There wasn’t much advertising done for this show so I was a bit skeptical about it, especially with Netflix’s somewhat stale dramas of late, but don’t count Ozark out yet. Created by Bill Dubuque (The Accountant, The Judge) this Netflix-original series follows the story of a financial planner who suddenly uproots his family from the city of Chicago to a resort town in the Missouri Ozarks when he must pay off a debt to a Mexican drug lord.
The main story of season one is the struggle that Marty Byrde faces as he attempts to set up a new money laundering business in the Missouri Ozarks. After his business partner was murdered by their employer for stealing from him, Marty is given an opportunity to redeem himself by traveling to the Ozarks and setting up a new money laundering operation that’s bigger than their previous one in Chicago.
From here there are a lot of storylines that follow many characters throughout so here are the main subplots from the season:
The Byrde Family
- Marty brings his family down to Chicago promising to clean the $8 million his business partner stole and agreeing to make $500 million in five years for his employer Del. His unfaithful wife Wendy is brought in on his current situation and agrees to uproot their family. As Marty attempts to clean the $8 million through every business he can buy, Wendy takes a real estate job and scouts out other potential businesses to buy.
- Meanwhile their kids Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz) and Jonah (Skylar Gaertner) attempt to adjust to a different lifestyle as they learn about their father’s illegal dealings. Marty sends his family away to protect them when life becomes even more dangerous, but they return to finish what they started.
The Langmore Family
- The main three Langmores are Ruth (Julia Garner), Russ (Marc Menchaca) and Wyatt (Charlie Tahan). Ruth, a smart up and coming thief, finds herself under the employ of Marty. While she initially planned to kill him, she sees him as a mentor and wants to learn how to launder money from him. Wyatt ends up having an odd relationship with Charlotte, but it’s Russ’ story that plays most into the main season arc.
- Russ is a closeted homosexual man, who isn’t the biggest fan of Marty or his family. While he attempts to convince Ruth to kill Marty, he is approached by a Chicago fisherman named Rob, who is secretly Agent Roy Petty in disguise. He eventually comes on to Russ and gains his trust before forcing him to become an FBI informant. The season ends with Russ and his brother planning to evade the FBI by murdering Marty Byrde and fleeing from the Ozarks, but Ruth foils their plans by electrocuting them.
- Agent Roy Petty (Jason Butler Harner) travels from Chicago down to the Ozarks to investigate Marty Byrde. He eventually gains the trust of local redneck Russ Langmore and forces him to become an FBI informant under the handling of Petty’s ex Agent Trevor Evans (McKinley Belcher III).
The Snell Family
- Jacob (Peter Mullan) and Darlene Snell (Lisa Emery) run a very lucrative, local heroin operation. Things become problematic when Marty purchases their strip club and eventually starts to push his influence on Preacher Mason, whose sermon is secretly used to deliver the heroin on the water. The Snells continue to strong-arm Marty as he tries to do everything he can to survive the threats of his employer, but they never really back down.
Tensions begin to rise between Del’s cartel and the Snells causing Marty to propose a joint venture between the criminal enterprises in the form of a riverboat casino. However, the two sides can’t see eye to eye and as bullets fly and Del dies, Marty finds himself now having to report to two deadly bosses in a very satisfying finale that opens a lot of questions for next season.
The other storylines in the season include Preacher Mason’s dealings with the Snells, Rachel and Marty’s working relationship at the Blue Cat, and Buddy, the Byrde’s live-in tenant.
No matter what happens this show will always be compared to Breaking Bad. What Breaking Bad did in five seasons is nothing short of masterful, but therein lies the issue. Everyone compares one season of Ozark to five seasons of Breaking Bad. To be quite honest the first season of Breaking Bad (which was three episodes shorter) wasn’t as entertaining as Ozark and that lies in the characters, story and tone.
The story and tone of this show is definitely dark. It sets the scene for a desperate story pushing the Byrde family to their limits. The family has to cope with every obstacle thrown at them unsure if this one is the one that will be their downfall. It has this raw emotion about it thanks to the very real reactions characters have as they all hatch their own little schemes to solve their problems. It very much feels like if you took the Netflix-original Bloodline and infused it with the drama, tone and themes of Breaking Bad, and yet it still feels like it brings enough originality to the table and that falls with the main characters.
The main character Marty Byrde is the perfectly flawed protagonist. He isn’t as much of an anti-hero as Walter White, but he definitely has similar qualities. However, it’s in their differences where Marty stands out. Firstly, his motivation is much different. Walter decides to explore the world of meth making after a terminal diagnosis to create some financial stability for his family, but what motivates Marty is literally life or death. His entire family’s life is being threatened by the mob which makes him do anything to get the target off their backs. He isn’t dropping himself into a new hobby or profession, but continues to launder money, something he has expertly done for the past decade. And Jason Bateman brings the cynicism and wit of Michael Bluth to this character, which is a great addition.
Marty’s wife Wendy (Laura Linney) is also a big reason as to why this first season is so gripping. While this couple has had their problems, they understand working together is a necessity to protect their children. This is really a situation of what if Skyler White knew about Walter’s plan and what if she agreed to help? Ozark explores this allowing Wendy to become a more fully fleshed out and flawed character that is also coping with the consequences at hand.
Aside from the heads of the Byrde family, two other characters stood out this season and they were Charlotte Byrde and Ruth Langmore. Both of these young female characters were very different and portrayed perfectly. Charlotte is the typical dramatic teenage, but quickly grows up as she is brought into her parents’ world. The way that Sofia Hublitz played this character was great considering how much child actors can be hit or miss. Meanwhile Ruth was a character that stole almost every scene. The arc she went through this season paired with her snarky wit was definitely the Jesse to Marty’s Walt.
It’s a show that grows on you and is a lot better than some give it credit for as it explores the criminal operations of the Southwest United States rather than the Southeast. What makes it original is its cultural differences, interwoven storylines and interesting, flawed characters.
Ozark is a brilliant, dark drama focused on the criminal dealings of money laundering. With very strong performances by its leads and a strongly executed story I’m going to say it’s worth the watch. Bring on season two!
Here’s our video review:
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