As with so many streaming shows, it took me a few days to dive back into the world of Ozark. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy season one, but all I carried with me was the foggy recollection of a ten episode season about a “normal” white-collar guy who drags his family into a life dominated by the cartel and a group of low-grade criminals in the Missouri Ozarks. We’ve all been to this rodeo before, and while the first season is plenty entertaining, it didn’t leave much that I’d consider memorable. All of that changed when I hit play on season 2. Star and part-time director Jason Bateman along with show creators Bill Dubuque and Mark Williams quickly take us back into the seedy world of the drug-infused Ozarks, resplendent with wannabe-criminal-mastermind rednecks (but don’t call them that).
What stands out most about the second season of Ozark, in contrast with its first season, is that this is no longer Jason Bateman’s show. That is not meant as a put-down toward Bateman, who is a surprisingly adept dramatic actor and capable director for many episodes, but a compliment toward the show’s writers for effectively broadening the scope of the story as well as Ozark’s spectacular ensemble cast. Laura Linney stuns as Wendy, the matriarch of the money laundering Byrde family, and their children Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz) and Jonah (Skylar Goertner) earn exciting new independence as characters. Peter Mullan and Lisa Emery return as the Snells, an older couple providing the bulk of the opiates being exported from the Ozarks and holding the Byrdes to a stringent and altogether confusing moral code. I could list and praise each cast member individually, but I’ll stop at the season’s biggest breakout. Julia Garner’s portrayal of Ruth Langmore, local degenerate and Marty’s second in command, gives a spellbinding performance as she turns sharply, yet effectively, from season one’s most dastardly villain to perhaps season two’s most sympathetic protagonist. Ozark is without a doubt a show steeped in its environment, and Ruth exemplifies every characteristic of a product of a toxic environment.
In the second season of Ozark, the show displays one of the most challenging things a TV show can strive for: growth. Ozark does not for a moment stagnate or rehash the formula that made season one worth renewal. Instead, it builds, expands, and shifts the way that each of its characters relate to each other. Wendy’s transformation is among the most fascinating, and long-time fans of Netflix shows will delight in seeing her inner Claire Underwood come to the surface. Bateman’s Marty, however, is no Frank Underwood. While he is capable of being calculating and is certainly an intelligent man, he often reacts with emotion and cannot seem to balance his desire to be entirely dispassionate against his instinct to care for those around him. Even their relationship with the cartel moves in an unconventional direction, and interactions with the FBI makes you wonder if law enforcement are really the good guys.
This brings up another laudable aspect of Ozark’s writing: complete moral ambiguity. Outside of a couple of characters (primarily the show’s children) nobody exists clearly on one side of the good-versus-evil spectrum. While a couple come off as particularly cruel and heartless, most of the characters exist in some kind of grey area, allowing the audience to form its own allegiances.
Ozark keeps with the Netflix trend of exceedingly cinematic series. It doesn’t go out of its way to look ambitiously shot, but in the natural environment in which the show takes place there is little to criticize about the look and feel. Perhaps this is just the result of Netflix providing ample funding to a show with a successful track record and a fair amount of star power, but it still adds to Ozark’s allure.
I will not again make the mistake of delaying my viewing of Ozark when it returns. Where season one piqued my interest, season two hooked me for the long haul. I am hopeful that the show will continue to display a capability to evolve and introduce compelling new elements. It has also successfully emerged from under the shadow of Breaking Bad and has ventured into its own territory to great effect. If season two is any indication, Ozark has the potential to be one of Netflix’s next big winners.