping on Jacob Snell’s toes over and over again. With the Cartel’s deadline coming up fast, Marty and Wendy brainstorm the best way to launder money without the Feds getting involved, and they come up with the construction of a church. This is how Mason and his wife come into the picture. Currently Mason preaches on a boat in the lake where others tie up to hear the good word, and he’s delighted when Marty offers to build Mason a church. One person who isn’t delighted is Jacob Snell, since he has a man working for him named Ash distributing heroin via hollowed out hymnals during the lake sermons. With Feds watching the land for drug running, this water-based form of distribution is Jacob’s main source of business. Taking the preaching off of the water and putting it in a physical church throws a huge wrench in the Snell’s heroin business, and they don’t take too kindly to it. They tell Marty they’ll kill Mason and his pregnant wife if construction is not immediately stopped.
Marty is close to hitting his goal, saving his family, and keeping Del happy when all of this goes down. Even though he promises Jacob to halt construction after being run off the road on his bike by one of Snell’s goons, someone erects a cross on the building, and it takes all of the cash Marty has on hand to keep Jacob and his wife from killing Mason and his wife. This leaves Marty in better standing with the Snell’s but threatens to doom his family, especially when one of Del’s men comes to Wendy’s work to let her know they’re watching the Byrde’s and time is running out. To cover their losses, Wendy devises a way to get her boss Sam to invest all of his inheritance (which his mother lives off of) to Marty, who’ll use it to make the Cartel happy, and then replace the money as it continues to roll in. He’s basically setting up a Ponzi scheme to save his ass for now, but which will likely cause more problems down the road.
The character work in Ozark has been surprisingly well done, with no bigger surprises than Ruth and Russ Langmore. Ruth may be one of the greatest characters in the entire show, at both times devious, dangerous, and conflicted. She’s being treated better by Marty than anyone has ever treated her in her entire life. He’s put her in charge of the strip club because she’s done a wonderful job. Marty trusts her, pays her well, and relies on her, but she has the voice of her demented father whispering for her to kill Marty and take everything he has. Her one attempt is thwarted in part by her uncle Russ, who seems like nothing more than a drunken redneck, but who blossoms into a really good guy when he reveals his true colors. Agent Petty works undercover and strikes up a relationship with Russ, who when he first finds out Petty is homosexual has the typical small town reaction of physical violence and name calling. But things aren’t as they appear, and it turns out Russ has been denying his true self. With Petty he’s found a way to be who he really is, while also dreaming for a better life. Both of these characters could have been two-dimensional hillbillies, but Ozark does them justice by fleshing out a depth to Ruth and Russ that’s both intriguing and a highlight of the show.
Charlotte and Jonah are developing lives of their own, and are not mere window dressing when it comes to story. They’re both fully enveloped in their new lives, with quirks and old hang-ups which shed light on the way the revelation of their parent’s true reason for picking up and moving them from Chicago has changed their familial dynamics. As they try to find their way in this new life, they’re also trying to figure out who they are. Will they follow in their parent’s footsteps of moral flexibility, or will they learn from their parent’s mistakes? Marty and Wendy’s relationship is the one weak spot in the story, and it would be wonderful to find out how they found themselves so alienated from each other. It’s clear Marty and Wendy were in love once, since the spark is still there, but deceit and emotional coldness has wreaked havoc on them. Their partnership as Marty tells her is out of “Necessity, not desire.” There are moments when it seems they may find their way back to one another again, but its always haunted by the past indiscretions Wendy has made, even to the point where when they finally do have sex, Marty ends up awkwardly reenacting the hidden camera sex tape of Wendy and Gary he’s been watching over and over. It’s a cringe worthy scene that prepares us for the fact their relationship may not be repairable. Wendy’s affair is a big deal. Deceit is a big deal, but I would like to see some of the blame carried by Marty as well. What did he do that pushed Wendy away from him and towards Gary? Hopefully both sides of this relationship are revealed equally in due time.
Ozark continues to keep my attention, and with only three episodes left, I’m hoping it ends the season on a continued high note. Ozark is worth checking out for its ability to tighten up the tension episode after episode, but it’s also worth watching for Julia Garner’s stunning role as Ruth Langmore. If she doesn’t end up winning an award for this role it will be a damn shame.
Season 1, Episode 5-7 (S01E05-07)
Ozark Streams on Netflix
For six months out of the year Jeff is holed up in his home with nothing to do but shovel snow, watch television, write, and dream of warmer climates.
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Jeff Iblings | Contributor