Ozark season 2 review: The brilliant Netflix drama is back at its moody best

Jason Bateman (Marty Byrde) and Julia Garner (Ruth Langmore) shine in the new season which hits the ground running in the immediate aftermath of season one

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Marty Byrde has a new mantra.

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“People make choices, Wendy, those choices have consequences,” he says, early on in season 2, of the blood spilled during the first run of episodes. “We don’t have to live under the weight of those decisions.”

With this reasoning, he swiftly absolves himself of all culpability with regards to the death of drug baron Del and Russ and Boyd Langmore.

“And Mason”, he says, of the Pastor to whom he promised a church, setting in motion a series of events which lead to the death of his young, pregnant wife – “should have stayed out on the f***ing water,” where he had been unknowingly holding sermon for the Snells’ heroin distribution.

Whatever helps him sleep at night. It will do little to convince us that he’s on anything other than irreversible path towards Breaking Bad-levels of villainy as he enters a new, large-scale partnership with the “second biggest drug cartel in Mexico”.

Season 2 kicks off directly where the first ended – with Marty and his family in absolute dire straits trying to curry favour with both the cartel – immortalised this season by an ice cold lawyer Helen Pierce (Janet McTeer) – and Jacob and Darlene Snell, the sadistic heroin farmers who run the town’s drug trade.

In the season 1 finale, Darlene drastically disposed of the cartel’s previous mouthpiece Del, for calling her a redneck (indisputable), leaving Marty with a whole lot of explaining to do as he tries to convince his employers to enter into a business deal with the Snells.

In Del’s place comes Pierce, who, though not quite as physically threatening as Del, is no less terrifying. She represents a more direct link to the big bad at the top of the cartel, who is willing to broker a deal with Marty, so long as all of the pieces fit into place with little complication (not something the Byrdes have managed to pull off before).

His scheme involves buying a casino and using it to wash the cash the cartel takes in as a result of peddling the Snells’ heroin – but there are a number of roadblocks in his way.

On top of somehow hiding Del’s murder from the cartel, they’ve also got to convince Missouri politicians to overturn a law for the casino to open in the first place – a job for a world class lobbyist and user with zero morals. Enter, Wendy (Laura Linney).

Unlike her husband, Wendy knows full well that they are responsible for every drop of blood that has been spilled in and around the Ozark lakes thus far. Worse, though, she seems to be revelling in it.

Her political campaign gives us an insight into the lengths she’ll go to – and it isn’t pretty. “This is as uncomfortable for me as it is for you,” she tells a political foe’s husband as he sits half-naked strapped to a bed, having fallen for her honey trap. But for the glint in her eye, you’d almost believe she felt bad.

While the Byrdes are settling into their roles as the bad guys, Ruth is planning on upping her involvement in Marty’s work, while also trying to keep her father Cade – newly released from prison – happy.

Much has been said about Bateman’s transformation in this series – and his performances have been undoubtedly brilliant – but Garner was equally impressive last season, displaying glimpses of the rough-edged Ruth’s gooey centre after she murdered her uncles to save Marty’s life.

Their relationship is the most interesting one here, and it looks set for a rough spell as Ruth’s obligation to please her awful, abusive father clashes with her desire to maintain her bond with Marty, the only person who has shown any trust in her.

Janet McTeer as Helen Pierce
Janet McTeer as Helen Pierce

Though it may sound impossible, a greater sense of dread hangs over this season than the last. We know now, more or less, that the Byrdes are in it for the long haul, and, like in most of these anti-hero dramas, it probably won’t end well.

Season 1 got us squirming in a way that few TV series have managed to do in recent memory, and there are several uncomfortable moments early on, which come close to replicating some of those feelings (though they’ll do well to top Pastor Young’s murderous baptism).

All in all, Ozark is back at its moody best, hitting the ground running with a whole new cluster of problems for Marty and co to confront. Of course, there are a few more returning faces, but the circumstances of their return are best kept secret for now.

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Ozark season 2 is released on Netflix UK on Friday 31st August