'Ozark' Review: White Family Launders Drug Money for Mexican Cartel

The Byrdes: Charlotte, Jonah, Wendy and Marty (via Netflix)

Cartels are the new gangsters and TV and movie producers have noticed, responding with with hardcore series like Breaking Bad, Narcos and Ozark, which just ended it's four-season run on Netflix with the proverbial bang.

Ozark was the latest to capitalize on the crisis facing Mexico, where cartels rampage through the country. On May 23, 11 people were killed in Guanajuato as warring cartels battle for control of the state.

Ozark slowly dips its toes into this dangerous situation. Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman) and Wendy Byrde (Laura Linney) move from Chicago to Missouri, where they set up shop in the Lake of the Ozarks area. They launder drug money for the Mexican cartel run by Omar Navarro (Felix Solis). This article includes spoilers for those who have yet to watch the 44 episodes.

Ozark is a drug story without a lot of drug use. Daughter Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz) smokes pot with friends in Seasons 2 and 3. Marty questions Charlotte about her use in Season 2, Episode 2. "You understand you might say something wrong when you're high," he cautions, then says to Wendy, "I don't mind if she smoke a little weed. I just wonder what she's going to say when she smokes it."

That's because their life is one big lie. The Byrdes lie to everyone in order to not run afoul of Navarro, who calls them often making impossible demands. By Season 3, Wendy asserts herself and starts making important decisions with or without Marty's support. She gradually becomes a formidible queenpin. 

However, there are many flies in the ointment, starting with Ruth Langmore (Julia Garner), the feisty local who partners with the Byrdes before she makes her own questionable moves. This will eventually lead to her death, as it does to so many others. The death toll in Ozark is staggering.

The Snells (Lisa Emery and Peter Mullan), who own the property where the Byrdes negotiate to build a casino (to launder money through), do not survive the onslaught, nor do Wendy's brother Ben (Tom Pelphrey); Navarro, his nephew Javi (Alfonso Rivera) and attorney Helen (Janet McTeer); Ruth's father Cade (Trevor Long), uncle Russ (Marc Menchaca, cousin Wyatt (Charlie Tahan) and herself.

But it's mainly about what the constant pressure of working for a cartel can do to a family. Marty and Wendy, already on shakey ground after she had an affair in Chicago, are constantly arguing and their lives are often in immediate danger. In Season 3, Charlotte seeks emancipation from her parents (she doesn't go through with it) and, in Season 4, her younger brother Jonah (Skyler Gaetner) betrays the family.

Ruth, the beating heart of the series, becomes the anti-hero, the tough Ozarkian who doesn't take shit from anyone and goes out valiantly.

No one in Ozark is left unscarred, most of all the Byrdes. But they made their own bed, knew what they were doing and deserve no synpathy. They're gangsters like their Mexican counterparts, just White and protected. Intelligence is a form of survival in the cartel world. It helps when the DEA and FBI are hot on your heels.

All three lead actors - the cool, calculating Bateman; the driven, risk-taking Wendy; and the courageous, capitvating Ruth - have won awards before and surely will receive more for the engrossing 14-episode final season.

Ozark goes out on a high, so to speak. It's better to wrap up the series before it gets stale. Now, onto the next cartel story.


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Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of CelebStoner.com, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.