The floating casino is open, a charitable foundation has been started and Wendy and Marty Byrde have begun going to a marriage counselor. But the big news in “Ozark” is the arrival of Wendy’s brother.
With an hair-trigger personality and a willingness to say anything, Ben Davis (Tom Pelphrey) is the wild card these gamblers didn’t think they’d be dealt. Quickly discovering what the Byrde family business is, he becomes a player with Ruth (Julia Garner), Marty’s right-hand operative, and a combatant with Wendy (Laura Linney), who insists he needs to be on medication.
Pelphrey is such a surprise even Helen Pierce (Janet McTeer), the cartel attorney, doesn’t know what to make of him.
In several episodes of the Netflix drama, Pelphrey dominates and pulls you into his situation. When he and Linney share time on the road, you just wish they’d go through the drive-thru and pick up their Emmys. They’re both that good.
The third season starts slower than the other two, but that’s because the casino, the Missouri Belle, is just getting started. Other family businesses (remember them?) are ignored or saved for later use. On the Belle, Ruth is calling the shots and helping the Byrdes launder money for the Mexican drug cartel.
FBI agents think they have a deal with Marty (Jason Bateman), but nothing is what it seems in this dark, ever-shifting place.
Darlene Snell (Lisa Emery) doesn’t want the “real” locals to be shut out of any business dealings, so she forms her own partnerships and issues her own demands.
As much as their parents have tried to keep them out of the business, Jonah (Skylar Gaertner) and Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz) are key to their family’s ability to tip a table or two. Without them (and Jonah’s stealth moves), they might have been floating down the lake long ago.
McTeer looms throughout the 10 episodes, constantly threatening the Byrdes with taunts from Omar Navarro (Felix Solis), the leader of the Mexican drug cartel. Eventually, they get to cut out the middle woman, but it’s not easy getting by her. She has tentacles throughout the resort community and isn’t afraid to stretch.
The season’s oddest addition is Sue Shelby (Marylouise Burke), the Byrde’s therapist. She hears plenty, knows more and isn’t afraid to be the Joker when needed.
Still, the deck is stacked against the fledgling money launderers. How they maneuver around their detractors is still “Ozark’s” biggest strength.
Couple that with the one-two punch of Linney and Pelphrey , and this is a compelling season worth binging. The producers’ brilliant way of paralleling brother/sister stories shows “Ozark” isn’t in for a quick season of fun. It’s willing to go all in on the deepest recesses of human relationships.
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