“It’s so hard doing business when you can’t trust anyone.” You can say that again, Marty Byrde.
Let’s get this out of the way: The second episode of the new season of Ozark is a frustrating one, an hour that falls back on a few of the character crutches of the first season and gives one that the sinking feeling that the midseason sag that often hampers Netflix dramas is starting very early here. Let’s hope it’s just a fluke — something the writers needed to get out of their system and that the pace will pick up soon.
Did Ozark really need to return to questions of Wendy’s marital fidelity? Yes, she turns down Charlie Wilks after what she perceives as a quid pro quo offer of sex for political capital, but it still feels like a cheap development given the Byrdes still haven’t really recovered from Wendy’s cheating last season. And the Cade/Ruth arc had a similar gamesmanship this episode that felt weak. Did anyone really think Cade was suddenly his daughter’s greatest cheerleader? And willing to work for her?!?! It wasn’t so much a shock when Cade abused his daughter in the car as an inevitability, and a drama never really works when you get the sense that it’s just delaying the inevitable to get to a predetermined run time.
Despite those narrative disappointments, there was just enough to stay optimistic about where Ozark is going next. As expected, three familiar faces returned this week, season-one regulars absent from the season-two premiere but ready to get back into the Byrdes’ business.
The first appeared after Wendy went to a prayer lunch to try and woo some votes for the casino plan and sees Mason Young preaching for money on a sidewalk. It looks at one point like Mason might actually even see Wendy staring at him, but either doesn’t recognize her or pretends not to notice. He keeps preaching, his baby by his side, and the idea is planted in Wendy’s mind that the Byrdes are responsible for this horrible fate. She even brings it up later that night to Marty, and it feels like she will try to fix Mason’s life, which is unlikely to end well.
Another storm cloud brews in the return of Rachel Garrison, who took off with Marty’s money at the end of last season and apparently has been spending it on drugs. After passing out behind the wheel, she crashes into a pole, and ends up in the spider’s web of our final familiar face, FBI Agent Roy Petty. After everything that went down last season, Petty is going to once again use someone to get more information on Marty Byrde in another twist this week that stretched credulity and felt repetitive. Having said that, it’s nice to get Jordana Spiro and Jason Butler Harner back into the mix. Let’s hope the writers give them more to do than just repeat the errors of last season.
The return of Marty, Rachel, and Roy will clearly drive some future episodes, but this one actually focused more on the development of Wendy’s political career and Ruth’s upward mobility, something her asshole father is almost certainly going to derail. Wendy works with Charlie to get the remaining votes to move the casino cap in Missouri from 13 to 14, even going as far as to entrap and frame the husband of one senator. When they appear to be one vote short, Wendy thinks that Charlie wants to sleep with her to make it happen — she says no, and leaves. She even tells Marty about it, but he hears her drive away in the middle of the night. It appears that she still doesn’t go through with it, but Charlie pulls his trigger anyway, using his blackmail material on the remaining vote that they need to at least turn into an “absent.” They’ll get their casino passed, and Wendy will owe Charlie a favor.
Meanwhile, Marty has an adventure into Buddy’s mobster past while trying to fit all the pieces together to make the casino a reality. He learns that there’s a power player in Kansas City named Frank Cosgrove who is basically stopping all progress on the casino, sometimes through force. Marty’s lodger friend Buddy has a history with Frank, and a cool nickname: Jimmy Small. Buddy plays the nostalgia card on Cosgrove, and forces him to negotiate with Marty, who claims he has a “creative approach to moving money.” Whether or not Buddy actually slept with Cosgrove’s wife remains a mystery. (He probably did.)
Finally, there’s the dispiriting saga of Ruth Langmore, someone that Marty trusts enough that he gives her $1 million in cash and knows she won’t take too much of it for anyone to notice. In fact, she even negotiates a better deal for the paddleboat that Marty is trying to buy, especially after she learns it doesn’t have a motor. She has to bring in her despicable daddy to help tow the boat, and tells him about the money, promising to bring him into the Byrde empire. Ruth is smart enough to know that $1 million is nothing if she can become a real power player in the Ozarks. Cade is not that smart. He plays along for a little while, but then smashes Ruth’s face into the dashboard, ordering her to take Marty for all she can now. And this happens after he robs a diner. Cade Langmore is a sociopath and Ruth won’t survive for long in his circle of violence. The thing that Cade doesn’t know is that Ruth is smart enough to know this. It’s only a matter of time before she sells him out. The question is how much trouble he’ll cause before then.
• There’s a fascinating thematic undercurrent developing in the differences between how Wendy and Marty Byrde approach conflict. Marty is very practical in the moment: How do I solve this problem in front of me? Wendy is bigger picture, seeing how different pieces fit together but also possibly dealing with regret more than her husband. Her macro approach versus Marty’s micro one could be an interesting theme this season. Does it make them a perfect team or drive them apart?
• Much has been made about how many Netflix shows feel dragged out, especially in the center of their seasons, and this was a chapter that felt more like stretch than build.
• We didn’t even talk about Darlene Snell trying to adopt a child and giving off vibes that she was looking for a new employee for her business as much as someone to love. It will be interesting to see if that turns into anything.
• Let’s talk a little about Janet McTeer, one of the early highlights of season two. She was Oscar-nominated for Tumbleweeds and Albert Nobbs and won a Tony for a revival of A Doll’s House in the ’90s. She’s also received Emmy and Golden Globe nominations, and she’s a major get for Ozark. Let’s hope the writers know what to do with her.