By JASON MARTIN (@JMartZone – March 27, 2020)
EPISODE 1: WARTIME
EPISODE 2: CIVIL UNION
Ozark never wastes much time, as each lengthy episode continually barrages you with content. After each hour, you feel like you’ve watched a full season. That’s both a blessing and a curse, because certainly it earns its ten episode length, but because it feels like 15, it can be a bear to watch. It never fails to be compelling, despite the usual salaciousness we’ve come to expect, but after the long hiatus, I suspect many of you are ready for another trip into the Missouri hellscape with the Byrde family.
“Wartime” starts out with a boom, literally, and we get more than one explosion before the title card ever hits the screen. “Civil Union” gets its own fireworks (more than the rival casino expected) in the form of Frank Jr.’s act. While Wendy and Helen are all sure it was Anita and Carl Knarlsson behind the arson, they’re unaware it’s really just Cosgrove’s obnoxious son.
What we had seen, increasingly, throughout the second season, was that the women in the show were the ones most equipped and most ruthless in their business dealings and battles for authority. Wendy Byrde, whatever sympathy one may have had for her in the first season, at this stage is much more Walter White than her husband, who does legitimately, though foolishly, believe he can help get his family out of the mess he originally got them into as a money launderer in Chicago.
She may simply view that as fiction, but she also loves power and loves the kind of maneuvering that results in the slot scam. She will get what she wants, and she has always viewed her husband as rather feckless, so she goes to Helen Pierce, who she knows is the very opposite of timid. We see Helen waterboarded in similar fashion to the torture she basically controlled on Ruth Langmore in the tail end of season two. That leads to the moment outside the Byrde home where Ruth shows up for the meal and Helen says she’s glad to see her. The look on Julia Garner’s face is perfect, much like most of her performance has always been on Ozark.
However nefarious Wendy and Helen’s motives have grown to become, they do tend to underestimate that part of Marty Byrde that allows him to hesitate and think before acting. For instance, the warrant he receives and shows his wife, triggered the second he purchased a second casino, attracts just the sort of attention he had hoped to avoid. The feds and the police will be crawling all over the business, making it much more difficult to clean the dirty money. Trevor Evans is out to destroy Marty, believing him to be the real cause of Roy Petty’s death, and tells him as much. He loves the idea of Byrde being constantly paranoid about one slip up that could end his freedom forever.
As always, the stakes are enormous in Ozark, and the pitfalls and obstacles both plentiful and deadly. And, still, the women are the ones doing the biggest doings, including Darlene Snell slashing tires, taking everything in the world personally and as a slight, and also offering Wyatt Langmore a second chance after he’s caught squatting and arrested. She couldn’t stop him from being tased, but she didn’t give him a chance to turn down her money as he had his sister’s. Now, he works for her, which has to lead to a spot where she asks him to do something that might put Ruth in harm’s way. She does nothing without a purpose. Currently, he’s someone that might be an asset later, even if the farming and basic work he’s doing now is negligible in the grand scheme.
Every show needs its irritant, and though this one possesses more than its fair share, Frank Jr. is a special kind of problem. From his predictable behavior at the high stakes game to his reaction to being tossed off the boat to his vengeance, he’s a major impediment to the Byrde operation, which means at some point he will need to be dealt with. If it weren’t for the fact his father runs the Kansas City mob, he’d already be dead, but it’ll be surprising if he survives the entire season.
Maybe the eeriest portion of these two episodes came in the opener, as Wendy quoted two famous political phrases that apply to today, where we sit amidst a global pandemic. She says, “Never let a good crisis go to waste,” in reference to Navarro and the cartel war, most famously said by Rahm Emmanuel and used as opposition research against the Obama campaign in 2008. Many on all sides continue to politicize COVID-19 for their own ends, as there’s always another game, always another play. A few minutes later, while discussing her plan to purchase the fledgling Knarlsson casino near the Missouri border, she says that would put enough power in their hands to where they’d be “too big to fail.”
Considering the bailout discussions of the past few weeks related to the coronavirus, both these statements were striking in the unintentional similarities to our current predicament. But, she’s always looking ahead, and in her eyes, that means stronger, wealthier, and “don’t bleep with us”…ier. She gives up her mentality to Marty when she asks him, “Why should the Charles Wilkeses of the world have a stranglehold on this state?” It isn’t about escape anymore for her. It’s about GETTING HER PIECE OF THE PIE. Her descent into the more diabolical Byrde has been simultaneously riveting and sobering to watch over the past three seasons, and you have to think she’s eventually going to realize the hole she’s dug for her family.
However, she’s not blind to her ambition or what she’s doing. She’s happy there. She feels at home there. Recall Ben telling Marty it’s the first time he’s seen his sister and recognized her as herself. That was an illuminating statement. Yes, we met Marty Byrde and learned what he was up to, but Wendy was never clean, never one to value anything other than self-interest. She does care about her children, but it’s all secondary to expansion, and now with the FBI breathing down their necks, she’s put everything at risk. That’s her modus operandi. Marty knows she’s the one least averse to risk, always looking for the reward she feels entitled to.
Her act at the end of “Wartime” is a prime example. She breaks into her family’s old home with the spare key above the front door, treats it like her own, flips the portrait over the fireplace, and then leaves no doubt that someone was there. While she does this, she doesn’t move quickly or as if anybody can touch her. The term “untouchable” first comes from Frank about his son but then Marty applies it to Ruth, another spot where Byrde is protecting this girl that at one time wanted him dead.
As Wendy trespasses, Radiohead’s “The Daily Mail” plays, which honestly is more atmospheric than anything else. It’s a great song, taken from the 2011 From the Basement King of Limbs Apple release, but it’s basically burying that newspaper. Well, at least the first portion of it didn’t relate to Wendy directly, but the lyrics get more and more apt.
Where’s the truth what’s the use
I’m hanging around lost and found
And when you’re here innocent
Fat chance, no plan
No regard for human life
You’ll keep time, you’ve no right
You’re fast to lose, you will lose
You jumped the queue, you’re back againPresident for life, love of all
The flies in the sky, the beasts of the earth
The fish in the sea have lost command
Prior to these, it speaks of how the subject got away with something, but “we lie in wait.” It makes you wonder exactly who “we” is, because in this series, the one guarantee is SOMEBODY is indeed lying in wait. The who and the why are yet to be determined, and it might be plural, rather than singular. Wendy has smart ideas, but she’s more reckless than she knows. That said, once she sees the warrant, it dawns on her that things were more complicated than they appear. That’s the story of this series, that nothing comes easy and nothing goes as planned. It’s always a major knot that needs to be untied, but was pulled too tightly and now it’s a monumental task.
Ozark has managed to create two power brokers, but the real “villain”, and perhaps the catalyst for everything in the show, is Wendy Byrde more than it is Marty. That might change, but as of now, she’s the one in charge. Dating back to her affair and the video evidence of it from the series opener, her moves have led to impulsive or reactionary responses from her husband, often bad ones that cost him and those close to him leverage. With the decisions and the status of the family as the second episode ends, perhaps they should listen to Jonah and just start mining gold in virtual universes for gamers ready and willing to take shortcuts to advance in their quests.
As we get to the close of the episodes, here’s what we know: Navarro should be and is concerned, embroiled in the cartel war, Frank Cosgrove Jr. is going to cause a ton of headaches (as is Ben most likely), Wendy and Helen are a more formidable duo than Marty and Wendy, Ruth still loves her brother…but he’s in the clutches of a dangerous Darlene Snell, nobody is escaping, Charlotte cares for Jonah and hopes her parents reconcile, but she’s also a realist, and Helen DOES have human characteristics in the form of her children and her ex-husband, Gene, who may or may not be dead in a Chicago parking garage. Also, Trevor is on a mission to destroy all of them, especially Marty.
“We’ve got new partners in the casino.” That’s how “Civil Union” concludes, again putting the Byrdes back in a position where they’re more on the defensive and where their basic means of avoiding a bullet to the brain is now up in the air. How do you launder money when FBI agents are counting chips once an hour and viewing every invoice and receipt the second it’s printed?
Marty had better figure it out. Maybe Ruth will have an idea. She usually does.