Posts Tagged ‘ozark’

“Ozark” thoughts, Season One, Episode Ten: “The Toll”

August 14, 2017

Marty himself still feels odd. I think Jason Bateman (who directed the finale) has done fine work with the character, particularly during moments of rage; it’s hard to articulate, but Marty gets angry the way real people get angry, in concentrated but random bursts. Yet overall, Byrde reminds me of another business-whiz antihero whose show took a while to figure him out: Joe MacMillan, Lee Pace’s character from Halt and Catch Fire. During Halt‘s first season Joe felt more like a series of gestures in the direction of a person than an actual person. The comparison isn’t perfect — Joe was designed to be a larger-than-life, master-of-the-universe type whose secrets and foibles were just as grandiose as his ego and successes, and Marty is a much more low-key figure. On Halt, the supporting characters carried the weight until Joe could catch up, or more accurately until the writers figured him out. The powerful scenes in this episode involving Ruth and Wyatt dealing with Russ’s death, Charlotte and Jonah struggling with the idea of forming new lives under new identities without their father, and Agent Petty doing his best Michael Shannon in Boardwalk Empire as he explodes with rage after the failure to arrest Del, remind me of that dynamic.

I reviewed the season finale of Ozark, and wrote out some thoughts on the season as a whole, for Decider. In the end, despite problems like the one above, I found there was more to enjoy than not. I’m glad I watched it.

“Ozark” thoughts, Season One, Episode Nine: “Coffee, Black”

August 14, 2017

So I hope you’ll bear with me for a brief rant about Netflix and spoilers. I’ve never understood the contrarian contention that spoilers don’t matter at all. When I say spoilers matter, I’m not joining forces people who complain that the review they chose to read of a movie they haven’t watched yet contains some plot information. Nor am I basing the argument on stories that have nothing more going for them than some big twist, without which the drama is sucked out entirely. What I’m saying is that the rate and timing of plot information is an artistic decision, just like the casting or the editing or the soundtrack or the cinematography. Ideally, you’d learn what happens in the story when it happens in the story, as per the filmmakers’ design.

If you care about art in this way, Netflix’s “the whole season drops at once” model essentially mandates that you cram a show down your throat as fast as possible simply to avoid getting spoiled. As a business move, it’s very canny, since it creates the self-reinforcing impression that viewers can’t get enough of each show. And since most of their many, many, many original series arrive with no fanfare, by the time you hear enough about a new show to get interested, the people who happened to climb aboard right away are already talking about the finale. That spoilery video I mentioned above? It was uploaded just four days after the season debuted. Imagine watching a whole new season of Twin Peaks or Game of Thrones or The Leftovers that way. It’s insane!

I reviewed the penultimate episode of Ozark Season One — and also went off on a huge rant about spoilers and Netflix’s “whole season at once” compulsory-binge business model — for Decider. Don’t let that stop you from reading the thing, though — once again, the cast playing the Langmores do beautiful work here.

“Ozark” thoughts, Season One, Episode Eight: “Kaleidoscope”

August 14, 2017

Ozark depends on momentum. Not as much as our old breakneck-speed friend Breaking Bad did, of course. Nor even as much as the show it reminds me of the most, Mad Dogs — Shawn Ryan and Amazon’s one-season wonder about middle-aged city slickers who get hopelessly in over their heads with a Latin American drug cartel in a verdant coastal environment where none of them belong. But Ozark did establish its métier as early as the pilot: Marty’s going to keep escalating things, or other people will keep escalating things for him, to the point where the series will burn through more major antihero-drama plot points in an episode than other shows do all season.

So it’s a curious choice, after the emotional explosiveness of the previous episode, to do what Ozark does in its eighth installment, “Kaleidoscope.” Rather than continue the escalation in the present, the show flashes back ten years, revealing what happened to set Marty, Wendy, and (surprisingly) Agent Petty on their respective roads to psychological ruin.

I reviewed episode eight of Ozark for Decider. It’s a flashback episode that has its moments, but also enough missteps to make it a wash.

“Ozark” thoughts, Season One, Episode Seven: “Nest Box”

August 14, 2017

This is all prelude to the final sequence, which crosscuts between Marty and Wendy having a knock-down drag-out fight about their life together and Charlotte, exhausted after a long and arduous day during which she attempted to flee “home” to Chicago, nearly drowns in the dark lake. Marty is incensed to discover that Wendy has been making plans to return the kids to their hometown officially, which he reads as a run-up to her departure as well. In response, he blasts her with both barrels about her affair, rattling off all the moments she could have said “no” to her lover in a truly painful litany. Wendy tearfully responds that without any intimacy or affection from Marty, all of which dried up the moment they decided to launder drug money, there was no reason for her to say no. When he says that he’s only keeping her around out of “necessity, not desire,” she asks him why he didn’t simply let Del kill her when he had the chance, and Marty doesn’t even have an answer. All the while, Charlotte is struggling for air, and seemingly succumbs, only to regain her strength and launch herself back above the surface, the smile on her face indicating some sort of perverse exhilaration in this brush with death.

The sequence brings out the best in all three actors: Jason Bateman pushes his odd Type A energy into the red, Laura Linney gets to work with real desperation and trauma, and Sofia Hublitz continues to plumb the umpteenth sullen-teen-daughter character you’ve seen on prestige TV for new depths. No pun intended, honest — the fine work being done here is no joke.

I reviewed episode seven of Ozark for Decider. It really was the Langmores’ episode in many ways, as I describe for the bulk of the review, but this final sequence with Marty, Wendy, and Charlotte hit hard.

“Ozark” thoughts, Season One, Episode Six: “The Book of Ruth”

August 14, 2017

We’ll start with the title character, Ruth Langmore. After a visit to her imprisoned father, a true sociopath who literally tells her that murdering people feels good and that “a moron’s a different species than you and me—we got a right to take ‘em out,” she plans out an undetectable hit on Marty so that she and her family can finally loot what remains of his dwindling supply of as-yet-unlaundered cash. If you were expecting a change of heart or a face turn from this character, too bad: She one-hundred-percent goes through with the murder attempt, a dockside electrocution the authorities would likely blame on faulty wiring. Only the intervention of Agent Petty, who learns something’s up his boyfriend Russ Langmore, saves Byrde’s skin.

The result is a look on actor Julia Garner’s face that freezes the blood in your veins: Her wide eyes reflect shock, confusion, disappointment, regret, relief, and the nauseating feeling that she’ll have to go through with this all again, all at once. The follow-up to this failure — a fight she gets into about it with her uncles Russ and Boyd that leaves her with a black eye, which she shamefacedly allows an oblivious Wendy Byrde, herself a former abuse victim, to attend to the next day — hits hard too.

The other young pillar of the cast, Sofia Hublitz, has a powerful outing as Charlotte Byrde as well. I think it’s fair to criticize the the show’s juxtaposition of Wyatt Langmore, the gawky sensitive sci-fi outcast, against Zach, the much more conventionally attractive older guy Charlotte eventually goes for. It’s implicit dig at Charlotte’s judgement that doesn’t take into account the idea that being more attracted to a more attractive guy, one who’s never thrown you out of a moving boat for that matter, is a perfectly natural choice. Even so, the show’s handling of Charlotte’s first time with this Zach dude is impressively rooted in both the nervousness and the heat of the moment. When the pair retreat belowdecks on his boat, it’s clear to them both what’s about to happen. So she takes a bathroom break, and the camera shows each of them in turn, sighing and coming to grips with what’s about to happen. When they finally go for it, it’s a realistically intense and utilitarian process. (And if you’re gonna lose your virginity on some rich jock’s boat, “Black Beatles” isn’t the worst you can do for a soundtrack.)

And again, the follow-up is key. The dumbfounded look on Charlotte’s face, the childlike way in which she wordlessly shakes her head “no,” when she tracks Zach to the dry dock where Wyatt works and learns he left for the fall without telling her, is crushing in its vulnerability. So is the way she clings to Wendy afterwards, when her mom comes to comfort her without really knowing what it is she’s comforting her about.

I reviewed episode six of Ozark for Decider. Garner and Hublitz are very impressive actors.

“Ozark” thoughts, Season One, Episode Five: “Ruling Days”

August 8, 2017

My favorite thing about Ozark at this point are its little character-developing filigrees — offshoots from the main branch of the narrative in which the supporting players, or even the main ones, are given a chance to show new sides of themselves. Ruth, the show’s perpetual MVP, gets one of the best such mini-arcs in the episode. Given responsibility for the strip club during the Fourth of July holiday weekend by Marty, she immediately turns it into a money-making machine by bringing on new staff. When one of the previous strippers (Marty’s informant, in fact) complains and implies that Ruth was involved in Bobby Dean’s death because “we all know who your daddy is,” Ruth viciously beats her right in the middle of the club, then orders everyone else to get back to work because they’ve got money to make. When Marty sees how well she’s done with the place, he hands the day-to-day operations over to her entirely, and she quite uncharacteristically beams with pride. Yet she still tails him to the storage locker where he’s hiding the cash — but the look on her face indicates another uncharacteristic emotion, that of guilt. In a few short scenes we see the best and worst of this character, some manifestations of which we’ve never seen before at all. It’s deftly done.

I reviewed the fifth episode of the increasingly engaging Ozark for Decider.

“Ozark” thoughts, Season One, Episode Four: “Tonight We Improvise”

August 8, 2017

At this point, this willingness to let songs do the heavy lifting is an endemic problem for television. Westworld, Legion, Stranger Things, you name it: They can all take advantage of labels and artists who no longer have record sales to fall back on and must capitalize on any and all other available revenue streams by licensing pretty much any song they choose. I just want them to choose wisely.

I closed my review of Ozark’s fourth episode for Decider by ranting and raving about its lamely unimaginative use of the Rolling Stones’ “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” from Casino, but the rest of the episode was surprisingly good.

“Ozark” thoughts, Season One, Episode Three: “My Dripping Sleep”

August 8, 2017

While I hate to evaluate a show by comparing it to the show I want it to be, I can’t help but think how much more interesting Ozark would get if Ruth Langmore and her opposite number in the Byrde family, Charlotte, were the main characters rather than Marty and Wendy. Julia Garnerobviously has the breakout role of her career in the Langmore leader, who’s ferocious despite her youth and size, yet also shrewd and even tender despite her ferocity when the circumstances require it. And as Charlotte, Sofia Hublitz gets the Byrde family’s best material: Her attempts to fit into her new life by applying for a job or taking a smiling selfie for the ‘Gram in front of the Lake dissolve convincingly quickly, and her ability to suss out her mom’s real motive for spilling the beans about Marty’s criminality is as impressive in its way as Ruth’s own killer instincts. And hey, at the rate this series moves? Maybe Marty’s headed for Ned Stark territory, and it’ll be Charlotte and Ruth’s show to run before long anyway.

I reviewed the third episode of Ozark for Decider. No turnaround yet…

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

August 3, 2017

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.

“Ozark” thoughts, Season One, Episode One: “Sugarwood”

August 3, 2017

The final and most perplexing deviation from the antihero-drama norm involves Marty Byrde himself — his personality this time, not just his last name. Basically, Ozark takes the idea of the compellingly immoral protagonist and takes the “compellingly” out of the equation. Marty’s handsome and successful, but he has no charisma. His equivalent of a beguiling “Draper pitch” speech is a dreary opening soliloquy about how money isn’t everything, it’s the only thing or some shit to that effect, delivered to a young couple who don’t understand what he’s talking about any more than we do. He’s surrounded by violence, but he’s neither its perpetrator nor its primary victim. He’s not much of a family man, so you can’t really say “hmm, maybe he’s got a heart of gold despite it all.”

And while he seems as stressed out as first-season Walter White, he’s actually quite rich, so there’s no financial plight to sympathize with; moreover, he’s an asshole instead of a basically alright dude who slowly lets his inner asshole take over, so you don’t really empathize with him, or even like him, either. He barely manages five seconds of quasi-crying in an unguarded moment before he’s back on track. (Wendy and their daughter Charlotte, by contrast, share a hug over the unspoken trauma hanging over the family during an uncharacteristically moving moment.) It’s like if the main character of Game of Thrones were Stannis Baratheon, but without even the benefit of actor Stephen Dillane’s smoldering gritted-teeth resentment, since Bateman plays the part like he didn’t get enough sleep the night before. (Hell, he co-wrote and directed the episode, so maybe he didn’t!) The end result is that Marty is all anti, no hero.

In its own perverse way, this makes Ozark unusual. Does it make it interesting, or enjoyable? Like Marty, we’ll just have to hope that the whole thing is so crazy that it works.

I’m covering Ozark, Netflix’s show of the summer, for Decider! Here’s my take on the premiere.