Netflix’s description of this episode is “Marty finds a way to control Ruth.” Well, sorta. As any Ozark fan knows, controlling Ruth is a short-term proposition at best. Still, it’s interesting to see the Marty-Ruth dynamic becoming an episode’s centerpiece so early. There’s almost a sense, even here, that Ruth invigorates Marty, keeps his blood flowing, and inspires him to find new solutions to the never-ending array of problems that land at his doorstep.
After all, the walls are already closing in during “My Dripping Sleep.” Think about where Marty is at in this episode. He was going to kill himself yesterday. Now what? Now it gets real. Now he has to find a way to make his proposal to Del a reality. And he’s losing sleep.
While the construction of the Byrde empire dominates this chunk of the history of Ozark, the writers also deftly build out the dynamics among the characters, especially within the Byrde family. There’s always a bit of gamesmanship in how Marty and Wendy use information, what they do with it, what they share with the kids, and what they keep behind. How they manipulate people around them through the secrets they keep and those they share.
Take the end of the previous episode, when Wendy told the kids why they were there. Was it a power play? Marty sure thinks so, accusing her of using the information to turn them against him. While they fight with each other and the movers, who leave all of their furniture on the front lawn, the prologue reveals that Petty has made it to the Ozarks and is taking photos from the woods nearby. Meanwhile, Jonah has some questions ,and Charlotte has landed a job interview. Oh, yeah, and the vultures are circling overhead.
Cut to the Langmore compound, where Ruth is talking to her moronic uncle Boyd. He wants a cut, as does his brother Russ. There are references to Ruth’s daddy, Cade, who will be a minor player later this season and a major one in year two. Here, the important thing is that the legend of Cade Langmore still carries weight enough that Ruth can scare her uncles just by mentioning his name.
Meanwhile, Marty is doing some work to get the Blue Cat Lodge off the ground and learning that Tuck really likes Bob Seger’s awesome “Still the Same.” (Seriously, that song rules. And the opening line feels very Marty: “You always won every time you placed a bet.”) He presents some of his business strategy to Rachel, but it’s clear he knows this isn’t going to be enough to make the money he needs for Del. He has no idea that the tourist who just walked in is an FBI agent named Petty. Would Petty really get that close to Marty that early? Probably not, but he is a little reckless. And maybe he just really wanted a $5 burger with his fill-up.
While Wendy drives around town looking for organic pistachio ice cream for Charlotte, she thinks she’s being followed. She sees a sign for Dermody Realty, which will put her into business with the lovably naïve Sam later in the episode. Wendy is trying to carve out her identity in this episode as much as Marty. She needs a project, too.
After getting decked by Charlotte, Wyatt is throwing a pity party on the roof of his trailer when Ruth joins him. It’s a minor scene, but it will pay off over time in the foundation it lays for the dynamic between Ruth and Wyatt. They’re both more emotionally centered than the rest of the Langmores, but their partnership will be tested over the years and arguably even drive the endgame of the series. She promises him money to escape, a promise she’s still trying to pay off at the show’s conclusion. These are the dreamers, the pair trying to get away from their dismal, doomed families.
While Marty removes a carcass from the property that Wendy thinks is a symbol or a threat, Agent Evans pulls up. If Petty goes the subtle route, his former romantic partner is coming in hot. He tells Marty that they’re looking into Bruce’s disappearance and likely death. Marty claims that they spoke last Tuesday, which reminds us how quickly all of this unfolded in the first three episodes. Marty throws Bruce under the bus — he is worried that his partner was into some suspicious activity and heard him speaking Spanish. It’s an interesting choice by Marty because casting suspicion on Bruce could lead them back to him, but Marty probably knows that feigning complete ignorance wouldn’t work either. And then Evans drops the hammer and reveals Bruce was going to be an informant. And here is a major early moment that could easily be missed but feels vital. Evans offers the Byrdes witness protection. They could say yes and leave probably that day. And guess who immediately turns it down? Wendy. Would Marty have considered it?
As Wendy’s paranoia grows, so does Marty’s insomnia. He’s talking to himself in the middle of the night, going down to the lake, and falling asleep on a boat. He wakes to hear some activity on the lake. It’s Mason Young (the great Michael Mosley)! The preacher will play a major role later, but he’s in the distance here, not really offering what Marty is seeking. Some in Mr. Byrde’s position might stay for some spiritual guidance. He does not.
At the Blue Cat, business dynamics are forming among Ruth, Rachel, and Marty. Jordana Spiro has a nice beat when she tells Marty, “Don’t get my hopes up.” She sells a back story with a dark past through her defeated mannerisms. This woman has been let down many times before.
Back at home, Wendy is startled to see the vultures eating a possum carcass on her lawn. She speeds to the Langmores, thinking they’re behind it after what happened with Charlotte and Wyatt. She spins the possum up onto the roof, threatening to basically kill them if they mess with her daughter again. Linney herself sees this scene as a major turning point because it’s when she realizes that “She’s not from Chicago. She’s from a variation of the Ozarks, and now part of the reason that she has resisted going there is because she’s right back where she started.” Don’t mess with Wendy Byrde.
Marty’s insomnia has reached dangerous levels, and not just because he’s quoting Bob Seger. He knows they don’t have enough money for Del. It will not work. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. He says, “I gotta get dirty” and sees Wendy unclasp her bra before taking a shower, which sparks the imaginary light bulb above his head — he needs to go to the “titty bar.”
While Charlotte tries to help her father with some encouraging words, Ruth has some harsh ones for her family. She comes home to find that Boyd has purchased two bobcats, but he’s so dumb that he bought female ones by accident — he can’t sell them for breeding. She forces both her uncles into the cage with the bobcats and tells them that she’s working with “Martin” so that she can learn how to launder for the Langmores. “I’m going to take the money and KILL him,” she says. “Got anything to say about that?!?!” No, Ruth, we don’t.
• Someone on the Ozark team really likes Run the Jewels. They’re used for the first time here with the brilliant “Nobody Speak,” which has a phenomenal video (all praise to DJ Shadow, too, of course).
• When Wendy is working with Sam, she says, “I know how to sell the idea of a happy family.” She keeps telling herself that, and I think she believes it, but I would argue that the arc of the series proves it not to be true.
• You have to love Sarah McLachlan mocking her own pet-adoption commercials by filming one that plays out as a Marty hallucination in which she says, “If you adopt them, they’ll die.” No kidding.
• The show is so blue in this episode, right from the very beginning. The steel palette has been criticized, but it’s way more prominent starting here than in the first pair, which makes me wonder if it’s not a Daniel Sackheim decision — he took over directing duties from Bateman.