In its third season, Ozark has become one of the most wildly compelling dramas on television, and now critics are finally catching on to what audiences knew all along. When it first premiered in a post-Breaking Bad world, the show struggled to be taken seriously. Critics largely dismissed the Netflix drama, but as time went on it became a massive sleeper hit for the streaming service and audiences became passionate. It became the one show that every single Emmy voter wanted to talk about as I made my way throughout Emmy season. It’s clear that Ozark has always been a show propelled by passionate fans and now finally catching up. Premiering last Friday, the third season is by far its best reviewed season jumping 19 points on Metacritic and a near perfect 95 on Rotten Tomatoes.
The reason for this is because they’ve confidently zeroed in on what makes the show so fun. Instead of focusing on Marty, Jason Bateman takes a backseat in the director’s chair and gives the incredible ensemble room to shine while still delivering a great grounded leading role. Ruth (Emmy-winner Julia Garner) finally finds love in between kicking someone off a boat and running around with a gun twice her size. Janet McTeer’s Helen is as menacing as ever with a wardrobe to die for. And then there’s Laura Linney. Laura fucking Linney. With a career that spans nearly three decades, this might go down as the performance that defines her career and enters the Emmy race as a major contender.
“You can’t fuck with the children of powerful people.”
Ozark has always been a show that plays with the idea of family, but in the third season, it really goes all-in on deconstructing the sacrifices we make to keep each other safe. This is explored through a lot of different ways throughout the new season; Marty and Wendy fully opening up to their kids versus Helen’s desperate attempt to keep her daughter in the dark, Darlene’s obsession with legacy, Ruth’s attempts to protect her two cousins, and the discovery of Wendy’s sole emotional kryptonite, her brother.
If the first season highlighted Jason Bateman and the second season brought Julia Garner her first Emmy, then the third is by far the season of Laura Linney’s Wendy. In what might be the performance of the year, Linney is nothing short of extraordinary. She taps into Wendy’s ruthlessness and her recklessness in a way that I don’t think the creative team even knew was a possibility. With a career that’s already led to three Oscar nominations and four Emmys (while only ever losing two), this might go down as one of her best performances, and I will be shocked if she isn’t at the forefront of the upcoming lead actress race.
Towards the end of the second season, we see Wendy Byrde begin to crack as she fully embraces her new life. We see her become ruthless in her quest for power. In a conversation with her brother, she turns to him and very clearly says, “I could still be a big deal.” In that moment, she lays it all out on the table. What she is chasing, all of her resentments, everything.
Throughout the ten episode arc, Linney is given material most working actors only ever dream of. Her scenes with the Janet McTeer’s menacingly chilling Helen play like candy. In the season finale, she goes toe to toe with Julia Garner in a moment that left me in shock. However, nothing comes close to her in therapy argument with her onscreen husband in a scene that says more about marriage than the entirety of certain other films.
It all leads up to the season’s penultimate episode, “Fire Pink,” the best of the season and quite possibly the one that will go down as the one that defines the show when all is said and done. For the first time, the Byrds are truly in a lose-lose situation and the first one that they know they can’t scheme their way out of. Wendy is forced to make a shocking decision, a heart-wrenching decision. It’s material that in the hands of a lesser actor could come across as over-the-top, but in the hands of Linney it became of the finest hours of television this season. The race for the lead actress Emmy is insanely competitive this year, but Laura Linney has proven that this just might be hers to lose.
With all that being said, there are a handful of missteps throughout the third season that I can’t tell how they will impact viewer and voter reactions. Halfway through the season, a shocking and borderline grotesque May-December romance and sex scene appears. It felt like it was introduced for shock factor and was never able to build upon that. Ozark is also a show that excels when it deconstructs the family unit, not when it broadens out into the larger cartel narrative.
In its third season, Ozark is the strongest it has ever been. This is the season that has the opportunity to pull in an even bigger audience and finally win over critics.
There is no doubt that Ozark will continue to be a major Emmy contender. This is by far the best season of a show that only continues to become more popular. In a strange and unfortunate manner, Ozark might be one of the only shows that benefits from the entire industry being shut down. As thousands of voters look for something to keep them occupied in isolation, the third season lands ready to be devoured. Momentum will certainly build but the real question is by how much?
Last year the sophomore season scored nine nominations, including its two wins for Julia Garner’s supporting performance and Jason Bateman’s direction proving that the show is popular enough to beat out a juggernaut like Game of Thrones. Voters nominated the Ozark team across the board for its performances, direction, sound mixing, picture editing, production design, and casting.
If the third season is going to earn even more nominations, where exactly is that going to happen? Nine nominations is already a lot for a show that isn’t a big budget epic. Still, nominations for its sound editing, cinematography, or even its eerie original score aren’t out of the question.
We could also see a boom in the number of acting nominations for its ensemble. Jason Bateman, Julia Garner, and Laura Linney are certain to return but who could stand out beyond that? Double Oscar nominee Janet McTeer delivers a terrifyingly delicious turn as her character Helen becomes a central figure, and we know how much voters love a villain in the supporting races.
The performance that’s already catching buzz is the season’s newcomer, Tom Pelphry. Appearing out of nowhere as Wendy’s volatile brother, he pummeled through the season like a tornado romancing Ruth, tormenting the Byrde family, and challenging Helen. Ben is also a character suffering from bi-polar disorder and Pelphry’s performance is going to leave his peers in the Television Academy in awe. The only question is whether or not he can stand out in a crowded field of well-known and beloved names.
So far we’ve seen Ozark win over just about every peer group within the Television Academy with one major exception, the writer’s branch. The Netflix drama has yet to be nominated for its writing, but that isn’t necessarily intentional. The first two seasons received recognition from the WGA (nominations for new series and episodic writing). This year it may not be able to beat out the writing teams for The Crown and Succession, but if they submit the penultimate episode “Fire Pink,” then they stand a good shot at their first nomination. It’s a heartbreaking episode that draws obvious inspiration from Of Mice and Men.
Now we’ll have to wait and see. There’s already a lot of buzz for the third season as fans react in real time across social media. We’ll have to see if that excitement is sustained over the next couple of months. My gut tells me it will and that we might be getting ready for a very successful year for Ozark.
Directing for a Drama Series
Lead Actor in a Drama Series (Jason Bateman)
Lead Actress in a Drama Series (Laura Linney)
Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Drama Series
Sound Mixing for a Comedy or Drama Series (One Hour)
Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (Julia Garner)
Casting for a Drama Series
Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series (One Hour)
Production Design for a Narrative Contemporary Program
Sound Editing for a Comedy or Drama Series (One Hour)
Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (Janet McTeer)
Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (Tom Pelphry)
Writing for a Drama Series