The season premiere of Ozark introduced the concept of the wild card into the system of the show, and the follow-up drops a pair of them on the Byrde family. The major one is in the form of Wendy Byrde’s brother Ben Davis (Tom Pelphrey), but it feels likely that Helen’s daughter Erin (Madison Thompson) is going to be a problem, too. Not only is she a vulnerability for Helen, who now lives in the Ozarks, but the fact that her first expressed desire is to lose her virginity this summer feels like a recipe for disaster. Marty likes to create spreadsheets of risk assessment, and Ben and Erin are new columns for him to consider.
Before then, he has to deal with the fact that his wife won’t take no for an answer — not from him, and certainly not from the couple who owns the casino she’s intent on buying. Wendy’s arc this episode is fascinating, as she goes from business tactics to intimidation ones in the blink of an eye. She’s an amazing politician, willing to play along with the system on a legal level for as long as she can, but also completely unwilling to lose. And she’s starting to realize that Marty is not helping her cause. How will she possibly continue to build her empire when her husband keeps knocking down the structures she’s putting in place?
Let’s start there. One of the best scenes of this episode is when Helen first arrives in the Ozarks and she talks to Wendy about her disintegrating marriage. Is Helen’s disastrous, eventually violent divorce a sign of the future of the Byrdes? When she tells Wendy that the only way to keep a couple together is to form a foundation of mutually assured destruction, it almost looks like Wendy likes the idea. She needs to find a way to keep Marty from foiling her plans or risk the thing that matters most to him: his safety.
Safety is a greater concern with someone like Ben around. In one of the best character introductions in a long time, we see that Ben is a little unstable. In his role as a substitute teacher, he snaps after a class of snotty teens cyberbully someone, and he takes all of their phones, throwing them in a woodchipper, and then beating up the guy who tries to stop him. He may have a charming accent, but he’s going to be trouble. You don’t get a character introduction like if you’re someone who represents smooth sailing for the rest of the characters.
Before Ben gets to the Ozarks, Marty closes the loop on the drama from last episode, convincing Frank Cosgrove to not only keep his son from killing Ruth, but also keep her “untouchable.” It’s going to cost Marty more money, but that’s how much Ruth is worth to him.
As if Marty doesn’t have enough to worry about, Wendy is insistent on buying a hotel/casino to expand their laundering empire. As Marty taps her phone because he doesn’t trust her, she keeps pushing forward. Marty is there for the first meeting, but he basically talks the husband owner out of doing it. Wendy isn’t dumb enough to bring Marty to the second meeting, taking Helen instead. They convince the couple to sell, offering way over value.
But this just means that Marty has to play even rougher. He goes to Frank and gets him and his son to plant a bomb on the competition for the hotel that Wendy was planning to buy, meaning that the couple will no longer be eager to sell without another casino across the river. Brutal tactic. And yet Wendy can always go a step further. She works with Ruth to basically sabotage the hotel, draining their slot machines of money with a scam and then tells the owners she’s doing it. They have to sell. One wonders what the next step would be if they didn’t. Broken kneecaps?
Speaking of violence, Helen gets one of her darker beats this episode. After her husband issues an amber alert because Helen took the kids two days early, she’s essentially bullied into bringing her son back for the summer. Like Wendy, Helen doesn’t take well to being told what to do. She agrees to just be with her daughter for the summer, but calls her husband just as he’s attacked by two men, listening to it with a sly smile. It almost feels like Helen and Wendy are feeding each other’s sociopathic behavior. That could be a problem.
There are a few more key moments worth discussing before moving on to episode three:
Wendy and Helen may be threatening, but they have nothing on Navarro, who can turn a story about an injured housekeeper into something bone-chilling. He tells Wendy that he worries that the injury was a bad omen. Was it? And what does it mean that the maid is now dead? Is Wendy just a maid to him, someone disposable? And what if he starts to suspect she’s the cause of these bad omens?
Darlene Snell is in full supervillain mode this season, talking to her dead husband while cutting tomatoes in as creepy a manner as possible. Importantly, she plays to Wyatt’s concern about “The Langmore Curse,” telling him there’s no such thing. She’s going to be major trouble for Wyatt. It’s also probably important that Jonah now knows that Darlene has the baby.
Finally, a warrant is delivered, triggered the minute the Byrdes purchased a second casino. It’s an integrated, constant audit of the entire operation. They will be supervised with every transaction at the Missouri Belle. Now, how is Wendy Byrde going to intimidate her way out of this one?
• It feels like there are two visions of the Byrde future embedded in this episode. There’s the older couple who never branched out beyond their casino, left with a mediocre operation that the wife clearly runs. Wendy doesn’t want that; Marty would probably be happy with it. And then there’s Helen’s divorce. Let’s hope Wendy isn’t listening to Marty getting attacked in a garage in a few years.
• I’m so glad they answered the question about Ben and Wendy’s different accents. Wendy lost hers apparently, probably tamped down by her time in politics in the Midwest. One almost wishes she still had as thick of one as her brother.
• This show is so blue. The blue color palette of the last two seasons seems to have been turned up to 11. Even when they’re in the casino, indoors, it looks like there’s blue light on everything.
• Tom Pelphrey already brings a nice, unstable presence to this season. You kind of have to love a character who’s introduced committing a random act of violence and closes the episode streaking into a lake. It reminds me of the first time Joey Pants showed up on The Sopranos. There was a collective utterance from everyone watching the show: “This guy is going to be trouble”