Ozark Season 2: Character Development Makes it a Winner

Well, I just binge watched Ozark season two and walked away completely wowed by the show’s sophomore effort. This Netflix original series has definitely gotten even better its second time around. Before I go any further, you need to know that there are NO season two spoilers in this review. With that out of the way, let me tell you what made Ozark’s second season so intriguing: character development. The show’s writers and actors really stretched themselves to make the show’s characters more interesting, frustrating, and ultimately relateable. Now that’s the mark of good storytelling!

While all of the characters story arcs get expanded on, I chose to focus on the three I found the most interesting in season two:

1. Wendy Byrde, Played by Laura Linney

While season one focused on Martin Byrde (Jason Bateman), Ozark’s second season has Wendy Byrde (Laura Linney) coming into her own. Martin’s plan to open a riverboat casino requires votes from Missouri politicians. Since Wendy worked in politics back home in Chicago, this season gives her a chance to shine, and she needed it. During the first season, many viewers (myself included) detested Wendy for her infidelity and snobbish, entitled attitude, and overall difficult personality.

In season two, we get a better understanding of why Wendy did what she did. While this doesn’t excuse her actions, it’s not hard to understand and even identify with her, considering what she was dealing with. It was good to get her side of the story during the second season. Seeing Wendy become strong and capable enough to lead the family and do the things Marty is too weak-willed to do were also refreshing. By the end of season two, you’ll be Team Wendy. Trust me!

2. Martin Byrde, Played by Jason Bateman

While Ozark’s first season had me siding with Marty, his character disgusted me this second time around. I’m sure that was the writer’s intention. I did say there will be no season two spoilers, so I’ll just say this – the second season really shows Marty’s many shortcomings as a husband, father, and a man. In short, he’s an annoying little worm who will always do the easiest and most expedient thing to save his miserable hide. While these traits have kept him and his family alive, these qualities were the ones that put his family in danger in the first place. A bit of a break even there.

Okay, to give the devil his due, Marty only mans up one time during season two. Unfortunately, he negates that by doing something so horribly unconscionable, inexcusable, and unforgiveable later on in the season. This one decision, once again made out of expediency, made me detest his character so much that I’m pretty much Team Wendy at this point. So yeah, Marty’s no hero, not by a long shot. That said, I’m still intrigued to follow this Netflix original series to the end. Why? Because the moral ambiguity of Ozark mirrors life in the real world. This makes for both great entertainment and discussion.

3. Buddy Dieker/Jimmy Small, Played by Harris Yulin

Speaking of character development, season two has a breakout star: Buddy, played by Harris Yulin. For those who don’t remember, Buddy is the eccentric old man who owns and lives in the house the Byrdes purchased on Lake Ozark. He plays a big part in season two, where viewers get to know about Buddy’s past in organized crime and union racketeering. A friendship develops between Buddy and Jonah Byrde (Skylar Gaertner), which makes the events in Ozark’s second season all the more touching.

Personally, I was glad to see the show’s writers give so much quality screen time to Harris Yulin’s character. If you’re a movie or TV fan, you might not know his name but you’ll definitely recognize his face. Yulin has been acting since the 1950s, and he’s been in more than 100 movies and TV shows since then. One of his most well known roles is Mel Bernstein in Scarface. Fans of this 1980s gangster classic will never forget the “every dog has his day” scene.

Working With Difficult People

Rigid, inflexible personality types was a strong part of season two’s character development. There’s nothing more annoying than when someone’s idea of “compromise” is them making demands and you compromise your values, pride, and moral compass to appease them. It’s especially maddening when you’re forced to accommodate such people. Perhaps what upset me the most is knowing that inflexible people seem to relish the control they have over others with sadistic glee.

In Ozark’s first season, the show’s writers worked with this concept. Marty and Wendy scrambled to please their drug cartel overlords for fear of death. Season two brings these struggles back, and makes it an even stronger plot element. Throughout all 10 episodes, you’ll see Marty and Wendy desperate trying to appease:

  1. The Navarro drug cartel and its particularly shrewd lawyer, Helen Pierce.
  2. Various politicians who stand opposed to the Byrdes opening their riverboat casino.
  3. County and city officials who shut down the Byrde’s businesses.
  4. The murderous and manipulative Jacob and Darlene Snell.
  5. FBI agent Roy Petty, who’s more determined than ever to bust Marty.
  6. Frank Cosgrove, leader of the Kansas City mob.
  7. Cade Langmore, Ruth Langmore’s recently paroled father.

Wow! That’s a lot of people to try to make happy. It doesn’t help that all of these folks have competing interests, and none of them will accept anything less that the Byrdes’ total submission to their every wish and whim. I could almost feel Marty and Wendy’s hopelessness and frustration through the screen as I watched. I think you will, too.

Putting the “Fun” in Dysfunctional?

Family dysfunction can be a great tool for screenwriters to illustrate character development. Such was the case with Ozark’s season two. Such a thing should be expected from a family with parents who do the bidding of killers, drug dealers, and thieves. The second season does a good job of showing the effects this has on the Byrdes’ two children. It illustrates two uncomfortable facts about the effects that growing up in these environments has on children:

  1. No matter how slick parents think they are at hiding things such as affairs or substance abuse, the kids always find out.
  2. When there are problems in the home, kids will act out in defiance. This can sometimes put them in dangerous situations or cause them to be hurt even more than what they endure at home.

To tell you anymore would put me dangerously close to Spoilerville’s city limits. Without giving it all away, the impulsive behavior of one of the Byrdes’ children threatens to impede upon Marty and Wendy’s efforts to do the cartel’s bidding. Just trust me when I say that there is no “fun” in this dysfunctionality. It does make for some great viewing and discussion, though.

Ozark Season 2: Issues and Shortcomings

While I highly recommend Ozark to any streaming looking for a good show, this Netflix original series is not without its shortcomings. The first is that its problem-solution-problem format is starting to wear thin. Every episode of the first two seasons seems to operate on this basic premise: The Byrdes have a problem with A, so they talk their way out of it, which creates problem B. This creates a never-ending and escalating cycle of problems and solutions. This has happened so often that I think we’re out of letters in the alphabet to keep track of each calamity.

The show’s writers have mined all the suspense they can out of this formula. If they keep it up, viewers might give up on the whole thing because the element of suspense will be drained from it. If the Byrdes are able to just talk their way out of every problem, what’s the point of watching? The whole thing will become as predictable as a Dukes of Hazzard episode. Let’s hope that the show’s creators, which includes actor Jason Bateman, put their heads together and raise the bar for season three… should it get the green light from Netflix execs.

Ozark: the Biggest Challenge

I could wax poetic about this Netflix original series all day, but can I do the impossible? Can I actually inspire my colleague Stuart Sweet to actually give this show a fair shake? For those who might not remember, he once said that Ozark has “all the appeal of peat moss.” I’ve teased him about this in the past; but in reality, I’d really like him to get into this series. Despite his gruff and grumbling objections, I really think he’d like it… if he gave it an honest chance. Still, getting him to watch anything set outside his beloved California seems to be more difficult than pulling. If this review won’t get him to change his mind, I don’t know what will. Wait! Wasn’t I saying something about working with difficult people?