By JASON MARTIN (@JMartZone – September 2, 2018)
Depression is much more sinister than some people can understand. There is always a contingent that doesn’t experience it and can’t comprehend why it wouldn’t just be a, “suck it up,” situation, but as we saw following Wendy Byrde’s miscarriage last season, until you’re afflicted with it, you’re speaking out of your depth.
And, with that said, Jim Blake didn’t shoot himself in the head merely because he was psychologically unstable, which makes Wendy convincing his widow not to file a lawsuit against anyone associated with the casino bill after the fact even more sinister. She had no real choice, and it’s that reality that defines “Once a Langmore…,” even if the truth is it’s bogus. Right now, the Byrdes have no choice but to keep up the game and hope six months doesn’t turn into six lifetimes.
“Life is a series of choices.” We’ve heard it from Jacob Snell and Marty Byrde, and as we watch Ozark, it’s that one statement that should never leave our minds. The choices have consequences, one of which has become NOT having a choice anymore without wagering life or freedom. It’s a theme that recurs over and over during Dubuque and Williams’ series.
Think about the Byrde family predicament. They got themselves in this mess by leaping into bed with a drug cartel and laundering money. Once the previous financial manager was strangled with a garrote in front of Marty, his choices narrowed. How about Rachel? She chose to steal the money and run, but she didn’t run fast enough to get any from Oxycontin addiction, and now unless she wants to die or go to jail, she’s under Roy Petty’s thumb. Even Jonah Byrde has decided to open up a paper and project creation business at school for other students. The short advantages will be money in his pocket, but what will the consequences be if he’s caught?
Choices are much easier to make when they’re in a vacuum, but the problem comes in when we realize virtually no choice is ever isolated to itself. It’s why when you lie, you end up piling on more lies to keep the original deceit alive. It’s also what makes this slow-motion car crash surrounding Ruth Langmore so difficult to watch, because she’s being told she has no choice when she really does. Her hope, the way she’s thinking about getting herself and her cousins out of the dreck that is her life, her business plan for Marty, and her desire for something greater, is being snuffed out.
We can see it.
Her father sells her the bill of goods that makes it okay for him to be a subhuman bundle of scum. He rationalizes his bad behavior because of his last name, saying his future was branded and written on him before he was even born. That’s totally untrue, it’s lazy, and it’s pathetic, but unfortunately, after we see Ruth try to fight against it, his point starts to make sense. She’s seen examples of Marty blowing her off when she suggests the marina takeover, later telling her she can’t be the face of any business during the gaming commission investigation. She’s also seen her father go the low road again and even turn down Byrde’s job offer, and she’s watching Wyatt fall into pieces following Russ’ death.
She tells Marty, “I think I might have something.”
She’s right, she does. She actually has quite a bit, not just in the idea, but in her own brain. She’s smarter than what’s around her and she’s better than what’s around her, but she’s insulated in the worst possible way from the rest of the world by a cynical set of walls that tells her no matter what she does, it’s never going to change. “Once a Langmore” is the most apt of all titles for the episode, and Julia Garner continues to do exquisite work, and has become the most sympathetic figure on Ozark. You want her to get out of there.
The final scene of the episode shows Ruth opening the cage door and telling the bobcats, “It’s your choice,” meaning if you guys want to bounce, you CAN. She doesn’t realize in that moment that the same is true for her, which is sobering. She’s been so beaten down through the course of the episode, despite her joyride at the marina and landing that deal even with Marty’s ambivalence to it all, that she doesn’t see that she can open her own cage and be the bobcat. She’s not trapped. Her dad doesn’t want her to know it, but it’s true. Cade did apologize to her, asked for her forgiveness, and said he’s lost the thread of what a free life means in the real world. He does nothing but make excuses.
After he mentions the house and tries to at least fake hope back into her, Ruth simply responds, “No, you’re right. That’s not us.” And we’re all screaming, it may not be HIM, but it’s YOU girl. Go! But she doesn’t. By the end of the episode, she seems ready to join her father in his latest caper, using a key she stole from Taylor’s marina. She now sees no reason not to do it, because no one is being up front with her or treating her as the person we know she actually is.
Wyatt is broken, but the scene with his father and David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World” was the most emotionally powerful thing Ozark has ever brought its audience. Charlie Tahan and Marc Menchaka played these minutes brilliantly, because it depicted love in a genuine sense. Russ had many problems, but he loved his children and would do nearly anything to keep them safe. He didn’t treat them like they had no chance. He knew Wyatt was special and that he had a future. Wyatt’s brain conjured up the image of his dead father, aided by a good bit of marijuana, and it was the “realest” portion of the series to date. That was an exceptional sequence to be sure.
When Jonah cut open the coyote in the fourth installment of Season 1, I rolled my eyes, just knowing we were going to watch this kid turn into a psycho. But Ozark pulled away from that possibility and instead showed us he was studying the vultures, revealing his intelligence. Thus, the scam at school is believable, but here, we also see he doesn’t exactly relish the idea of killing animals. He takes down the buck in the woods with one shot, but it affects him to the point he can’t even sleep. His mother says hunting only happened once for her. He reflects pulling that trigger to attempting to kill Del’s henchman, asking her why she nodded for him to do so. “If I’d done it, would you have thought of me as a murderer?”
Wendy goes to see Wilkes, believing him to be behind all the businesses being shut down, and his associate is relatively curt with her, which isn’t out of character based on their first meeting in the new building. It ends up costing Charles his boat, as Jacob and Darlene Snell don’t wait for an answer as to what his role was in the newfound difficulties or “turning our land into a theme park.” They’re in it completely with Marty and Wendy, with Jacob suggesting any enemy of a Byrde is now an enemy of a Snell. As expected, it wasn’t Wilkes that shut down the businesses. “Somebody’s got you in their crosshairs,” he tells Wendy Byrde. Really? What else is new pal?
“We want to fund a foundation in his (Blake) name to take care of the mentally ill in Missouri with a particular focus on depression.” Susan Blake took the money, rather than possibly…who knows what could have happened to her. She’d likely have lost, because of the sheer level of power and nefarious deeds on the opposing side. Wendy was brutal there, but Darlene read her palm and said “you lost a child” to her a little earlier. Again, we see Darlene’s humanity is in her love of children and a desire to raise one of her own. This was a consistent creative move by the writers built off last week’s setback at the adoption agency.
To her husband after a night of intimacy, she mentions she wants a baby, and she’s serious. “What is the point of all this if we got no one to leave it all to.” He doesn’t say much, but we can surmise he’s probably not as gung-ho about the idea as she is. He wasn’t bad with Jonah though, for what it’s worth.
Rachel shows up at the Blue Cat near the end of the episode, high and barely able to walk thanks to the Oxy Petty gave her at the motel. Sometimes, as Wilkes says, quoting Saul Alinsky and other rationalizers, “the ends justify the means.” Petty is reprehensible, but what he’s doing might still get results. Marty receives the compliance letter, but in a whisper, Rachel can’t help but softly say to him on that couch that “they” are going to find him, lock him up, and maybe even kill him. Then she falls asleep. Now, Roy might not like that, but to me, that’s the way she earns Marty’s trust back, if there’s a way to do it. She has to be the one warning him, even while acting in a duplicitous fashion with a microphone attached to her bra.
Three episodes into the new season, Ozark is a richer series, even if it still isn’t what its biggest evangelists would have you believe. It’s now firmly in the “good” category though, which if you read my Season 1 review last year, you’ll know is a pretty pleasant thing for me to say. I’m more invested in every character on the show now than in 2017, and even though the episodes continue to be exhausting in length (this one was 56 minutes), exacerbated by the sheer plethora of content, I’m enjoying the trip to Missouri this time. Here’s hoping Wyatt is a Tiger… or here’s hoping his cousin, Ruth…
…becomes a bobcat.
I’m @JMartZone. I don’t just want to be some story you tell.