Three burning questions ahead of “Ozark” Season 3

Three burning questions ahead of “Ozark” Season 3

Season 2 pushed main characters to new depths. Just how much darker can they get?
Published: March 23, 2020
ozark netflix marty byrde jason bateman wendy byrde laura linney
Laura Linney (left) and Jason Bateman were nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress and Actor in a Drama Series for their performances as Wendy Byrde and Marty Byrde in "Ozark" Season 2.

Warning: The paragraphs below presume familiarity with the first two seasons of “Ozark” and contain major spoilers for those who have not seen every episode of the series. Do NOT read on if you wish to be surprised on first or repeat viewings! But DO read on if you want some refreshers and brain teasers before Season 3 starts streaming on Netflix on March 27!

From the jump, we knew Ozark’s writers weren’t afraid to go there. Graphic mass murder and disposing bodies in the first episode: check. Exposing minors to sex work: check. Spotlighting abusive and dysfunctional family relationships: check. As dark as some of those scenarios may be, let’s be honest: they make the Emmy-nominated show’s drama that much more gripping.

Back in the show’s pilot episode, Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman) literally had a gun to his head. Navarro drug cartel lieutenant Camino Del Rio (Esai Morales) had discovered Byrde’s business partners were skimming millions of dollars in profits from their money-laundering arrangement. “Del” was seconds away from killing Marty until Byrde proposed single-handedly relocating the money-laundering operation to the Ozarks and expanding it by orders of magnitude.

ozark netflix marty byrde jason bateman camino del rio esai morales
Camino Del Rio (portrayed by Esai Morales, left) murdered all of Marty Byrde’s Chicago-area business partners before his eyes in the series' first episode.

Though Marty’s quick thinking spared his life and the lives of his family members for a night, it thrust his family into a cycle of crime and deceit they had never imagined. One day, the dinner table conversation revolved around youngest child Jonah (Skylar Gaertner) being too nervous to go to the school dance. Mere weeks later, with the family forced to run and Marty on the hook to deliver millions of dollars to drug lords, it became about locating fake identities and finding ways to stay untraceable. That’s zero to a hundred…real quick.

So where will Ozark’s protagonists and antagonists venture in Season 3? How much darker can things get after Season 2’s familial murders, office bombings and emancipation filings? Here are three key questions to ponder before starting your Season 3 binge.

Can Ruth Langmore be trusted?

The Ozark producers dangle this question before viewers with every ominous symphonic riff and sideways glance throughout the series. How can the offspring of a family with criminality, greed and underachievement coursing through its veins possibly stay loyal to a newcomer boss sitting on mountains of cash?

Sure, Ruth (Julia Garner) made the brutal decision to kill her uncles by wiring The Blue Cat’s dock when they plotted to kill Marty in Season 1. But Ruth had some self-interest at play in keeping Marty alive, as well. Perhaps more troubling for the Byrdes, she did break and enter into the newly purchased funeral home in Season 2 with father Cade Langmore (Trevor Long), intent on locating and stealing the millions in cash Marty was laundering for the cartel. (Side note: It did seem odd that we never saw any follow up on the damage to the funeral home and caskets after that event…will that somehow become relevant again next season?)

Countless instances prove and disprove Ruth’s loyalty, but the question of her commitment takes on new importance given two key events in Season 2’s final episodes.

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Julia Garner (right) won an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series in 2019 for her performance as Ruth Langmore in "Ozark" Season 2.

First, as part of his plan to relocate the Byrde family to Australia’s Gold Coast, Marty turns the keys to the Ozarks-based operation over to Ruth, revealing the physical location of tens of millions of dollars in cash (Buddy’s mausoleum). There’s no more guessing or sneaking around — Ruth knows where the pot of gold sits (and she’s trusted with protecting and distributing it appropriately)…for now.

Second, wife Wendy (Laura Linney) appears to order the murder of Ruth’s father, Cade, after he violently threatens Wendy’s daughter Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz). Ruth maintained an incredibly complicated and toxic relationship with her ex-con father, but despite his personally abusive, endangering tendencies, she held a soft spot for him and still craved his approval more often than not.

It won’t be that difficult for Ruth to connect the dots and figure out that the cartel killed her father, perhaps at the Byrdes’ request. If she makes that connection, assumes it to be true or encounters proof, will that be too much for her to bear? Will she be more motivated than ever to turn on Marty and the Byrdes, exacting revenge through violence, theft or some other means?

Since Wendy put the kibosh on Marty’s Gold Coast escape in Season 2’s final minutes, we should expect the Byrdes to be nearby, should Ruth want to settle the score for her Langmore lineage in person.

Which major Season 2 murder will wreak the most havoc on Season 3?

Cade’s murder could endanger the Byrde family and the cartel’s entire money laundering operation. Ruth could find it necessary to turn or plot against the Byrdes, and the murder could spark more digging and questions from local (and possibly federal) authorities.

But other Season 2 murders are likely to ripple into Season 3’s waters, as well.

You have to feel for Jacob Snell (Peter Mullan)…as much as you can feel for a murderous heroin distributor. He knew how powerless he was to corral his fiery wife Darlene (Lisa Emery), yet he still couldn’t stop her from cutting his morning coffee with cyanide instead of sugar. We know she’s committed to warring with the cartel, the Byrdes and anyone she feels has disrespected her or her family’s land. Now that Jacob’s gone, will Darlene act even more rashly or recklessly than she has to date? Will her adoption of Ezekiel serve as a calming, balancing influence that tames her impulses? Will anyone investigate Jacob’s death and discover or be able to prove Darlene’s culpability?

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Darlene Snell (portrayed by Lisa Emery, left) was so enraged by husband Jacob's actions in the early stages of Season 2 that she killed him to gain complete control of the family's drug production operations.

Speaking of investigations, how about Agent Roy Petty’s (Jason Butler Harner) fate at the end of Season 2?! Just when he thought he had spoonfed the final ingredients of his years-long detective work to his FBI colleagues, Cade’s temper gets the best of him: the violent convict bludgeons Petty to death and plunges his body to the depths of a river. Now that locals have found Petty’s car, how will the investigation into his disappearance proceed? Will it cause the FBI to ratchet up its surveillance and investigation of the Brydes and the Navarro cartel? Will someone in the Byrde orbit end up getting pinned for harming and/or killing a federal agent, even though Cade was the true killer?

And as far as the authorities are concerned, Pastor Mason Young (Michael Mosley) is still a missing person. Only Marty and Wendy know the Pastor’s fate and that his cremated remains have been scattered in the lake. At what point will the investigation into Mason’s whereabouts intensify? Are there any clues left behind at the former Young residence to incriminate Marty and/or Wendy? Will the guilt from Mason’s murder continue to haunt Marty and manifest itself in other ways?

Have Marty and Wendy Byrde passed the point of no return?

For much of the first season and chunks of the second, there was a half-decent argument to be made that Marty and Wendy had kept culpability for true personal harm at arm’s length.

Yes, Marty was cooking books and pulling strings on behalf of an international criminal enterprise. But he kept Wendy (and their children) in the dark about the extent of the cartel’s operation for a significant period of time. For the most part, the couple stayed a few bad actors removed from firsthand violence and extortion.

And then Season 2 progressed. Marty and Wendy drenched their hands — and the hands of their children — in literal and figurative blood in Ozark’s second season.

With a deadly weapon pressed against his wife’s throat, Marty pulled the trigger and killed a homeless preacher whom his enterprise had cruelly mistreated. Faced with the prospect of a major money-making casino going under before it’s even built, Wendy used sex workers and a financial trap (concocted with the help of her juvenile son Jonah) to extort a politician and a business partner. And in Season 2’s finale, viewers are led to believe that Wendy called for the killing of Cade Langmore, the abusive, criminal father of Marty’s subordinate Ruth.

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Marty’s despair reached new depths after murdering Mason Young in Season 2’s seventh episode.

I’m not here to argue that the Byrde parents can’t or need to be “saved.” (Using that terminology in reference to amoral characters who have relied on church projects as money laundering fronts and contributed to the murders of a pastor and his wife just feels wrong.)

But I do wonder if they’ve completely inured themselves (and their children) to violence, extortion and the consequences of those actions.

To be sure, the above transgressions finally punctured the Byrdes’ steely demeanors in Season 2’s final episodes. The usually even-keeled and quick-witted Marty appears mentally adrift in a family interview the morning after killing Mason Young. Once daughter Charlotte compounds the Byrdes’ stress by filing for emancipation, Wendy careens with outbursts and not-so-veiled threats against Charlotte’s lawyer.

The accumulated wrongdoings seem to weigh more heavily on Marty than Wendy, though. If anything, Wendy appears more comfortable with criminality the further down the path she travels. Her lying about baby Ezekiel’s “fostering” hours after his father’s murder and her ordering of Cade’s killing come to mind.

For so much of Season 2, Marty and Wendy’s promise to the children was getting through “the next six months.” Open the casino, and then they’ll be able to relocate and attempt to close the book on this horrific, criminal chapter of their lives.

But now that the casino is open and Wendy has decided the family is staying put instead of skipping town to Australia’s Gold Coast, it feels as though she wants to write several more pages of the chapter Marty desperately wants to end. It’s as if Wendy finds herself rejuvenated with purpose in the criminal lifestyle, whereas Marty merely tolerates what he must to fulfill his obligations to the cartel and keep his family safe.

Will the costs of criminality sink in for Wendy? Will she and Marty find a way to move forward harmoniously, as plans shift before their eyes? Perhaps we’ll get some answers come March 27.