Paul Asay

TV Series Review

The Byrdes are in the cleaning business. Money laundering, that is.

Oh, to most of the world, Marty and Wendy Byrde don’t look like tools for a ruthless Mexican cartel. Marty was a fairly successful financial advisor in Chicago for years, while Wendy helped guide local political campaigns. But around 2007, Marty and his under-the-table business partner, Bruce, started lining their wallets with cartel cash.

Everything was going quite swimmingly until the cartel learned that Bruce was skimming some of that newly laundered money. So the outfit promptly (ahem) terminated him (and his fiancée, for good measure). The cartel spared Marty’s life, but with a relocation to the popular, quietly lawless enclave of Osage County, Missouri—not too far from Branson. All the water and cash that flow through the county should wash all that cartel cash clean of its dirty drug entanglements. Or so goes the theory.

The blood? Well, that’s harder to scrub away.

What Happens in Ozark, Stays in Ozark?

Season 3 finds the Byrdes still alive, remarkably. And their new riverboat casino (The Missouri Belle) is doing surprisingly good—and legal—business. And really, the Byrdes should be right at home on its polished decks: When you’re working for a cartel losing a nasty turf war, every day is a bit of a gamble.

Marty wants to play the odds, to keep the cartel and its boss, Navarro, happy. Tokeep the FBI off his back. To keep himself and his family—savvy and thoughtful teen Charlotte and reclusive teen-to-be Jonah—alive. And keep, if possible,  to keep his struggling marriage to Wendy afloat and functional.

But Wendy knows that the status quo isn’t any guarantee of real security. She wants the Byrdes to become a bigger part of the cartel’s operations—not through laundering more money, but by helping to diversify Navarro’s business into more legal channels. The Byrdes, naturally, would be Navarro’s public front stateside: respected, stable members of the community secretly taking orders from one of Mexico’s most vicious drug lords.

“Expansion makes us a political player,” Wendy insists. “It insulates us, and that keeps us safe.”

But does it? The number of bodies that pile up around the Missouri Belle seem to suggest otherwise.

In the Swamp

Like FX’s 2013-18 show The Americans (in which a pair of Soviet spies were just as concerned about their kids as they were stealing state secrets) Ozark is something of a twisted family show. The Byrdes do their best to keep their own kids out of the family business, and they’re determined to protect them at almost all cost.

But apart from that protective parental instinct, as well the show’s aesthetic quality (it’s been nominated for 14 Emmys), Ozar’s list of positives ends there.

Though Ozark does have moments of dark levity, the show is grim and profane and oh so violent. People die, and sometimes in pretty terrible ways. Sex and nudity can be in the offing, too. And the language … well, let’s just say if f-words were one-pound weights, the Missouri Belle would soon be on the river bottom.

A new in-show commercial for the Missouri Belle has a smiling Marty and Wendy Byrde beckoning viewers to enjoy themselves on their floating casino. “We like your odds!” They say cheerfully. Their own odds, naturally, are pretty long. And your own odds—if you’re looking for a show that offers a hint of inspiration or morality, even in the muck—are akin to playing Powerball.

Episode Reviews

March 27, 2020: “Wartime”

The Season 3 premiere opens in Mexico, where an apparent delivery man stabs the hand of a shopkeeper, then slits his throat. (The blood sprays across a number of tiny white confirmation dresses.) He then ties up a couple of guys counting money and straps a bomb to them. When the bomb explodes, the cash goes flying, and civilians outside flock to the floating currency. The delivery man then plants a second bomb and walks away. The screen goes dark as we hear the blast, and later, Wendy reads a headline telling her (and us) that 37 people died in the explosion.

We see plenty of other images of dead bodies (and body parts) on computer screens—evidence of a bloody cartel war that Navarro, the Byrdes’ employer, is losing. We watch as a cartel lackey is being waterboarded. A woman slashes another woman’s tire. A young man—squatting in someone else’s house—is Tased. Another guy gets hit in the crotch and is physically thrown off a boat. Wendy tries to sell Navarro on a scheme by suggesting, “You might very well be dead in six months,” and adding that he needs to think about passing on some legal businesses to his children.

A male FBI agent questions Marty. The agent then tells him that he dated another male agent—who died in the last season—for a while, suggesting that taking Marty’s operation down is deeply personal for the guy. A man uses a bong while taking a bubble bath. (We see him from the waist up.) When Marty and Wendy’s son, Jonah, is given a drone by his sister, Marty makes sure he’s not making any “drone porn.”

Marty and Wendy go to marriage counseling, and Marty pays the counselor under the table to side with him. Wendy breaks into her and Marty’s old house and performs small acts of vandalism (putting food coloring in the milk and turning a painting upside down). We hear references to “smoking weed” and huffing paint while pregnant. We see and hear plenty of gambling. The son of a crime lord is described as a drunk, with someone claiming that she smells the liquor on him at 10 a.m. People drink beer, champagne, whiskey and cocktails. We see Marty’s scheme for laundering money under the FBI’s collective nose.

Characters use the f-word about 45 times during the hour-long episode, the s-word eight times and also utter “a–,” “b–ch,” “g-dd–n” and “p–s.” Jesus’ name is abused twice.

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Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

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