By JASON MARTIN (@JMartZone – March 27, 2020)
EPISODE 3: KEVIN CRONIN WAS HERE
EPISODE 4: BOSS FIGHT
Before we even get into the episodes themselves, we have to again talk about the colors. I’m pretty sure I wrote about this last season, but if I didn’t, I certainly should have. Have you noticed, basically from the outset of Ozark, that the color palette is at all times not “cool,” but cold. These are uninviting, unpleasant, dreary tones that can make it seem like it’s not just raining outdoors, but instead there’s even a downpour indoors.
That’s the feeling the series wants its audience to have. Nothing about this is easy to watch, and it begins with the color scheme that mimics the vacancy and absence of emotions of all these people. When they do show something, it’s usually because they’ve been driven past a breaking point and either weep, scream, or explode. Very rarely is it Ben Davis and Jonah Byrde just enjoying a joyride session on the lake in a boat. That moment stood out because of its novelty. It’s exactly the kind of thing that would actually happen in a place like this, but we are in a warped, evil version of “a place like this.”
My question as Marty Byrde was dropped off at his home after being tortured through sensory deprivation for days at the hands of Navarro in Mexico, is whether or not the patriarch of the family is about to become the aggressor again. The series has shifted from him to Wendy, but if you saw her in her brother’s arms sobbing, there may be a crisis of conscience that goes along with the fear. It eventually does have to dawn on a person just how deeply they’ve screwed up. Remember, she tells Charlotte she has been guilty of mistakes far more than her daughter and sometimes you just have to accept it and move on.
This last episode is entirely different from the first three, where she was basically going after everything, which is what Navarro tells Marty she wants. I’m not naive or optimistic enough about these characters’ psyches to believe she isn’t still the same person, but at least in her reactions, there’s a humanity that simply hasn’t been there in a while. Remember, before Marty got abducted, she lied dead to his face about the altercation with Darlene Snell, later saying she didn’t give a lick about what he thought about virtually anything. She and Helen were in complete control, but both had that shaken when they saw Navarro doing a loyalty test on them…as well as a viability test on Marty.
Maya Miller’s suspicions about Marty’s disappearance might have snapped Wendy out of it just a little bit, because she again matter-of-factly states that these are bad people, they’re desperate people, and they’re sociopathic drug lords. The one constant refrain from Ozark is no one can ever be fully assured in their own power. It’s always been this way and it will always be this way. Someone else can take it from you in a flash. Everything that once made sense and everything you might have taken for granted can be fleeting, like a father. The flashbacks of Marty noticing the Beast Slayer arcade cabinet was rigged to eat quarters, a minor lesson in how to game the system, are secondary to watching his dad die as his mother stayed by her husband’s side.
Of more immediate interest though is Marty agreeing to Maya’s deal, but then basically telling Navarro he’s going to turn her and make her a cartel asset. Which one of these two things are we to believe? Marty always thinks ahead, so his long game may well be the FBI side, but smartly playing both sides of the fence to keep Navarro as in the dark as he can. Unfortunately, based on discovering his spyware operation on Wendy, he’s not a moron, so this will be delicate if it goes in that direction. Because it’s Ozark, this could go either way, but people will die regardless of the path…Maya seems a perfect candidate to get got, as does Ben.
Wendy’s brother hasn’t proven to be nearly as much of a nuisance as I anticipated, though we’re only 40% of the way through the season. He isn’t scheming, he seems to care for his sister, he’s terrified when he learns of the family business, and he legitimately wants to protect (and perhaps love) Ruth Langmore. She even shows vulnerability with him and kisses him, which is shocking considering how hard it must be for her to trust anyone after the life she’s endured. He could still end up being a scoundrel, and we know he’s named for the patron saint of lost causes, but maybe he’s just a little immature and impetuous, more than nefarious and dangerous.
We saw nothing from Darlene in “Boss Fight,” but Wendy’s move to try and get Zeke back from her is something we’ll definitely be seeing ramifications of and progress toward before the season is done. Structurally, Ozark is the opposite of Breaking Bad, where the episodes feature one or two major advancements at a deliberate, measured pace. This series has me constantly scribbling down notes and quotes to keep up with everything that’s happening, because SO much is always happening. I continue to believe it’s too much, which is why the fourth episode is one of the best of the entire run so far. Less quantity of happenings, but the quality was there. Marty’s abduction and imprisonment led to something big, Wendy, Helen, Charlotte, Jonah, Ben, Ruth…everybody else just waited to see what it all meant and tried to continue “business as usual,” and Maya kept investigating. It wasn’t overdone. It was just enough to feel complete and engaging without overwhelming the viewer.
Let’s not forget, Agent Trevor Evans is trying to turn Frank Jr.’s accomplice into an informant, and it worked, at least based on, “I’ll do whatever you tell me.” Who knows if that’s the truth or not, but it hits to the crux of the concept that the FBI is not completely in the dark here. Evans wants Navarro’s operation, and Marty specifically, to pay, but he’s not barking up the wrong trees. Where Roy Petty was way too rash and impulsive, Evans is systematically making the proper choices. That said, Marty Byrde is written as a character that usually has something up his sleeve we learn about after the fact, so with this show, we need to be aware that there is far more we haven’t seen that we’ll find out about as a reveal.
Laundering money through REO Speedwagon was a fun twist, as was the bookended “Time for Me to Fly” sequences, first of Wendy’s dark dreams and then of Marty making the decision to take Maya’s deal, just before he’s led away by Jorge Mendoza and three other men. The question is whether he was being honest with her in that chat, or if the plan he laid out to Navarro was the idea all along. Again, with Ozark, you can argue multiple motivations.
One final thought I had while Marty was locked away in the dungeon cell inside Navarro’s fortress was whether he was better off in that spot for a few days. Now, this was before the heavy metal music and the maggot-infested meals and the bright lights, but he finally was in a place where there really weren’t any expectations or reasons to do much but sit, breathe, and contemplate. Just like the series itself, Marty is in constant motion and is putting out one fire or another. Here, he just had to wonder if his days were numbered in single digits.
He showed he wanted to see his family again, but he also got to the place where he gave Navarro the laundry list – yeah that was intentional – of what he actually wanted. He wants to be taken seriously by these people planning everything around him. He knows he’s good at what he does, shown in detail with his quick fix of the frozen Panamanian bank account, and he wants a thank you from the drug lord. He wants respect for a change for all he’s been asked to do and all he’s accomplished. Though we see Carl send Anita down the embankment after she belittles him one too many times and says she should have married his taller brother (Wendy’s comments at the diner took him here, played him like a fiddle), he and Marty are similar in that they’re the ones taken for granted or diminished.
Now that he’s back, is he about to become the aggressor? That’s the original question from this review. Wendy and Helen are still going to their thing, but is Marty going to come back much more organized and focused on a goal? Or, is he going to be secondary again. My hunch is the former, whether to protect his family or to repair his ego.