Desperation is shown in Episode 9 of the show. It shows what happens when there’s nothing to lose as the series sets the pace for the last story, which is about to happen.
In Ozark country, everything is as normal. The program has returned to the status quo ante after a deadly mid-season opener that basically functioned as an intermission focusing on a single story point—the murder of Javi Elizondro by Ruth Langmore in revenge for his death of her cousin Wyatt— The tropes that have made Ozark what it is, for better or worse, are back with a vengeance. Tense phone calls, shifting loyalties, last-minute business deals, and lots of characters driving back and forth to talk to other characters for two minutes or less: the tropes that have made Ozark what it is, for better or worse, are back with a vengeance.
Returning to the old Ozark struggle makes sense in certain ways. Javi’s death is like tipping the game table over and spreading all the cards and chips to the four winds. The Byrdes’ business partnership with Shaw Pharmaceuticals has suddenly gone up in flames. Their agreement with the FBI is also in jeopardy. At the top of the Navarro cartel, there is a power vacuum. The participation of the Byrde children in the murders must be addressed by their parents. Their parents must take responsibility for the shambles they have created.
And there are still external players to consider. Mel Sattem, a private investigator, is still looking into the disappearance of cartel lawyer Helen Pierce. And, despite the fact that his client, Wendy’s estranged husband, asks him to stop the inquiry at the urging of his terrified daughter, there’s a new client in town: Nathan, Wendy’s father, who engages Sattem to find his missing son Ben.
Sattem strikes a professional connection—and, if he plays his cards properly, a romantic one—with FBI Agent Maya Miller, who practically tells a reluctant Marty to go fuck himself earlier in the episode. Meanwhile, Nathan causes more strife within the Byrde family, prompting Wendy to fear that he would turn Jonah and Charlotte against her and Marty. (I believe they’ve poisoned themselves to a large extent, but good luck persuading Wendy of that.)
Omar Navarro, the former and future boss of the cartel with which the Byrdes do business is also back in the picture. Wendy risks using her FBI contacts to liberate him from solitary prison, believing that his appreciation would make him a willing collaborator once again, despite his threats to kill Wendy and her family at the first opportunity. It’s a bold and daring maneuver that even Nelson, the Navarro enforcer, can’t help but wonder how Wendy knew it would succeed.
And it’s effective. Wendy was correct, though she didn’t realize how correct she was until Navarro struck a new arrangement with Marty: Marty would return to Mexico to reinstall Omar’s cartel authority, using the cover narrative that Omar had Javi killed. Omar thinks that this would persuade his supporters that he is totally in charge, despite the fact that he has no knowledge of what happened to Javi.
Claire Shaw, unfortunately for the Byrdes and maybe the Navarros, is completely unaware of what is going on. Ruth offers to sell Darlene Snell’s heroin instead of the Navarro stuff, and she makes a separate deal with her.
Wyatt’s funeral is also taking place. Also participating in the Navarro company is a priest named Benitez (Bruno Bichir). Unfortunately, he does not appear to be a hitman, contrary to my original assumption. But, well, they can’t all be winners, can they?
This episode is a return to form for Ozark, with its hectic, even confusing story work that is considerably more characteristic of the program than the prior episode. However, a couple of scenes go beyond the standard “Character X chats to Character Y at Location Z for 30 seconds, then cut to the next scene” formula. After Ruth kills Javi, Wendy and Marty have a depressing conversation in their hotel room about each other’s perceived flaws, with Wendy arguing that Marty has a compulsive need to feel like he’s letting people down, while Marty tries and fails to persuade Wendy that Ruth’s “entire life is destroyed because she met us.” It’s about time someone spoke something about it!
On the other hand, there’s Mel’s unusual romance with Agent Miller. I’m interested to see where Mel’s story goes—been he’s playing a disproportionately large role for a brand new character only tangentially related to the main plot—but he’s a strangely compelling figure; even him spending a few minutes in his apartment, petting his cat, makes for interesting television.
What’s next for the situation? We have Marty’s escapades in Mexico, Ruth’s encounters with Shaw, and the Nathan-induced Byrde family schism to look forward to. Personally, I’d like to see a lot more episodes like the debut, but I see why it isn’t feasible. There are five episodes left till Ozark ends, and if this show has taught me anything, it’s that a lot can happen in a short amount of time.
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