Just when you think the depiction of a dysfunctional family can not get any worse than the Gallagher family in the dark comedy series Shameless, the Byrde family comes along in the crime drama Ozark, showing the viewer how shameful an American family can become. Seriously, unlike Marty Byrde, Tony Soprano even held his family together, especially after his wife, Carmela, kicked him out of his own home.
The show was created by Bill Dubuque, who wrote the film The Accountant (2016), and co-wrote The Judge (2014), which the former’s story is closer to the show Ozark, but Jason Bateman’s character Marty Byrde is no assassin for hire. The man is actually a financial adviser for the average white-collar working family by day and by night, helps launder millions of dollars for the Navarro Drug Cartel. In the first episode, his partners are caught by the Drug Lord’s Lieutenant Camino Del Rio (Played by Esai Morales), skimming the profits and heading down to Mexico. When Marty Byrde’s closest associate, Bruce Liddell, confesses his and the other’s crimes against the Navarro Cartel, he states Byrde had nothing to do with it. Still, Del Rio decides to put them in barrels of acid anyway, saving Byrde for last, because when it comes to Mexican Cartels, they’ve heard of coincidences but never believe them. Marty Byrde only saves himself by pulling out a pamphlet his dead friend Liddell gave him when he mentioned that he was buying a vacation home in the Ozarks. Byrde somehow convinces Del Rio that he can launder millions in the Ozarks, thus beginning the story of the sins of the Byrde family.
When I first began watching Ozark I had little faith it would impress me as much as Breaking Bad, but, honestly, by the end of the last season, it stood on its own foundation built by the show’s amazing talent — from the writers to the performances of its actors. And I’d like to mention that by the end of the series, its story truly emphasized the fact that the real-life endless Drug War, which began in the early 1970s has rabid dogs on both sides of the fence, and just because they bark, doesn’t mean they don’t know where the holes in the fence are to go through and bite complete strangers. The Navarro Cartel may make deals for money to control Mexican politicians, but the FBI does it for promotions and political influence.
It reminded me of a line in the film Get The Gringo (2012), starring Mel Gibson, “Look, you’re corrupt, we’re corrupt. There’s one difference. We’re honest about it.”
The story of the Byrde family in the show Ozark depicts the American Sin, where the entire family is in on the corruption of an almost innocent American community. I say “almost,” because there is the Snell family, Jacob(Peter Mullan) and Darlene(Lisa Emery), who produce heroin from organic poppy plants, and distribute it too much of the midwest by putting a kilo inside a certain Bibles distributed at an outside church held on the lake of the Ozarks. Spoiler Alert: Jacob doesn’t make it past season 2 because Darlene poisons him. She’s a scary, cunning woman no human should underestimate.
There’s also the Langmore family, who may all be petty criminals, but they’re angels compared to the Byrdes. I think they represent what a typical family is when hardly any of them are perfect. The alpha of the family is the true star of the entire series, Ruth Langmore (played brilliantly by Julia Garner), who may not be educated academically in the slightest, but manages to outweigh most of the characters with her hustler strategies and street-smart brilliance. When it comes to her family, she only has respect for those who deserve it, like for her cousin Wyatt (Charlie Tahan), who’s the only one with potential for a college education in the Langmore family. Of course, Ruth’s choices in life lead her down a path where she is destined for failure, because a life of crime is hardly ever perfect.
The Byrde family, on the other hand, are the complete opposites of the Langmores. They have the faces of angels but the minds of the devil. Just because the matriarch, Wendy Byrde (brilliantly played by the legend Laura Linney) gives you a friendly smile and a soft handshake, doesn’t mean she won’t stab you in the back once you turn away. There are moments when I really hated the character. Was it when her actions would cause Marty Byrde to figuratively get on his knees in frustrating obedience? Not really; he deserved it. Was it when she tried to control and punish her son Jonah Byrde(Skylar Gaertner) after he began laundering drug money just like his father? No, because she was actually a good mother at that point. Spoiler: The one moment when I hated Wendy Byrde was when she allowed to have her brother, Ben Davis (Tom Pelphrey) killed after he suffered a Bipolar manic episode where he confronted the cartel lawyer Helen Pierce(Janet McTear) and blathered about the lawyer’s involvement in the illegal drug trade right in front of her daughter. Though there is no violence shown, the moment Wendy Byrde abandons her brother Ben to die at the hands of a Navarro Cartel assassin was very hard for me to witness; I got emotional and had to turn off Netflix for a day. That has never happened to me before, which shows how good the show got at some points.
Though the explanation for Ben Davis’ bipolar manic episode was haphazardly done — not taking his one medication so he could perform intimacy with Ruth Langmore — Tom Pelphrey, who played Ben Davis, accurately portrayed what a manic episode looks like from the outside. I can say from my own personal experience that I’ve been in Ben’s shoes when he sat in the backseat of a taxi cab, basically ranting incoherently about almost everything and anything that came to his mind. The writing and Tom Pelphrey’s performance were brilliant, and it’s almost a crime the actor did not get an Emmy nomination for the performance.
Is the show Ozark as good as Breaking Bad, or The Sopranos? No, but it is close. Its themes are similar to a good teacher losing control and becoming greedy after cooking meth in a mobile home, or an Italian American basically born into a lifestyle as old as America itself. Ozark’s themes are that of one man’s choice to join the forces of evil crime and make the rest of his family a part of it. One sin in the Byrde family is not like an uncontrollable disease past down genetically. It’s shared willingly and cherished as long as the hands holding it has calloused souls.
The last image of Marty and Wendy Byrde before the last episode of the series ended was a perfect one; they were almost smiling at the demise of their child’s innocents.
I give the show an 8/10. It does leave me wanting more at the end, but like The Sopranos‘s series finale, the audience doesn’t always get what it wants.