By MICHAEL LAKIND
And now, we return to a Netflix series about how Jason Bateman deals with money problems and balances his family life. No, it’s not “Arrested Development,” although its pilot and his newer show’s 18th episode share a line about using a company like one’s “personal piggy bank.” I’m talking about “Ozark” (rated TV-MA), which has found its groove in Season 3, its strongest by far.
(Naturally there will be spoilers for the first two seasons here, so watch them. We both know you’ve already run out of “Tiger King” episodes.)
Part of what makes “Ozark” one of the best series on Netflix is the strength of the ensemble cast. Bateman is back for what is now threefold the most captivating performance of his career (sorry, “Zootopia” fans.) Marty Byrde has a tendency to push down his emotions, and the Mexican prison episode shows what we got a taste of when he shot Mason Young last season. He has nothing to hide anymore, and Bateman is so connected in his performance that he really makes you root for his character. His goal is to show that Marty is a good man who got caught up in the wrong crowd, and it takes an actor like Bateman to convince us.
For the first two seasons, the leader of the Navarro cartel had always been a mysterious kingpin, never more detailed than a reference by Helen Pierce as “[her] client.” Now he comes out of the shadows–or, more accurately, his lavish mansion–to run the show himself as times become more desperate. Played by Felix Solis, Navarro begins with a quiet charm that mirrors Del during the flashbacks of Season 1 and gradually develops his menace, making the audience forget that he’s like 5-foot-5.
This season’s highlighted change is vamping up Laura Linney’s role as Wendy. Just like in their marriage, her character starts out the story taking a backseat to Marty after the near-collapse of their relationship. In Season 2 she had an increased role by lobbying politicians to make the Missouri Belle Casino a reality and expand their laundering potential. But here with the introduction of her brother Ben (a fascinating Tom Pelphrey), she is much easier to sympathize with. She also has a better relationship with Navarro than Marty does, which creates interesting jealousy dynamics in the Byrdes’ quite literal fight for their lives.
A few things are the same though. Julia Garner continues to maintain her snappy, clever and now-vulnerable performance as Ruth. With her hard upbringing and ambiguous attitude towards her father’s death, emotions do not come easily to her. Helen Pierce (Janet McTeer), a.k.a. dollar store Jane Lynch, continues to be stone-cold as the cartel’s lawyer, even though her daughter is spending the summer with her. Just wait for how that one turns out. Charlotte keeps storming out of rooms and acting entitled, Jonah keeps finding new gadgets and shooting stuff. Netflix must have learned a valuable lesson from their annexations to “Arrested Development”: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
All the elements behind the scenes are strong. Every episode features excellent writing and direction, always making you pay attention to the four symbols within the O emblem at the start of the episode. The score keeps up the hollow, metallic percussion and eerily haunting string progressions with a more orchestral tone to fill the silence with emotion during Linney’s scenes later in the season.
There’s no denying after this season just how good “Ozark” is. When the final credits roll, just like I did, you are going to beg for the fourth season, which is rumored to be the last.