“Ozark” thoughts, Season One, Episode Two: “Blue Cat”

As the Byrdes settle in to their new community, Netflix‘s Ozark seems to be settling in as well. “Blue Cat,” the show’s second episode, establishes not just the new setting but a storytelling strategy — one that answers, at least in part, the question of how a show that covered so much antihero-drama ground in its premiere could keep things moving for a full season. That storytelling strategy is, essentially, a rhetorical one: When faced with seemingly insurmountable crises or dead ends, Marty Byrde’s modus operandi is to verbally escalate the stakes.


Here’s where Marty’s penchant for talking his way out of trouble by talking his way into bigger trouble comes in. When he discovers the Langmore clan’s hideout, he bursts in and immediately reveals that he works for a cartel kingpin, all but daring the relatively low-stakes criminals to call his bluff, kill him, and face the fatal fallout. Later, when he strikes out with a last-ditch investment attempt at the run-down Blue Cat Lodge that gives the episode its title, he quickly picks a fight with a barfly who’s insulting Tuck, the owner’s son, in order to convince the skeptical woman that he’s on the up and up.

The strategy doesn’t always work: Marty’s attempt to out-bluster the local police chief is more insulting than intimidating, and nearly backfires completely. But Wendy saves the day by taking a different path with the same technique, noting that she’s now a homeowner, taxpayer, and voter in town, and implicitly threatening his reelection efforts. By the end of the episode, apparently tired of her kids’ constant questions and complaints, she even dumps the truth about Marty’s real business on them. Both of the Byrdes — and Ozark as a whole — have adopted the Donald Rumsfeld quote “If you can’t solve a problem, make it bigger” as their maxim, and it admittedly makes for engaging television when it happens.

But the show is still extraordinarily by-the-numbers in many other ways. Certainly its portrayal of the Lake’s locals is not breaking any new ground. If you expected even the reasonably sympathetic characters to spout racist, sexist boilerplate — the worst offender is the records keeper who complains that the “colored folks” complaining about the police at the Oprah taping she once attended need to “walk a mile in my Crocs”, groannnnn — then go ahead and fill that space on your Gritty Drama Bingo card. (See also “seedy strip joint” and “music so thoroughly indebted to the There Will Be Blood score you can name the song they must have used as a temp track.”)

I reviewed the second episode of Ozark for Decider.

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