Ozark isn’t for everyone. It requires patience to get into and, outside of the character of Ruth, it is hard to guarantee you’ll grow to like it.
For years, Marty (Jason Bateman) thought he had a decent life. He was a financial advisor washing money for the 2nd biggest Mexican drug cartel, he was married to this wonderful woman named Wendy (Laura Linney), and also he had two children: Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz) and Jonah (Skylar Gaertner). However, then the crap hits the fan. On top of learning his wife is cheating on him, he comes to find out that his partner Bruce (Josh Randall has been skimming money from the cartel. Thus leading Del (Esai Morales), their representative in Chicago, to kill Bruce, Bruce’s girlfriend, and two of their associates.
Marty would have been next but thanks to Bruce talking about this place called Lake Ozark, he comes up with this last minute plan to save his neck. He makes it seem like the greatest and easiest place to wash money. So good he could wash $8 million in 3 months and half a billion in 5 years. Now, Del isn’t sure Marty is telling the truth but, with Marty not having a history of lying to him, he is allowed to live.
However, with his life being spared means a life altering move for Wendy, Charlotte, and Jonah’s. Of which none of them are happy. Wendy because, in the process of the move, she triggers Del and he ends up killing her lover Gary (Bruce Altman) who she was cheating on Marty with. As for the kids? Charlotte is a teenager so naturally, she is mad she has to leave her friends behind. But, when it comes to Jonah, he didn’t have much to lose so he is just trying to understand what is going on.
Something Wendy just comes right out with once they find a place to stay. Which shocks the kids and leads to two very different reactions. Jonah adapts and learns how to shoot a gun. As for Charlotte, she flips out on a regular basis to the point you hope Jonah accidentally shoots her before the season is over.
As for Marty? With this change in scenery comes new people to deal with. He encounters a potential career criminal named Ruth (Julia Garner), who is 19 and probably the most cunning person around. He has to deal with an undercover FBI agent named Roy (Jason Butler Harner), and his ex-boyfriend, who is also an agent, named Trevor (McKinley Belcher III). But the one who presents the biggest obstacle is Jacob (Peter Mullan). For the small businesses Marty finds aren’t enough to wash all the money he is supposed to in time. But, when he discovers this church, run by this young priest named Mason (Michael Mosley) it seems he is set. However, with that church being used by Jacob’s people to move heroin, so comes Marty being threatened on multiple fronts. Of which Wendy steps up and has his back, but one against Ruth’s family, Jacob’s, and Del’s cartel, may not be enough. No matter how intelligent Wendy is.
Julie Garner saves this show. For there is just something about Marty and his family which often seems insufferable. I don’t know if it is because Jason Bateman just doesn’t seem like a good leading man, because Laura Linney didn’t consistently have good screen partners, or what? However, Garner helped, again and again, make it so this show could be something you could binge watch.
Mostly in the form of her, alongside a few others, like Darlene (Lisa Emery) for example, playing against type. After all, when we see rural people on TV or in a film, usually they are touted as slow speaking fools. However, Ruth is clearly not an idiot. From orchestrating a good plan to steal Marty’s money, kill him and make it look like an accident, on top of running a strip club, that Marty gives her to handle, we see she is quite cunning and capable.
However, it isn’t just about being a bad ass that makes Ruth the highlight and the saving grace of the show. It is also her scenes with Wendy in which you see a vulnerability, those she has with her cousin Wyatt (Charlie Tahan), and also the scenes with her imprisoned father Cade (Trevor Long). In these scenes, you are reminded Ruth is but a 19-year-old girl trying to not end up a sex worker to make cash. Much less end up like her uncles, poor and stupid. Which she is willing to do by any means necessary. Just so, for once in her life, she can perhaps just worry about herself, and maybe those who can make something of themselves like Wyatt and his little brother Three (Carson Holmes).
Children of the main characters are rarely an asset in any show. At worse, they often are proof that the lead once loved someone and had a child with them. At best, they are a reminder of what the lead is trying to protect and they help root the character and remind us of their humanity. Charlotte does neither of these well.
She, unfortunately, is the type of offspring who you’ll remember for complaining and whining more than anything. This is as opposed to Jonah who doesn’t say much, is a little weird but isn’t trying to compete for screen time. So with that, you can tolerate him. With Charlotte though, while you have to admire the attempts to make her character someone to compare and contrast with Ruth, in the long run, you just want to see her sacrificed to teach Marty a lesson.
On The Fence
It Grows On You
Even after finishing the season, I remain unable to understand how someone, just based on episode 1, which doesn’t include Ruth, could like this series. For there is a certain amount of pompousness with the characters on this show which makes it hard to sit through. Especially since they don’t really become the type of complicated which can be seen as positive until the middle of the season. Until then, Ruth is doing all the heavy lifting. As noted, she is the sole character who has the ability to make you give a damn about whoever she shares a scene with.
But, this changes with time. For as Laura Linney gets to work with actors who seem more willing to have a give and take with her, Wendy becomes likable and complicated. Especially as she starts finding different ways to save Marty, and her family’s, lives. This is on top of learning about her former career in politics and seeing her getting to tap into those skills to manipulate who she needs to.
As for Marty? While I probably will never call myself a Jason Bateman fan, or think he shouldn’t be restricted to ensemble productions, you can learn to like him. Perhaps solely through the heavy lifting Ruth and Wendy do to make his character better. Otherwise, what you may enjoy when it comes to him is watching him face challenges, nearly get murdered, have his toe nails peeled off, and just his battle of wits with people. Like his scene in which he talked Ruth’s family out of robbing and killing him. In that moment, when there is some inkling that Bateman isn’t just trying to be the star but allow the other actor to look good, that is when you think you may come around to enjoying him. Just as long as he is working with an actor who refuses to be a crutch but rather challenge him.
As a whole, the story does its job and leads to a satisfying finale. However, there are certain things not talked about or gone into which create what may be considered plot holes. The first thing being, where are Ruth, Wyatt, and Three’s mother? Alongside that, there is the question of how Marty and Wendy met, how did Wendy meet Gary, and why didn’t she betray him when he made her life into pure chaos?
And that maybe the main problem as you watch this. You are going to develop questions you don’t get the answer to and may only get answered if this gets a season 2. Which, as of this post, Ozark hasn’t been picked up for a season 2.
Overall: Mixed (Stick Around)
I feel like I abuse the whole Trojan Horse concept when commenting on shows, but it applies to so many. For while Jason Bateman and Laura Linney likely were the names which got people interested, Julie Garner is the one who emerges the star of this thing. She is the one who instantly gets you invested as Marty, Wendy, and the rest of the characters are built up to be noteworthy in their own right.
So while the first episode is a bore and a turn-off, you should definitely stick around. I won’t say that you will come to love this, but I do feel compared to having nothing to watch or do, you’ll enjoy yourself. May not be petitioning for a second season when all is said and done, but you may get the feeling Netflix hasn’t truly become all about quantity while sacrificing quality in the process.
Sugarwood – Series Premiere
The Toll – Season Finale