A somber, even slow episode — outside of explosive moments in three key scenes — leads the third season of Ozark into its final stretch. While it first looks like Wendy and Marty Byrde may never speak again and are on a fast track to divorce, trauma and danger have forced them to stay together before. Will that happen again?
It sure looks like their marital days are numbered after the intense opening scene in therapy. Let’s just say that the new Marty Byrde, the one who became a Beast Slayer in Mexico, has come to play. When Sue lets drop that both Wendy and Marty have been bribing her, the couple take off the gloves and start fighting bare-fisted, at least emotionally. Marty is particularly brutal in ways he never really has been before, accusing Wendy of putting her interests before the family. She tries to get in a few points, but he isn’t really listening, going as far as to call her a selfish, power-hungry bitch. And that’s not even really the worst of it. As they air all of their dirty laundry, the scene ends with a funny beat as Marty realizes what Sue just heard. She’s going to need, in her words, a “shitload” of money to stay quiet.
That’s the first key explosive moment, the other two being the gunfire on the beach and the explosion and carnage at the end. In between, there are a lot of minor beats, mostly one-on-one scenes that push the characters to the next major events in their lives. Let’s break them down by character this episode:
Ruth Langmore & Ben Davis
The slower pace allows Julia Garner to do her best work of the season to date; she may have just won another Emmy with this. She’s excellent both in scenes with Tom Pelphrey’s Ben and Charlie Tahan’s Wyatt. As the fight with Frank Cosgrove Jr. continues to escalate, she’s falling in love with Ben, although she discovers that her new boyfriend has a problem in the bedroom because of his medication. He tells her he will go off the meds, but Wendy reveals that they’re for bipolar disorder, and a Ben off his meds is super dangerous. (That’s probably the Ben we saw in his introduction in the second episode, losing his mind on a landscaper.) She seems to tell Wendy that she’ll encourage Ben to stay on his meds, but it’s another variable in this season’s unstable environment.
In a heartbreaking scene, Ruth also finally has an emotional moment with Wyatt after learning from Three Langmore (Carson Holmes) that Wyatt is living and sleeping with Darlene Snell. Garner perfectly captures the blame Ruth feels. After all, it’s her murder of Wyatt’s father that has now pushed her cousin into a deadly situation with Darlene. If Wyatt ends up crushed under the Snell empire, Ruth will never forgive herself.
Speaking of Darlene, she finally gets an episode in which she feels like less of a peripheral character. She wants her drug operation back up and running, and she wants Helen Pierce’s help. That’s not going to happen. Importantly, Darlene also goes to the dirty cops whom her husband Jacob used to control and basically tries to get them back under her thumb. It seems to work a bit, although it’s too soon to tell if they’ll be loyal to the Snells or Byrdes when it comes down to it. She also tries to woo Wyatt’s brother Three into the empire. Don’t do it, kid!
Charlotte & Jonah Byrde
The Byrde children have a formative day at the beach with Tommy, who seems to just be a garden variety idiot, but it’s later revealed is working with Agent Evans (McKinley Belcher III). Before that, Tommy gets high with Erin Pierce and the Byrde children before whipping out a gun and getting super-aggro. The cops eventually swing in, but it’s a scary moment, and one that reminds us that Jonah Byrde is a crack shot.
After therapy, Wendy kicks Marty out of the house, sending him to the same motel occupied by Agent Miller. She needs a new project, so she decides to get a charitable foundation off the ground. In one of the best scenes of the episode, Jonah suggests it’s a good laundering operation. She just wants to do something positive and her children instantly presume it’s for illegal ends.
Finally, Marty seems to be working to bring Agent Miller into the fold, befriending her at the motel, and telling her that he needs time to convince Wendy. That’s not true. He needs time to turn Miller. He also discovers he’s being tailed. Is it Agent Evans? Someone from one of the cartels? He ditches his tail by escaping through a Dollar General, but the final scene reveals that the cartel drug war has come to the Ozarks with gunpower. Men are killed, money is burned, a truck explodes, and Ruth Langmore barely escapes with her life. All of this tension seems designed to push Marty back into the Byrde family. There’s even a game night. After all, nothing brings a couple together like fear. And board games.
• Does Helen feel a little too naïve about Erin? She brings her down to the middle of an illegal operation, lets her become friends with the family running the cartel’s laundering scam in the area, and then is surprised that she may be getting closer to the truth? Yes, children can be blind spots for smart people, but Helen is often the smartest person in any room and this feels a bit off in terms of writing.
• When Wendy says about Ben not taking his meds, “His judgment is completely impaired,” it sounds very foreboding. Will Ben make a bad choice before the end of the season?
• Here’s another one: “Broken promises get consequences.” That’s from Darlene Snell, who feels pushed aside by everyone in the Ozarks. Snell is nowhere near as dangerous as an Omar Navarro or a Frank Cosgrove, but she doesn’t think that, and she could easily cause big problems for everyone.
• Ozark has never been a show that’s shy about killing characters. If you’re reading these before watching the final quartet, who do you think isn’t making it to season four? Maya Miller? Ben Davis? Will the time finally come for Darlene Snell? Or could we be in for a truly major death, like Helen Pierce or a Byrde child? We’ll know soon.