'Ozark' boasts compelling female leads
Season two of Netflix’s popular show “Ozark” is another reminder that Jason Bateman can make any character likeable.
Bateman reprises the role of Marty Byrde, an accountant for a Mexican drug cartel who is (still) trying to develop a sustainable money laundering operation in the state of Mississippi. His season one strategy of being an “angel investor” who cleans money through failing businesses has proved ineffective, and he now casts his sights on establishing a casino through which to run money. The FBI and Kansas City mob become a thorn in his side as he grows closer to this project’s completion.
What’s interesting about Bateman’s Byrde is his lack of emotion. People die gruesome deaths before him, and his response is to frown and excuse himself to tend to other matters. This aloof nature works rather well, despite his lack of response being contextually bizarre. He eventually suffers a breakdown, though instead of a wild expression of grief at his actions, Byrde draws further into himself, seemingly losing motivation to think critically. Enter his wife, Wendy (Laura Linney).
Wendy is icily efficient, feigning interest in people’s affairs in order to develop trust and subsequently ask for favors. She is nothing if not tenacious, consistently acting in a highly calculated manner, even when driven by emotion. At the rare times Wendy is caught by surprise, she effortlessly regains control – demonstrating a temperament perhaps more tailored toward some kind of covert government operation. When Marty begins to falter, Wendy takes up the mantle of ensuring the operation stays afloat. The full depth of her plan will undoubtedly continue to play out in the show’s third season.
The plethora of formidable female characters is perhaps what makes “Ozark” so fascinating. While Marty and wealthy lobbyist Charles Wilkes (Darren Goldstein) trudge along predictably from point A to B, the women have a better understanding of the endgame and how to push forward their respective agendas. The ruthless Darlene Snell (Lisa Emery) is quite possibly one of the most terrifying figures on television, a loose cannon who still manages to consistently outmaneuver her male constituents.
Perhaps the most intriguing female character is newcomer Helen Pierce (Janet McTeer). With the brutal murder of the cartel’s initial enforcer Camino Del Rio (Esai Morales) in the season one finale, Helen, the cartel’s lead attorney, is brought in to sort out the resulting mess. Helen is a different breed entirely. While some villains claim their authority by means of extreme violence, Helen finds hers by merely issuing a series of directives. Death is the obvious consequence of failure, and she leaves people to operate on this basis. Her power is found in her presence, a towering figure governed by a staunch desire to win.
The plot of the second season is perhaps inconsequential to the performances of the female leads. As riveting as the series’ first outing, the maneuvering of the gorgeously corrupt FBI Agent Roy Petty (Jason Butler Harner) cannot compare to the sheer excitement of pondering what fresh scheme is to be delivered by the aforementioned characters, including the efforts of Ruth Langmore (Julia Garner), the woefully under-appreciated teen enforcer in Marty’s enterprise.
The second season delivers a fresh and original dose of what made the first season work so well. There’s thoughtful dialogue, a genuinely interesting plot and grim cinematography that casts everything into a dark, sinister glow. The work of the many talented female actresses is the series’ main draw, in addition to Bateman’s sheer likeability. If you are not compelled to consume the program all at once, you are graced with truly remarkable restraint.