‘Ozark’ Season 3 Moves With the High Pace of a Skilled Thriller and Never Relents

There’s no such thing as “slow burner” in the third season of Netflix’s “Ozark.” Still rich in atmosphere and the language of shady finances, this time around the narrative takes on a more feverish pace than its first two seasons. It’s always been an absorbing show, but with a sharper sense of where it’s going the ride is even better.

It’s been six months since the events of season two and Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman) and wife Wendy (Laura Linney) are now in the casino business. The Missouri Belle Casino is up and running with Ruth (Julia Garner) running the floor with her take no prisoners attitude. But while Marty seems bent on trying to run a clean business, Wendy is more than open to reinitiating their money laundering program. The issue comes to the forefront after a series of murders in Mexico bring back into their lives kingpin Omar Navarro (Felix Solis). With Navarro now waging a bloody turf war down south, his stone-cold lawyer Helen (Janet McTeer) starts applying low level pressure on the Byrdes to let him get a slice of their pie. If they start running money for him once more it expands his empire into legitimate enterprises while keeping them in his good graces. 

“Ozark” season three begins with that false sense of security that old criminals can somehow find a new, straight and narrow path. As you can already predict, that’s just never the cast, at least in TV land, and thankfully so because it makes for a fantastic, tense 10 episodes. With its grey cinematography, “Ozark” becomes something fresh and riveting this time around. It also continues to combine its laundering/gangland narrative with the trappings of a twisted domestic drama. Marty and Wendy are attending marriage counseling, with Wendy feeling unease over the therapist always seeming to team up with Marty. At home son Jonah (Skylar Gaertner) is running some kind of fake gold mining scheme that’s raking in $6,000 a week, but Wendy wishes he would get a regular summer job (good luck with that). Sister Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz) gives her brother a brand new drone as a gift, but of course he offers it up to mom and dad to use for their own schemes and protection. It’s all written with a sharp nonchalant attitude, assuming this is just the norm with a suburban family used to corruption. 

In this season the supporting characters are just as strong. Julia Garner, who recently was so good in the Harvey Weinstein-inspired drama “The Assistant,” finds a great new identity in this chapter running the casino floor, keeping out the unwanted while receiving fresh instructions from Marty. Some of her best scenes also involve Frank Jr. (Joseph Sikora), son of a Kansas City mobster who convinces Ruth to let him into the casino’s big, high stakes game. Lisa Emery has a memorable return as the jittery Darlene, who looks like a walking time, attending motherhood classes and slashing the tires of irritating classmates. She’s always wandering in the outskirts of the plot, but this season near the end takes on new dimensions and becomes more dangerous to everyone around her. We welcome when the narrative takes a break from the Byrde’s to follow her around with her snarling look, and how she just happens to be hiding a knife under her shirt at all times. 

“Ozark” has more mystery and less flash than fellow cartel shows like “Narcos” (which ironically is based on actual history). There are plenty of torture sessions this season, with lawyers and snitches getting water boarded, but the real suspense is in the numbers. Just listen to Laura Linney as she details to Jason Bateman the numbers for turning their casino into a laundering hub. The central FBI agent this season, Maya Miller (Jessica Frances Dukes) is sent to carry out an audit but will of course get pulled deeper into the Byrdes’ world. “Ozark” usually doesn’t get much attention for its dark sense of humor, but new characters bring a cynical chortle or two. Helen has a teenage daughter, Erin (Madison Thompson) who arrives desperate to lose her virginity over the summer. She will no doubt cross paths with unsavory situations and characters who will make it so, with terrible consequences. Wendy herself has a sibling, Ben (Tom Pelphrey), whose bumbling ways will put his sister in danger just as her and Marty embark on tricky new schemes involving the ultra-violent cartel world. 

“Ozark” season three opens with a slashing and bombing and pretty much keeps that pace for the rest of the season. Spoil nothing to others and enjoy it like an unfolding paperback. Watching the Byrdes try to get away with it again creates a particular kind of suspense because they are always so close to getting their own necks cut. The beauty of this show is we’re never quite sure if by the end they’ll make it, and then we find ourselves asking for more.

Ozark” season three begins streaming March 27 on Netflix.