Ozark's third season is explosive, literally, from the bitter beginning, as a cartel war erupts between the Navarros and the Lagunas in Mexico in spectacularly gory form. Though much of the action throughout the drama's newest season still takes place in the misty wilderness of its eponymous locale, what's happening south of the border has ugly consequences for Marty (Jason Bateman), Wendy (Laura Linney), and all of their friends (and foes) as their latest scheme gets into gear with that violent conflict backdropping everything they do.
Season 3 picks up six months after the events of Season 2, with the Byrdes' casino boat business now glittering up the waterway, thanks in no small part to Ruth's (Julia Garner) reliability as the mouth and tiny muscle of the entire enterprise. As plans tend to go, though, Marty's idea to pre-stuff the cash boxes with dirty money to continue his laundering venture apace is thwarted almost immediately, as an intrepid agent named Maya Miller (Jessica Frances Dukes) steps into the FBI's open investigation of the Byrdes, determined to make Marty either an asset or an example. Not only is she wise to his game, but she's also in-tune with his personal vulnerabilities and already knows the answer to a question he will later be asked under harrowing circumstances: What does he even want to come of all this?
From there, the pressures mount on multiple fronts for Marty: Wendy has a newfound sense of ambition and wants to go all-in with Helen Pierce (Janet McTeer) and Omar Navarro (Felix Solis) to create a semi-legitimate operation to cover their assets, and she's willing to double-cross Marty to do it, too; her brother Ben (Tom Pelphrey), a walking, talking powder keg of a person, also shows up and decides to stick around beyond his welcome, causing all manner of fun-to-watch mayhem around town; the arrogant First Son of the Kansas City mafia, Frank Cosgrove Jr. (Joseph Sikora), develops a vicious vendetta against Ruth and the Byrdes by extension; and, of course, Navarro still expects results, no matter how many of his men are out getting blown up by his rivals.
This season boasts the same plain-town atmosphere of its central locale, and the Byrdes' demeanors remain as bizarrely stoic as ever, yet there's a prevailing sense of dread overshadowing every episode. All of the pieces in motion seem to be spiraling toward an inevitably bleak ending for everyone involved, and they seem to know it. From start to finish, the sensation of watching Season 3 is like seeing a tightrope walker work in a windstorm. There's no way any of this will come to a close without catastrophe, and yet, you're still rooting for the guy to find a way across, despite all the deceit, death, and personal destruction piling up in the way.
The newcomers also serve to ratchet up the tension significantly. Ben is just charming enough to make his penchant for chaos endearing, until it's dangerous, and while Helen was already stone cold, she moves into town and reveals some personal motivations that make her ruthlessness even more consequential. Maya has as compassionate a disposition as one could expect from the feds, but she is also uniquely qualified to undermine everything Marty wants to get away with. And while the usual suspects like Darlene Snell (Lisa Emery) and Frank Cosgrove (John Bedford Lloyd) are left to awkwardly wander a bit throughout this season, they are replaced by an even bigger baddie in Navarro, whose fate becomes so inextricably tied to the Byrdes that his desperation in the turf war seems to spell doom for Marty and Wendy right alongside him.
However, the Byrdes are absolutely their own worst enemies inSeason 3. Marty and Wendy's entire house of cards was built upon a foundation of lies and lawlessness, but they seem even more eager to betray one another at any given point throughout this season, no matter how small the reason. Whether it's selfishness, greed, or a sense of righteousness that informs their decision is something they could be sifting through in therapy, if they didn't undermine that process as well, and they are not presenting a united front in the face of anyone, allies or nemeses alike, which makes every move they make precarious and unnerving to behold.
Overall, Ozark Season 3 is still the show you know -- there are moments of quietude, gnawing personal conflicts, and, of course, that bluish scenery of this forest-rich landscape -- but it's still by far the most stressful and emotionally ravaging stretch of the show yet thanks to its new characters, the increased duplicity afoot in the Byrde house, and, of course, the no-holds-barred drug war going on all the while which eventually makes its way to the Ozarks, too.
Ozark Season 3 premieres Friday, March 27 on Netflix.
TV Guide rating: 3/5