The  show’s second season not only starts to find its own unique groove, but manages to delve deeper and darker into the lore of the land of Ozark all the while the tension ramps up to result in a compelling yet unrelenting season.

Imagine a world in which the perfect American family was built on a foundation of lies, and now imagine if those lies had deep routed connections all the way into the Mexican Cartel. Welcome to Ozark.

After the chaos that ended Season 1, we follow Marty (Jason Bateman) and Wendy Byrde (Laura Linney) planning to desert the town they moved to in season one once they’ve built the casino they promised to their various criminal partners. The casino will help clean blood money for the Mexican cartel that Marty unwillingly works for, but it will also provide a legitimate business enterprise for a local crime family, the Snells. The Snells involvement is due to their willingness to lend land for the casino to be built on and establish connections via the distribution of heroin as a side hustle with the cartel.

What the transition between season 1 and 2 provided is a bigger role for Laura Linney. Wendy (Linney) finds herself an integral part of Season 2 with one of the more complex and intriguing storylines rather than be the “nagging wife” she was in through the first ten episodes. Season 2 levels the playing field and shows Wendy using her political background to the forefront and her character seems rejuvenated by it. Watching Wendy maneuver and manipulate political figures in Missouri is some of the more intriguing parts of the season. Wendy thrives when she gets her hands dirty while also holding her own as a smart, capable woman and a competent (albiet struggling) mother.

Having the whole family in the laundering business creates an interesting dynamic in the Byrde family, and there’s no clearer evidence than the children. Jonah (Skylar Gartner), the youngest of the Byrdes, has the better child arc this season, finding interesting ways to get his father’s attention,respect and finds himself somewhat invested with the family business. But on the other side of the spectrum, his sister Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz) has a more defiant attitude, sick and tired of her new life and wishing to go back to her traditional life in Chicago. Rather than relishing in a new and unique story line  she gets deal a more traditional teenage-rebel story, which gets repetitive fast.

Bateman continues to cherish the main role of Marty Byrde, continuing his ‘by any means necessary’ philosophy. From negotiating with cartel heads and the volatile Snells while keeping the langmores at bay, there’s only so much one suburban dad could handle. An aspect that we see grow more in Season 2 that proved to be a welcome surprise was the relentlessness of Marty and the amount of blind faith he puts into himself. There’s not a moment in the 10 episode long follow up in which Byrde is given a minute to relax, bouncing around from one scam to another.

The second season introduces one annoying antagonist in Ruth’s( Julia Garner) jailbird dad, Cade (Marc Menchaca). Cade provides a dark cloud over Ruth and the Byrdes and is always in the middle of trouble. Although the Byrdes have their fair share of emotional and family issues, it’s nothing compared to what the poor 16 year old has to deal with.

Ruth has the responsibilities of a single mother and much like Byrde acts like the cohesive substance that keeps her family together. From caring for her cousins, managing Marty’s business, dealing with her own internal trauma and trying to get her extremely volatile father under control, its as if Ruth’s world is crashing at light speed. Garner carries the momentum she had from being the shining star of the first season and once again delivers a phenomenal and layered performance that bounces between brash and overly confident to shockingly vulnerable.

Episode by episode she fights as if it’s her livelihood on the line, but it’s solely to help give the Langmores a better name. It’s heartbreaking, and Ruth’s desire to see the clearly intelligent and talented Wyatt (Charlie Tahan) go to college and break the Langmore curse is one of the season’s most engaging storyline. Wyatt as a charter progressed immensely as he’s given more to do and his battle with grieving over his father’s passing is one of the most personal and relatable character arcs in the whole show.

With a new season, we get introduced to new characters. After the death of cartel honcho Del, it was only a matter of time until they sent an adequate replacement. Early on in the season we get the arrival of the great Janet McTeer as a sly lawyer who goes by the name Pierce, whose sole assignment is to watch over the Byrdes and the Smells. A slick, polished, no nonsense lawyer like Mcteer sticks out like a sore thumb in the mundane Ozark, being a delight everytime she shares the screen with the Byrdes.intimidate or coerce those who require it.

Pierce is as skilled a talker as Marty, throwing out loaded questions and underhanded threats and ultimatums without any hesitation. Even if she doesn’t physically get involved in any altercation, she’s sure to have a few friends from the cartel on hand to dish out “persuasion” when required.

Though it may sound impossible, a greater sense of dread hangs over this season than the last. Almost immediately we get thrown into the fire and the Byrdes give little to no breathing room. It’s clear that the Byrdes are in it for the long haul and as each episode goes by the inevitable collateral damage to be piledd up. Season 1 goes to the deepest and darkest end of the swimming pool in a way that few TV series have managed to do in recent memory, and there are several uncomfortable moments early on and about midway through the season, takes it to a new level.

Season 2 represents everything that you want in a follow up season, elevating the tension, fleshing out the characters while continuing the same narrative and tone that made season 1 a success. Everything is in place for Ozark to become one of Netflix’s crown jewels, it’s only a matter of time when the Byrdes run the underworld of the streaming service.

Grade:B+

Ananth Para
paramana@mcmaster.ca

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