The third episode of the new season of Ozark improves slightly over the last, but still frustrates with some tricky, thin screenwriting. Hopefully, the writers are putting pieces in place for a more consistent season to come. This one ends strongly enough to think that may be the case.
Once again, it’s all about the casino. The bill to increase the state cap passed, but at a great cost. The episode opens with the suicide of the one state senator who was bullied into skipping the vote. Apparently, Charlie Wilkes and his enforcer used the fact that Senator Blake had clinical depression to push him off the vote so it would pass, sending Blake into a depressive spiral that ended in his suicide. How will Wendy and Charlie get out of this potential public relations nightmare?
Meanwhile, the Byrde Enterprises operation gets essentially shut down. Lickety Splitz and the Blue Cat Lodge get visited by inspectors, as does the funeral home. As these events come on the heels of Wendy learning that Charlie wants to put not just a casino but a hotel and shopping mall on the Snells’ property, the Byrdes assume that it is the local puppet master who has halted their operations. Of course, loyal viewers of shows like Ozark know that probably isn’t true, but most of the action this week relies on the Byrdes believing an assumption that’s not corrected.
First, they go to the Snells to try to get them to relent to Wilkes’s plan, but they are adamant that their land remains pure — there will be a casino and nothing else. Marty and Wendy try to convince them to reconsider, but an even bigger problem comes over the horizon when Wendy Byrde learns that Blake’s widow is planning to sue Charlie. Of course, she knows that won’t work — no one could possibly win a lawsuit when a clinically depressed person commits suicide — but the PR could forever damage her relationship with Wilkes and maybe even kill the casino. In one of the best scenes of the episode, Wendy goes to speak to the widow Blake, proposing that they start a foundation for suicide prevention in her husband’s name. They will start with a $1 million donation. It’s a much smarter, better plan for Blake, but also something that will keep an illegal operation afloat, propping up at least two drug empires. Ozark is often at its best when exploring how something so good (suicide prevention) can coexist with something so damaging.
While Wendy is working the political angle, the Snells explore the forceful one, lighting Wilkes’s boat on fire in the middle of the night (something that apparently puts them in the mood for sex). The best scene this week takes place near the end, as the Snells and Byrdes have a celebratory dinner (over the deer that Jonah Byrde killed), both couples thinking that they were responsible for getting the casino operation back up and running.
Of course, the casino wasn’t the only narrative that progressed this week. While that was going down, two of the women in Marty Byrde’s circle fell deeper into the hole created by their interactions with him. Rachel finally came home, wired up by Agent Petty to get more information about Byrde Enterprises. Petty may be able to sell a few of his colleagues on Rachel being a better confidential informant than his last one, but this is obviously not going to end well. Rachel almost spills the beans after getting drunk one night. Having an alcoholic, depressed CI is never a good idea. Yes, Marty needs Rachel to get the Blue Cat back up and legal in the eyes of the inspectors, but what will he honestly tell her after that, especially given she just stole from him? And how long until Rachel pushes back against the aggressive Petty and clues Marty in to what’s going down? Probably an episode or two.
Once again, the most interesting arc of an Ozark episode belonged to Julia Garner’s Ruth Langmore, a smart young woman trying to get away from the Langmore Curse, but possibly convinced at the end that she never will. She spends most of this chapter negotiating a way out of operational stasis for Byrde Enterprises. When the strip club, resort, and funeral home get shut down, she thinks outside of the box and goes to a local dock named Hurns and offers an injection of money. She tries to bring in another business for the Byrdes to move cash. At first, the owner pushes her away, but she gets her father to cause enough damage that he eventually relents.
But Marty doesn’t bite. He basically dismisses all of her success and informs her that he has to take her off the books while the government investigates their business to get the casino approved. It’s the kind of thing that Ruth may have understood under better conditions but with her father constantly demeaning her and all the work she did to make it happen, she’s crushed. It doesn’t help that her cousin Wyatt, to whom Ruth is clearly a mother figure, writes an essay on the Langmore Curse, and how it will always follow him (Garner’s voice-cracking delivery of that essay is further evidence of how incredible she is on this show). In the end, Ruth gives the keys to the dock to Cade, advising that he could maybe even chop up a few stolen boats there for extra cash. Introducing an illegal operation into Marty Byrde’s even-more-illegal operation? This can’t end well.
• So much of this episode hinges on a misunderstanding that it feels like frustrating screenwriting. If Charlie had answered Wendy’s calls and attested that he didn’t shut down Byrde Enterprises earlier, don’t you think that Marty would have been more suspicious at Rachel’s sudden return? Petty’s plan nearly relies on Marty and Wendy being absolutely sure that it was Wilkes fucking with them, and there was no way for him to know that would happen. He got lucky, I guess.
• Darlene finally told Jacob this week that she wants to have a child before it’s too late. He knows that day has probably passed, but she plays to his old-fashioned nature, noting that the Snell empire needs an heir. Watching the scene in which Jacob teaches Jonah how to hunt, one wonders if they won’t somehow try to just take Marty’s heir as their own.
• Speaking of the Byrde kids, Marty and Wendy are obviously ignoring them a bit too much. What will be a problem first? Charlotte spending her days getting high with a Langmore or Jonah opening a bank account of his own?
• For the first time this season, Ozark hands the directorial reins from Jason Bateman to someone else, Andrew Bernstein, a modern TV veteran who has also helmed Castle Rock, Fear the Walking Dead, The Americans, Rectify, House, ER, Mad Men, and The West Wing. That’s quite a résumé.