Everything You Need to Know About 'Ozark' Before Season 3, As Explained By My Mom

Certain shows are just for your parents. It doesn't come from an objective generational gap, but individual family circumstance. There are shows I watch in common with my parents, but also some where, perhaps because of some way they described it once, come to be associated with the split between parent and child. The show becomes forbidding—right now, I'm flashing on how I could hear The X-Files theme playing from my childhood bedroom. But while watching The X-Files as an adult gives me an exciting frisson, as if I'm somehow breaking the rules, the shows my parents watch now will always have a higher hurdle to clear.

Currently, the most "for my parents" show—for my particular parents, at least—is Netflix's Ozark. (It's worth noting that the only universal parent show is Ray Donovan. Has anyone under the age of 50 ever gotten really into Ray Donovan?)

Ozark returned on Friday with its third season, so I turned to my mom, Tamara Whalen, for some insight into its appeal and to catch up on what happened in the first two seasons. Just so I wouldn't be completely without context, I watched the first and final episodes of Ozark season 1. My questions and responses are in bold, explanatory context is in italics, but everything else is Tammy.

If you're not interested in familial gimmickry and just want to know what happened in Ozark season 2, this article will be much more helpful.

Now, even though I'm the one asking most of the questions, let's start with the first thing my mother asked me about Ozark: "Did you hate it?"

No, I liked it.

Okay, because all your friends were telling you it was stupid.

Who was telling me it was stupid?

When it first came out and I was obsessed with it and I told you to watch and you said, "No, all my friends said that it was stupid."

I don't think that—a lot of people said that it was fine. It just seemed like a Breaking Bad knockoff, which it still seems like to me. It just seems like a slightly worse Breaking Bad to me.

I haven't seen Breaking Bad.

Breaking Bad's fun, but I was surprised by how much darker this was! It's very serious. Anyway, first question, wait, what the hell, my recorder—

Am I being recorded?!

Yeah, but I'm not going to share the audio, it's just so I can transcribe it, instead of taking notes the whole time.


So my first question is: What is Ozark?

What do you mean, "What is Ozark?"

What is it?

You mean what is the show? Well, it's about Jason Bateman trying to get out of a very bad scrape he has with a Mexican cartel. He made a bargain to save his life: that he would launder money for them. And he did that by escaping to the Ozarks... Why isn't it called Ozarks?

I don't know, that's a good question.

So, he did that by escaping to the Ozarks, where he claimed there would be plenty of opportunity to launder money for them.

In the first episode of Ozark, "Sugarwood," Marty Bryde (Jason Bateman) is nearly executed by Del (Esai Morales), a Mexican cartel operative for whom Marty launders money—at least until Marty's business partner gets caught skimming off the top, which leads to Del killing everyone. Marty is only spared because he improvises a bold plan to launder money through tourist businesses on the shores of the sprawling Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri, a place he knows nothing about, beyond the tourist pamphlet he had crumpled in his pocket from a conversation earlier that day.

Who are some of the other important characters on Ozark?

Well, his wife Wendy [played by Laura Linney] is equally evil, if not more. There's the poppy growers, what's their name? The Snells, that's who they are. Then there's Buddy (Harris Yulin), who lives downstairs. There aren't many bit characters—everybody to me is equally important, because they're so intertwined.

As Marty ramps up his money laundering by investing in local businesses and cooking their books, the local criminal element begins to assert itself, beginning with the trailer-dwelling Langmore clan.

What about the Langmores, can you tell me about the Langmores?

Ruth [played by Julia Garner] is very smart, very cunning, very clever. Wyatt [played by Charlie Tahan] is flat-out very intelligent, but Ruth has very good street smarts. She's very good at crime and figuring out how to do criminal activities—she excels at that. So she's very, very street-smart and Wyatt's very, very book-smart. [Ruth's] dad and uncle and Three (Carson Holmes), I think they're kind of a product of their environment there. All they've ever known is a life of petty crime and trying to scam people, but I think Ruth is many steps above the rest of them.

She may be young, but Ruth Langmore (Julia Garner) proves to be a ruthless criminal ally in the first two seasons of 'Ozark.' Netflix

Marty, that's Jason Bateman, is he likable or are we supposed to think he's a creep? How do you feel about Marty?

I love him. It's that dark part that just makes me laugh, how he's always just really flat [emotionally], you know? And he just deals with everything. I don't feel like his character ever develops much throughout either season, no matter how it progresses. He's just always that real calculated accountant and you can just tell in his mind he always has excuses and ways to fix things. I like him. Something comes up in season 2: Marty tries to get them out of this mess and Wendy won't let him.

Oh, that's interesting. But before we move on to season 2, I wanted to ask you about the part from season 1 that made me most uncomfortable, which was when he recreated...

The scene with her? Yeah, that was horrible. That was terrible.

Marty's move to the Ozarks in the first episode of the series is made even more complicated because just before they pack up and move, Marty discovers that Wendy's been having a long-running affair. He finds out from a private detective that he's hired, who sends Marty a video of Wendy having sex with another man in a hotel room. Things get cleaned up quickly when the cartel kills Wendy's mister, but the repercussions for their married life play out throughout the first season. Shortly after they've partially reconciled, Marty recreates what happens in the sex tape, right down to the spanking rhythm.

That was really creepy.

But! But was he lying when he said, "Well, I thought you'd like it"? Was he just trying to make her feel godawful?

I assume he was trying to make her feel awful!

Well, he said, "I thought you'd like it!"

Marty (Jason Bateman) and Wendy Byrd (Laura Linney) start off estranged, but criminal conspiracy can work wonders for a couple. Netflix

He's a psychopath. He freaks me out.

I think he's really hurt and tries to get even with her for quite a while, but I do think he eventually forgives her and then he really is trying to save his family as time goes on. I do think he lets go of some of that anger. And then actually he, towards the end, is kind of amazed at how evil she is, and her ability to get them out of some scrapes. She becomes very savvy about getting them out of scrapes as well, and actually becomes more maniacal than him. But I do like him. I like him because I just think he's a good actor. I enjoy watching him.

What would you say is the most important moment from the first season?

When Ruth electrocutes her uncles. I thought that was pretty dramatic. She was going to murder Marty, but then she started to respect him and they became partners in crime. So instead of killing him off, she killed her uncles.

Worried that her less criminally capable uncles might be providing information to the FBI and that they're planning to kill Marty, Ruth wires a boat dock to electrocute them—a murder plot that she herself was actually determined to carry out against Marty, earlier in the first season.

Oh, that was another part I really liked in the first season. Someone from the cartel enters their home and—what's the son's name? Jonah [played by Skylar Gaertner], yeah. He's getting into shooting and hunting, but anyway, somebody from the cartel enters their home and Jonah's standing there with a gun and Wendy nods her head, telling her son to kill him, but Buddy kills him instead, so the little boy doesn't have to. That was a really good scene.

At the end of the first season, Marty arranges a sit-down between the Mexican cartel and the local Snell crime family. Together, they concoct a plan to open a casino to launder money and benefit both of their drug operations, but the meeting falls apart after Darlene Snell (Lisa Emery) kills Del after he calls her a redneck.

That reminds me of another thing I meant to ask about going from season 1 to season 2. One of the big threads is that when Del shows up, Marty is worried they're going to be pissed that they killed that cartel guy, but then Del ends up getting killed. So, does the cartel end up coming back or getting any revenge in season 2? What are the repercussions?

So, the Snells have their guy, their farmhand [Ash, played by Michael Tourek], who does everything for them and does all their dirty work. He helps them on their poppy farm and he was the one who was distributing drugs through the church. The Snells are really close to him, but, well, the Dad Snell has to kill him as reparation for Darlene killing Del.

And that satisfies the cartel?

It did, for some odd reason, yeah, it did.

Did the cartel send someone new? A new Del?

They do. It's their lawyer [Helen Pierce, played by Janet McTeer]. She's good. She comes and they deal with her for the rest of the season. She tortures people and stuff, she's equally ruthless. She sees how evil Wendy is and she's complimenting her and, well, not grooming her, but you can tell Wendy is going to become an absolute psychopath by season 3.

More generally, what is season 2 about?

There are parts that drag and I lost a little interest, but it's them trying to pass bills and change legislation so that they could raise the number of casinos allowed in the state, so they can build another casino. It's mainly Wendy, because she used to work in politics. It's her blackmailing and using different people to get this legislation passed so they can build this other casino. That's when the Kansas City Mob get involved.

Marty and Buddy go to meet with them and Marty says, "If you'll support me, I will exclusively use union workers to build the casino." He ends up promising the Kansas City mob he'll use them exclusively to build the casino and he doesn't, so they end up blowing up his office building.

So, season 2 was getting the casino up and running. The Feds end up almost busting Marty and Wendy and the Snells, so the Snells burn their poppy fields, trying to hide evidence. And then there was this one scene I'm having trouble remembering, but it was ridiculous. The Feds start digging up the Snells property, looking for bones, like the preacher's wife and Del and all these other people they killed. So one night, Marty digs up all these bodies and replaces them with ancestor bones. I mean, it was ridiculous. That part was crazy and kind of unrealistic, him digging up bones so they'd look legit, like they were actual ancestors and yada yada yada.

But it's more about trying to get this casino going, and then the real shocker towards the end is that the Snell woman, the crazy lady, becomes really crazy. She just goes off the wall. Her husband ends up going on a walk and he's planning to kill her, but she was way ahead of him and she poisons him, so he dies on the walk. That was kind of how the season ended. Now that Jacob Snell [played by Peter Mullan] is dead, she refuses to let the casino proceed, so they are trying to negotiate with her. But they do get the casino up and running, because they give her the preacher's baby.

In the first season, Marty gets entangled with the Snells after unknowingly disrupting their drug network, which relies on floating boat church services put on by an unwitting local pastor. The pastor [played by Michael Mosley] tries to stand up to the Snells, which results in his wife's murder.

Gross, okay.

Yeah, they give her the preacher's baby. and that's all kind of ridiculous how that happens, but it does. So she's pacified with this baby. And Marty does it without Wendy knowing. It's heart wrenching, it's horrible. At the end, Marty has this escape plan for them, with this plane all arranged for everybody to leave once the casino is open and everybody is satisfied that their money will continue to get laundered efficiently.

He's got their escape planned and Wendy says she's not going, because now she's liking this life of crime. She's seeing more dollar bills and thinks they might be okay. She refuses to go with him and thinks there will be a future with them operating their own kind of cartel.

What's the most violent thing that happens in season 2?

I think it's probably when Marty and Wendy kill the pastor.

Oh no.

Yeah, they kill the pastor after he kidnaps Wendy. That part and also when Darlene is going off the deep end. She poisons their opium, because they struck a deal with the Mexican cartel to sell their heroin to the cartel and then the cartel would distribute it. But she was mad because Ash got killed, so she taints their own heroin to make it look like the Mexicans were distributing bad heroin. That was disturbing.

So what are the stakes at the end of season 2 that they set up for season 3?

In the last episode, the casino opens and Wendy refuses to go with Marty, so either they're all going to stay in the Ozarks and continue this life, or, you don't know if Marty is going to leave without her and try to take the kids.

Something that happens in both seasons is that Ruth and Marty get tighter and tighter. And Ruth gets waterboarded...


Yeah, because the cartel needs to confirm that, well, it's a long story, but the Feds end up talking to Ruth and the cartel sees that, so they're worried she's speaking to the Feds, and so they waterboard her to find out. By the end, she's running a lot of Marty's operation; she's running his strip joint and stuff like that. So they waterboard her to make sure she's not telling anything to the Feds.

At the end of 'Ozark' Season 2 the new riverboat casino is open, but the Byrds aren't out of trouble yet. Netflix

Speaking of the Feds, how's the FBI guy Roy Petty [played by Jason Butler Harner] doing? Is he catching up with them?

He dies. He gets mixed up with Ruth's dad, Cade [played by Trevor Long], who was in prison in the first season. He goes out and... why do they get together?

I don't know.

Ruth's dad wants something from him and I can't remember what it is. But they end up going fishing and then Roy badmouths the dead, electrocuted uncle Russ [played by Marc Menchaca], and Cade just snaps and kills him.


Yeah, but I can't remember why they were fishing together.

I'll look it up.

I looked it up and still couldn't figure out why Roy went fishing with Cade, though the undercover FBI agent was in deep with the Langmores, so it's not too surprising. After Cade kills Roy, Cade goes on the run, but is killed by the cartel, under Wendy's order. Both Roy and Cade die in the last episode of Ozark's second season.

It has something to do with Ruth, but I can't remember the logistics. But he did kill him for badmouthing his brother.

Are you still excited for Ozark season 3, even though you didn't seem to like season 2 as much?

I am, yeah. There were just three or four episodes in season 2 about Wendy blackmailing people and it just got a little... It was still very entertaining. A lot happened in each episode, but it wasn't as fast-paced as the first season was. Things didn't change as quickly during each episode, in my opinion. But I can't wait to see it.

For people who have never seen it, how would you sell them on Ozark?

You almost sit on the edge of your seat watching it. Of course, at the end of every episode this huge twist happens and you're going like, "Oh my gosh, I can't wait to see the next episode." They're very good at that. I think most shows are supposed to be like that, but not all of them are as successful as this. I'm always like, "Oh my gosh, I cannot wait," and it's always major things happening.

Parts of it also make me laugh. Jason Bateman, just how flat his personality is at times, even as he's doing all this horrific stuff. He gets very good, as the season goes on, at explaining why he did things and justifying why they needed to do this to protect their family and it's what anyone would do. And you don't know if he really believes that, or if he's just trying to convince Wendy to keep plugging along with this life of crime. He's just delusional, so it's interesting watching him not develop and just explaining everything away, but then it impacts everything around him.

Everybody I told who watches it loves it. I haven't met anybody who's seen it who doesn't love it.

You know me, I've always liked thrillers and stuff a lot more than comedies. I just don't like comedies, because you never get good comedies anymore.

What is a good comedy?

I can't tell you one.

Name one good comedy.

I can't.

From any time.


Okay, that's a good answer.

I say that, but then I watch stuff and I laugh, but most stuff is just so stupid. How does this help you?

What do you mean?

All you have to do is read about it.

Yeah, but the article is going to be about talking to my mom about Ozark.

Oh... okay.

Sorry, maybe I should have told you that.

I didn't know that, do I need to be more detailed?

No, this was perfect. We had a meeting and my editors were asking if anybody could cover Ozark and not a single one of us watched it and I said my mom watches it. And they said, "Well, let's get her take on it."

But I might have confused a lot of stuff. And we were talking about stuff out of order.

Then there are going to be people really mad at you for screwing it up so bad.

Very funny. Okay, well, stay healthy.

All 10 episodes of Ozark season 3 are now available for streaming on Netflix.