Ozark Season One Review
Created by Mark Williams, Bill Dubuque
Written by Paul Kolsby, Martin Zimmerman, Whit Anderson, Ryan Farley, Alyson Feltes, Chris Mundy.
Starring Jason Bateman, Laura Linney, Sofia Hublitz, Skylar Gaertner, Julia Garner, Jordana Spiro, Jason Butler Harner, Esai Morales, Peter Mulla, Charlie Tahan, Marc Menchaca, Christopher James Baker, McKinley Belcher III, Michael Mosley, Josh Randall
Ozark tells the story of a family man, Martin, with no choice to move his family from Chicago to the Ozarks of Missouri to launder money for the second-largest Mexican cartel. Throughout the first season’s ten episodes, Martin Byrde’s exploits begin to catch up with him while also encountering new and deadly obstacles in his way.
Creators and writers Mark Williams and Bill Dubuque create a bleak world with very little hope to be seen on the other side. Every moment spent in the Ozarks feels dangerous, adding to the danger felt by Byrde and his family. There’s a sense of no escape as multiple parties try to close in on the money launderer to take his money, or to just get rid of him.
Critics have compared Ozark to Breaking Bad, and rightfully and unrightfully so. Aside from the family man involved in the drug trade, the comparisons end there. Like Breaking Bad dove deep in the process of making meth, Ozark dives deep into the process of laundering money.
Each line of dialog is written superbly, adding to why I couldn’t just watch one episode in a single night. From the opening of the first episode, the line, “money is a measure of man’s choices,” I was hooked.
Cast of Characters
Ozark makes it a point to paint the locals with respect and that could be seen on screen. The cast of local characters such as Ruth, Wyatt, Ash, Mason, and Grace, to name a few, aren’t caricatures of people the writers seen on the news or in other pieces of media. Ruth, for example, is a nuanced character depicted as someone who’s intelligent yet vulnerable.
Not everybody is written equally. Roy, the FBI agent played by Jason Butler Harner, is cliched.
He comes across as a mustache-twirling villain with little to no motivation. Kaleidoscope, the eighth episode, does bring a bit of backstory to that character but fails to be anything other than two-dimensional. The same could be said for Russ. Jacob nearly suffers from that same problem but Peter Mullan’s performance allows for some nuance and humanity to seep through from the small screen.
Ozark’s blue-hued color grading makes the show feel as cold as each script. The country wilderness of the Ozarks is itself a character in the show. From the dense, animal filled forests to the shin-deep fly fishing water, Ozark presents Missouri as a beautifully rich landscape that pops off screen.
At ten episodes, Ozark is an easy watch that is never fully predictable. There were moments when the show would seem to move in one direction but would move in another, while still maintaining a natural progression of story.
Transitioning from the seediness of the strip club to the “shiny” appearance made by spouses Wendy and Marty is jarring but works for the show when Marty has to seep into his role as a money launderer from a wholesome family man. The genius of the show is the ability to have the audience root for the main character of Marty but secretly hold affection for secondary, villainous characters, Ruth being one of them.
Ozark, in its early episodes, makes it a point to show the world through Martin’s delusional eyes. Some of what we see happening, from the opening moments with the prostitute, is a figment of his imagination. However, that’s not expanded upon in the back half of the episodes. The same could be said about the way the show plays with time. Episode eight, for example, is played out in nonlinear fashion, jumping to and from random events in Marty and Wendy’s life. The episode unfolds like a mini-homage to Memento and is never confusing. A few episodes utilizes this storytelling device, mainly in the front half of the season but it never fully realized for the final episodes.
Jason Bateman’s cold, mono-toned delivery in every episode is perfect for his character, allowing a deep-seeded frustration to bubble beneath the surface. Marty Byrd isn’t entirely like a Walter White, using his smarts to gain the upper hand against his enemies without much need of physical violence. Where Walter White would use his chemistry skills to blow up a small building, Martin Byrd uses his intellect to talk his way out of sticky situations. There is very little violence seen on screen throughout the season and when it does happen it’s hard-hitting.
The final moments of the season maintain a level of tension that was ever present in the season’s ten episodes.
Just take time out of your schedule and watch season one to prepare you for season two.