The second season of Ozark, premiering on August 31st on Netflix, is a season of risk versus reward. The risk is at an all-time high, and the reward is far greater… provided the risk doesn’t kill the Byrde family first. Where the first season was about building, manipulating, and navigating a new world, the second season is about the damage done to others and the consequences of one’s actions, those consequences taking deep tolls. It’s a strong season, one that sets itself a good pace above its predecessor, and provides its cast and their characters a monumental crash of reality.
My feelings on the first season were mixed. There are pieces that certainly worked and some pitch black comedy that was much-needed at times, and the central performances of Jason Bateman and Laura Linney were excellent. But the show stumbled with its execution, at times bordering on the sadistic and telling more than it was showing. Bateman’s Marty Byrde constantly saying, “they’re gonna kill my family” over and over dried up any tension because repeating it so often took the air out of the threat. Julia Garner’s Ruth Langmore didn’t always work, her own threats more bark than bite, and her constant need to screw over a good situation seeming ill-advised. But near the end of the season her performance clicked and became something worthwhile as the drama gave Garner a lot more to work with. I wanted more care put into these characters and who they are, and the second season successfully does just that.
The second season of Ozark picks up where the first left off, expanding the story in a smart and far more engaging way. The idea of building a casino to launder all parties’ money becomes the central focus early on, allowing everyone a hand to play rather than leaving some on the sidelines. As most things do, this expands into different territory, playing on the idea that all bad deeds don’t go unpunished. The characters are pushed to some tough and devastating places, and while dark and unflinching at times, it’s told in a more confident and sure-footed way that left me far more engaged and enraptured with how the Byrdes would try to get out of the next plight.
Bateman continues to play his character as a lock-box of straight-faced determination, but with the weight of the first season and the demands and tribulations of the second, the cracks are more evident than ever. Bateman gets a lot more range this time, and in a later episode, gives a nearly heartbreaking performance. Marty is put through a lot, and it’s a miracle he made it this far with how kind and trusting he can be.
Linney’s Wendy Byrde, though, is the standout of the season. She is given a larger piece of the action, digging into her strengths, and, by doing so, playing straight to Linney’s own strengths. At one moment she can be kind and caring, but switch it to deceitful and ruthless in seconds. Pushing her political past into the forefront here leads to some backdoor deals and shady moves, Linney doing so effortlessly and far more effectively than how she was used before. The way she can make screwing someone over sound almost sweet is impressive, and Linney deserves a lot of praise for her work here. Wendy is fascinating to watch, and Linney does some great work in these ten episodes.
The Byrde kids were mostly miss than hit before, and here it is still the show’s weakness. There is some fun in son Jonah Byrde’s (Skylar Gaertner) entrepreneurial skills, but for the most part, the children’s contribution to the show stalls and leads to some unfortunate lulls.
The criminal characters continue to be a fun side to the show. Peter Mullan’s Jacob Snell and Lisa Emery’s Darlene Snell are wonderfully bizarre, principled and menacing, and they are given more to do to illustrate another side to them. Garner’s Ruth fits into the narrative in a smarter way, tying the Byrde and Langmore families together, although it felt a little repetitive with previous events. At least her sass is back, and no one is safe from it. Janet McTeer joins the cast as a lawyer involved in the Byrde’s business, little snippets adding layers to her character that could have been one-note, but she proves intriguing and enticing.
Jason Butler Harner as FBI Agent Roy Petty is just as snide and questionable this go-around, although accompanied by an air of superiority he gained by seemingly losing his mind. He’s constantly on shaky ground but tries to display confidence in his tactics, which leaves him more captivating and almost unnerving in the second season.
Some episodes, the fourth being the major standout, help elevate the season into a show on its way to being something special. It doesn’t stumble very often, making the right moves in its story to capitalize on its accelerated dangers. From that fourth episode onward, the show becomes about fixing things, and that type of focus leads the show down fascinating avenues that build on its foundation. It does falter a little, with some repeating beats in the last stretch, feeling a little too familiar and echoing things already played out, but that does not leave the ten episodes at a loss.
The show finally snapped out of its no-fun funk, where its dark and depressing tone could stretch to grating. Humor is found in the unlikeliest of places now, mostly from Harris Yulin’s Buddy, the dying man who owns the home the Byrdes live in and occupies the basement. He is almost like their protector, swooping in when there’s saving to be had or a little side job that gets him out of the house, always delivering crack-whip sarcasm at times when darkness is at hand. His absolute joy of doing some dirty work is so much fun, and he became an easy favorite of the season.
The first season looked quite good, but this season stepped up its game in the framing and flow of each shot. The show does a lot more with its composition and visual details, some images and shots rather striking. It still has a lot of green and blue hues to its color, which can lead to some dark or muted scenes, but it isn’t muddy or uninteresting to look at, and the directors stepped up their game.
After a fine but somewhat disappointing first season, I was going into Ozark’s second season hoping to like it, but not sure of what to expect. I ended up really liking it, close to loving it, and surprised at the moves made in its narrative. It’s a show about constant threat, and to have a balancing act take you down a path you didn’t expect is commendable. Netflix wanted prestige television, and in its second season it delivers that, bringing a solid show and in Linney, a performance that goes places.
Ozark is available for streaming on Netflix. All ten episodes of the second season premiere on August 31st.