“It wasn’t what I thought it would be and I wasn’t who I thought I would be.” —Marty Byrde
With very few exceptions, Ozark has been a show about a man playing it safe in a dangerous world. Even Marty himself admits that he’s been scared for years, and now he’s … not. He survived what he thought would be the end of his life — the day that the leader of the drug cartel that employs him took him prisoner. Now that he’s home, he’s become almost like Jeff Bridges’s character in Fearless, unable to see real danger because he survived that which he thought would kill him. As Ben Davis says, “He’s vibratin’.”
What does this mean for the arc of the overall show and the dynamic between the Byrdes? While Wendy certainly wanted a less risk-averse husband who didn’t destroy her plans, this alternative may not be better. At least the old Marty was predictable. This one could be dangerous. And the fact is that Wendy used to be in charge and in control — a headstrong Marty doesn’t necessarily help her need to be the one at the top of the ladder. It feels like he’ll be by her side at things like the horse farm deal and court hearing, but he’s quickly onto the next thing, not lingering in the moment long enough for Wendy to catch up.
The fifth episode of the third season opens with Agent Maya Miller convincing her superiors to pull Marty out of the cartel operation and turn him. She’s the first to speak the main theme of the episode: “We don’t know who came back from Mexico.”
Marty thinks he knows: The Beast Slayer came back. He confidently tells Ruth not to let Frank Jr. loan shark through the casino, which leads to a simmering turf war between the two. For now, it’s just an annoying kidnapping of Ruth and bird shit on Frank’s car, but these two are stretching the limits of the term “untouchable.”
Now that he’s not beating up her husband, Omar Navarro can communicate with Wendy again. At first, he sounds downright encouraging, telling her to expand the empire and buy a horse farm in Kentucky. This afternoon. She asks the tough question as to why Navarro let Marty go, and is surprised to hear that the drug kingpin thinks Wendy’s meek husband is a lot like him. He wants to win.
The tougher Marty Byrde pressures Sue the therapist to get Wendy to commit in session to hire Maya before playing a few mind games with the federal agent himself. Where are we going with Maya Miller? Wendy digs up some dirt on the agent that she thinks will convince Marty to let his plan to turn her go. It has the opposite effect, as Marty offers up a scumbag on a silver platter, basically telling Miller that he can help her defeat crimes if she looks the other way while he commits crimes. She doesn’t take the bait.
Meanwhile, Charlotte Byrde is nervous about how close Erin Pierce is getting to the truth about her mother and the Byrde empire. It’s a really difficult position in which to put Charlotte, especially as Erin gets closer to one of the casino lackeys, a young guy named Tommy (Tyler Chase) who also works for Frank Cosgrove. He could easily spill everything about the casino. He even knows who Helen is. This is dangerous for everyone involved.
And now we need to talk about the least effective and craziest subplot of the year so far: the love affair between Darlene Snell and Wyatt Langmore. In this episode, Wyatt lies about the altercation between Darlene and Wendy so they can keep custody of Zeke. Later that night, he has sex with Darlene. If anyone thought this was a mother-son dynamic, think again. Why is Wyatt attracted to Darlene? Is it just because she treats him with respect? Is she the first person to not paint him with the Langmore curse? And why would Darlene be attracted to Wyatt? It feels more manipulative from her end — then again, most of her activity has an ulterior motive. Darlene and Wyatt reopening the farm drug trade can only lead to problems, but the writers need to figure out a way to weave it more organically into the rest of the season soon. For now, it feels like an inconsistent subplot. Although Darlene’s key line to Wyatt does feel thematically akin to what Marty is going through now: “There’s pain that uses you, and there’s pain that you use.” Marty feels like he’s using his pain.
As all of this is going down, Wendy learns a harsh lesson at the Kentucky horse farm. Men with guns show up in the middle of the day and castrate the stud horse there, much to the owner’s dismay. It turns out the horse was owned by Navarro’s nemesis in the cartel drug war. Wendy calls Navarro, furious that he ruined what she thought was a legit business venture. She learns quickly that she has no say in the matter. She thought she was a partner, a general in the war, but she is a soldier. And she will do what Navarro tells her to do. As Marty leaves Maya Miller’s hotel room, Wendy could be the one stuck with no allegiance and no friends right now. A lone wolf Wendy Byrde is a dangerous thing.
• Charlotte’s little smile after she tells dummy Tommy “you thought wrong” is amazing. She loves playing tough guy, and you can see her mother’s fearlessness in her.
• There are a few great cuts in this episode. “She’s got no fucking idea how scary her mom can be,” says Charlotte about Helen, and then cut to Wendy putting on makeup, almost as if she knows the line applies to their dynamic too.
• Before that, there’s a fun cut from Erin asking if the dude bro brought beer to the horse farmer talking about how “every stud has needs.”
• Wouldn’t Navarro bug the casino? It feels like he’d at least place one in Marty’s office after the latest debacle, right? Or are they worried Miller would sweep for them? Still, it feels like Navarro would put more surveillance on this entire situation. Maybe soon.
• Ruth and Ben are an increasingly cute couple. Why am I starting to worry about Ben in the way I worried about Andy on The Outsider?