“Man cannot tame what God wishes to be wild.” — Jacob Snell.
Marty is trying to tame a wild part of this country to save his family and his life. Will it get him killed? The center of the first season of Ozark focuses on this question, setting up a number of potential murderers and victims in Marty’s circle. One of the men who would be alive if Marty had never driven south is Bobby Dean, whose body washes up under the Byrde’s dock. What does this mean for the money launderer and his family? Meanwhile, the writers build out some of the character dynamics between new friends like Buddy and Jonah, Charlotte and Wyatt, and Petty and Russ. They’re all matches of outsider and local, developing the theme that this is a part of the country that is constantly shifting as travelers come and go.
The episode also introduces a crucial Ozark character in Mason Young (Michael Mosley), opening with a flashback to the day that changed his life. Walking up on a convenience store robbery gone very wrong, Mason tries to talk down the armed criminal, only to get shot in the shoulder. As he lies on the floor, gasping for air, the shot cuts to him floating in the healing waters of the Ozarks, the cross around his neck lying next to his scar.
We then cut to Bobby’s floating body, which the Byrdes take as a signal. This is what happened to the last guy who owned Lickety Splitz, Martin Byrde. Just in case the message isn’t clear, Jacob Snell stops Marty on the road by literally just standing in the middle of it — Peter Mullan is so good at conveying the kind of confidence that comes from a criminal empire. All the traffic in the entire state probably stops for him. He tells Marty that he had a working relationship with Bobby Dean that he needs to continue with Marty. It’s a local tradition. Marty merely says, “I don’t think my employer would allow it.” It’s a scene between two smart men each of whom realizes that the other is going to be a problem.
Charlotte gets a little character development here, starting with a flirtatious conversation with a customer at the bar and then moving to a bit of reconciliation with Wyatt on the dock. She’s apologetic about Wendy’s tossing a possum on their roof and claims everything is even now. While she edges closer to Wyatt, Buddy and Jonah are feeling each other out about their roles in this new situation. Jonah says, “My dad brings businesses back to life,” which is an interesting way to describe money laundering and the kind of phrasing that a father uses on their son in the hope he’ll repeat it. Buddy is trying to figure out more about what Marty does. Jonah is trying to learn how to shoot.
Around town, Marty has become a major player overnight. You see, the locals think that he’s the one who killed Bobby Dean, which has changed his reputation from quiet bookkeeper to ruthless criminal. Rachel suggests that he stay away from the customers until it blows over, and Marty gets some intel on Snell. They’ve lived on that hill forever, and “devious things go on on that farm.” The writers are making the Snells almost mythic, the kind of long-standing criminal operation that likely exists for generations in the heartland of this country until an outsider destroys it.
Cut to the poppy kingpins on a walk across their property. Jacob tells Darlene that Marty is more afraid of his boss than the Snells. That’s a problem. Meanwhile, Darlene tells a brute named Ash (Michael Tourek) to go do what he needs to do, shotgun in hand.
As if it weren’t crowded enough in the Ozarks, Josh Silverberg (Ben Rappaport) drops by for a conversation with Wendy, who was sleeping with his father. He doesn’t buy the police theory that Gary threw himself from the 80th floor of his high-rise apartment building. “He was the happiest he’s been in years,” Josh tells a nervous Wendy. Marty may not be there, and he’s clearly nervous about cops sniffing around about who killed Gary, but is there a small part of him that enjoys Wendy’s having to figure a way out of a mess she largely created?
At Lickety Splitz, Ruth Langmore is taking control. She has hired new “inventory,” upsetting some of the longtime strippers at the establishment enough that punches get thrown. The interesting thing to note is that Ruth doesn’t throw that right hook until the dancer mentions her dad, Cade. He’s clearly a very sensitive subject for the smartest branch of the Langmore family tree. Even with the violence, Ruth is doing such a great job that Marty later offers her a job. She can manage the place and bring home $1,000 a week. Will this change Ruth’s mind about killing Marty? Might she want to join him instead?
While Marty is getting the lowdown on how dangerous Josh could be, Russ Langmore has been reunited with Agent Petty, who clearly sees this closeted, somewhat fragile man as a way to get to Marty. It’s a strategy that never made much sense, but it’s unclear exactly how viewers are supposed to feel about Petty, who clearly will use anyone around him to his advantage, but maybe he isn’t all that good at his job? Anyway, he fishes and laughs with Russ and then kisses him, even though they must smell so much like raw fish right about then. Russ punches Petty in the face and calls him a slur before pushing him out of the truck. Later, Russ will come to Petty’s motel room, drunk and confused. They kind of wrestle and then kiss. Russ is figuring out who he is in a very unusual way.
On the other side of town, Nix covers up the death of Bobby Dean, and the Byrdes embark on another business endeavor. They go to Mason Young and his wife, Grace (Bethany Anne Lind), with a proposition — a physical church that can get them off the water, another place through which the Byrdes can launder money. Think about their growing empire. It’s all about using basic human needs like leisure (Blue Cat), sex (Lickety Splitz), shelter (Dermody Realty), and now religion to feed a massive drug operation. At one point, Marty says, “This whole town’s like a big fucking game of telephone,” and the interconnectivity in the community resonated through this season more than later ones.
After a bit of awkward Wyatt flirtation with Charlotte, the episode cuts to the other Byrde child, about to have a terrifying day. Ash, the Snell’s muscle, is sneaking around the house, taking pictures, when Jonah appears with a gun. As Ash reveals he carries a knife, a car pulls up to pick up Jonah, averting tragedy. Jonah hides his gun in the garage and leaves Ash to sneak around in private.
The final scenes have a sense of inevitable doom. Whether it’s Russ finding happiness with Petty, Rachel smiling at the fireworks with Marty, or even Mason delivering a sermon, it’s all tinged with foreboding. It’s so clear that something will go wrong for all these happy people. And Mason’s role becomes clearer as the final scene reveals that the Snells have been using Mason’s flock on the lake as a supply chain, handing off drugs through hymnals on the water. Faith and addiction wrapped up in one volume. And the Byrdes want to ruin all of this wild behavior.
• The casting agent on Ozark is one of the best in the business, and Mosley and Lind are perfect for the Youngs. If you like both performers, check out Mosley’s excellent turn on Netflix’s Seven Seconds, and you must see Lind in the great Blood on Her Name over on Hulu.
• What book does Wyatt give Charlotte? The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. It’s a great choice by the writers, the kind of canonical sci-fi book that someone like Wyatt would give Charlotte to impress her but not too challenging or obscure. And one senses that Wyatt kind of feels like a Martian himself sometimes.
• It’s startling to consider how many of these lives will be shattered even by the end of this season. It gives these transitional episodes a sense of deep melancholy, especially when characters smile to convey hope at futures that will be so much different from what they expect.