When a Cartel War Comes to Town: A Review of OZARK Season 3, the Best Yet

Netflix’s hit series OZARK (Netflix, 2017 – Present) has taken the world by storm, and it continues to skyrocket with the release of its third season. It’s the perfect combination of drama and comedy, telling a compelling story of a family trying to survive. I have to admit, I originally wasn’t a fan of the show. A good friend of mine showed me the very first episodes a while back, but I just couldn’t get into it. While quarantining at home due to COVID-19, I hesitantly agreed to give OZARK another shot. I’m so incredibly glad I did. The show is absurdly good, with the third season being one of the best seasons of television I’ve seen.

The third season is a perfect extension of the show. It increases the stakes dramatically while staying faithful to what has come before. After deciding to stay in Missouri, Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman) continues to run the Missouri Belle Casino with the help of Ruth Langmore (Julia Garner), Wendy (Laura Linney) and the kids (Sofia Hublitz and Skylar Gaertner). But things begin to escalate as the Navarro Cartel’s brutal drug war makes its way to American soil.

The show really ramps up the tension in this season, which I didn’t think was possible with a show that’s already overflowing with it. A lot of this actually comes from Marty and Wendy’s marriage. By no means did they ever have a good marriage in the show. One of the first things shown is a raunchy video of Wendy having an affair. The affair does come to an end during the same episode, but only because Wendy’s lover is thrown off a balcony to his death. Ever since then, Marty and Wendy were never exactly on good terms. They briefly made up slightly, but this didn’t hold up for very long.

By the third season, Wendy is looking to assert herself into the business more. Marty has been the one in charge for the whole show. He’s the one who agreed to launder money for the cartel, and then dragged his family to the middle of nowhere in Missouri to save his own life. By the time season three rolls around, Wendy is ready to take some control. She starts trying to diversify their business holdings, and finds ways to launder money through legitimate means. This starts to be at odds with Marty’s plans. He’s the financial advisor who knows how to launder money. He wants to play it safe by doing what he’s always done. This direct conflict between the two creates a lot of the initial tension in the first half of the season, and it only manages to spiral out of control in spectacular fashion.

Another great example of character development in this season is the expanded role of Helen (Janet McTeer), the Navarro Cartel’s lawyer, and the introduction of Ben (Tom Pelphrey), Wendy’s brother. Helen takes on a much bigger role as she tries to manage the legal ramifications of the operation. She’s a fiercely strong woman who doesn’t take trouble from anyone, and oftentimes controls an entire scene with her calm and controlled demeanor. Ben, on the other hand, just brings trouble. After fleeing to the Ozarks to avoid the fallout of a violent incident, Ben threatens to derail everything the Byrdes have built as he’s slowly consumed by his inner demons. Ben and Helen are often at odds with each other, with Ben railing against the illegal business dealings and Helen trying to control him. This results in some of the most intense scenes in the series, ramping up the dread and tension more than it already has been so far this season.      

On another note, the cinematography in this new season is just superb. It manages to increase the tension tremendously without really needing to do much. The camera really picks up on a lot of patterns. It creates this eerie feeling of sameness, making a scene feel repetitive and almost normal. The normalcy feels at odds with the sense of dread that comes with the events that have happened at any given time.

What’s even more unnerving is that the characters are often framed in the center of the screen. Ask any film student and they’ll tell you that this is a major sin of filmmaking. You’re supposed to put characters at the edge of the frame, they’ll say, making them seem to be looking at each other during a conversation. But OZARK puts them dead center on screen. It feels as though they’re staring straight at you, daring you to question their actions. It’s something that’ll make you feel deathly uncomfortable.

While the whole show is brilliant, the third season of OZARK is where it really shines. It manages to take everything you love about the show, and elevate it to another level. The storytelling is brilliant, and the performances are phenomenal. Each actor is perfectly cast, and their characters grow and change in brilliant ways. It’s become one of the greatest shows of all time, and it provides a rollercoaster of emotion that you won’t ever forget.      

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