The marriage between Marty (Jason Bateman) and Wendy Byrde (Laura Linney) has always been one of Ozark’s best, most subversive elements. No matter which subplots the series shifted its focus to over the course of its first two seasons, the crime drama has always been able to rely on the friction between the two characters to keep audiences absorbed. Indeed, for all its faults, Ozark has always seemed to have a pretty firm idea of what to do with Marty and Wendy’s relationship.
That being said, although the characters' marriage has always been an important aspect of the series, most of the actual plot of the show’s freshman and sophomore seasons centered around getting Marty’s casino up and running, and the problems the Byrdes faced on the journey to reaching that goal. The show’s upcoming third season, however, looks primed to make Marty and Wendy’s fragile union its central narrative focus.
Wendy’s knowledge of and involvement in Marty’s work with the cartel has been a point of focus for Ozark ever since its pilot episode, but it was really in the show’s second season that Wendy’s role began to evolve, from her being an occasional advisor or contributor, to becoming an active player in Marty’s actual negotiations and business dealings. It was clear from their scenes together in the Season 2 premiere that, for all intents and purposes, Wendy and Marty would essentially be business partners moving forward.
Ozark followed through on that promise in the first several episodes of its second season, which saw Wendy not only strategizing right alongside Marty, but also personally handling many of the negotiations necessary to get their casino built. She began utilizing many of the same skills she had developed during her days as a PR operative on political campaigns, and she found unique ways around all of the obstacles she faced. As a result, Wendy began to impress many of her cohorts, as well as the Navarro Cartel’s lead attorney, Helen Pierce (Janet McTeer).
Then, in one of the season’s biggest turning points, Marty was forced to save Wendy’s life by killing Mason Young (Michael Mosley). It was a moment that Ozark had clearly been building towards ever since Young’s introduction in the first season, and it seemed like it would be the moment when Marty would finally cross the point of no return. Instead, Ozark did something much more unexpected.
Rather than having Marty take a sharp turn towards even greater villainy, killing Mason resulted in him rediscovering his emotions again. He began to express remorse for all the death and pain he had brought on the characters around him, he began paying closer attention to the emotions of his family members and coworkers. He even began planning his family’s escape out from the under hold of the cartel. Unfortunately, where Young’s death forced Marty to revile his role in the cartel’s schemes, it had a much different effect on Wendy.
Instead of embarking on the same journey of self-reflection as Marty, Wendy became increasingly more aggressive and calculated in the second season’s final run of episodes. She started making more decisions without Marty’s knowledge, and began to issue threats to anyone she considered a threat to her position. Where Marty became horrified by the power he held, Wendy became intoxicated by it.
It was an unexpected turn for the character to take, and one that reached its pinnacle in the Season 2 finale, when Wendy called a cartel hit on Cade Langmore (Trevor Long).
It was in those final moments of Season 2, after Wendy’s hit on Cade was carried out, that the possible narrative route for Ozark’s third season began to come into view. Not only had Wendy ordered someone’s murder without discussing it with Marty, the finale also made it expressly clear that she had developed a powerful bond with McTeer’s Helen Pierce. The kind of bond that might make Pierce side with Wendy over Marty, if push came to shove.
The season then ended in a tantalizing way, with Marty realizing that Wendy had called for the hit on Cade, and that his wife had become much more comfortable with the deadly business of the cartel than he had previously thought. The final, half-hearted “I love yous” shared by the Byrdes, right before their fateful photo is taken in front of the riverboat casino, promised some real marital trouble was on the horizon.
The first trailer for Season 3, released just a few weeks ago by Netflix, only confirmed that suspicion. The entire trailer is dedicated to Marty and Wendy’s contentious relationship, including its cold open, which strangely features Wendy pulling a gun on Marty. We’ll be discussing that moment, as well as the possible trajectory that Marty and Wendy’s marriage could take over the course of the upcoming season, in a separate piece, but it’s clear that the opening of their long-desired casino doesn’t mean the Byrdes' troubles have come to an end. In fact, without as much political maneuvering to occupy their time, the characters may finally have to start facing the problems that have plagued their family for years. Odds are that when they do, they won’t like where that leads.
The third season of Ozark premieres Friday, March 27th on Netflix.
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Alex Welch has written about television and film for TV by the Numbers, IGN, The Berrics, Paste Magazine, Screen Rant and GeekNation. Follow him on Twitter @alexrwelch.