(With light spoilers)
Lainey last wrote about Jason Bateman when he received his Walk of Fame, and made note of his hair. Specifically, how full it is. Jason’s career renaissance is often attributed to his youthfulness and his comedic timing – Arrested Development and quirky indies, mixed in with the occasional studio film. In Netflix’s Ozark, you have to watch it for a minute to accept that, yes, Jason Bateman can do drama. Serious drama.
Marty Byrde is a pragmatic and intelligent family man who launders money for a cartel. There is no shock or surprise – Marty is about money, not emotion or power. For years, the system he created worked for him and his family, until one day it didn’t. And as life (and peak TV) goes, it all goes to sh-t at once. The Byrde family decamps to the Ozarks in a fish-out-of-water situation (they aren’t exactly on the run – it’s more of a forced relocation). Marty and his wife, Wendy (played by the always incredible Laura Linney) are business people and washing money is a family business. They are not shy or even that evasive about their work.
The show is often compared to Breaking Bad, and the similarities come easy: a mild-mannered family man working in the drug industry, two children, a middle-class life, a supporting cast of characters that represent constant danger to the family and plenty of gruesome collateral damage. But before everything came crashing down, you see glimpses of who the Byrdes were before they left Chicago – a family who binge-watched Breaking Bad after the kids went to bed, not the family who lived it.
And the show isn’t a celebration of the male antihero or his ego. Wendy has her own agency. You don’t cast Laura Linney to have her stand in the kitchen and wring her hands (frankly I’m impressed that Jason Bateman can keep up with her). Wendy has things she wants, outside of her marriage and family. She is his partner and a skilled negotiator – she’s actually better at some elements of the business than Marty, and when they work together on deals it’s quite impressive. She’s really, really f-cking good at her job and she knows it. Watching her play the game is exciting because there’s an undercurrent of confidence and wildness in the way she acts as a businesswoman and as a wife. In one scene, she flings a dead animal onto a roof and it doesn’t look unnatural. Wendy has definitely seen some sh-t in her lifetime.
As with most shows dealing with the expansive drug trade, there is of course a “bad cop” (Agent Roy Petty, who I still can’t decide if he’s a sociopath or just extremely damaged), the omnipresent cartel boss (played by Esai Morales, who can challenge Jason Bateman in a “why doesn’t he ever age” contest), mysterious and helpful locals with unknown motives, and a family of slow-talking, brutally violent yokels who traffic heroin.
About halfway through the series, I wanted to complain about the Byrde children. They can be annoying, especially Charlotte, and I wondered why dramas can go so wrong with writing young people. Logistically, how are kids who grew up in the suburbs suddenly running around in the forest with rifles, completely unattended most of the time? Then I realized I was focusing on the wrong kids. I don’t think I’m supposed to care about Charlotte and Jonah.
But I do care about Wyatt, Ruth and Three. They are the Langmore kids, the Byrde family’s first obstacle in their new home. The Langmores are everything the Byrdes aren’t – poor locals who are worn down by life in the Ozarks, neglected both at home and by society. They care for each other out of necessity and desperation, living a glum existence. The Byrdes come into town and are a shiny pot of money, cleanliness and domesticity that can rescue the Langmores from a life of fast food and mobile homes. And while the Langmores want to run from the Ozarks, the Byrdes are running deeper in it. To Marty, money is an abstract equation; to the Langmores, it’s a faint hope that escape is possible.
At the center of the Langmore family is Ruth, a character who is a lot like Jessie Pinkman, vulnerable, exposed and trying so hard not show any sign of kindness. Unlike Jesse, she is independent and cunning, someone who can make her own decisions and follow through with pain but not regret. I’ve been sleeping on Julia Garner, who plays Ruth. She’s a respected indie actress, and she was on The Americans (I’m sorry haven’t watched it.) I creeped her Instagram and she wore a plaid dress with a Peter Pan collar to the Ozark premiere – that’s all I need.