2017 saw the first season of Ozark drop onto Netflix with a nice, solid bang. The comparisons with TV monolith Breaking Bad were – and remain – inevitable and unavoidable, however, Ozark quickly carved out its own little piece of real estate in the “good family gone bad in the dirty money getting cleaned game” via its superb assimilation of excellently developed characters and delicately interwoven storylines that both impressed and intrigued.

Jason Bateman (Arrested Development) and Laura Linney (The Big C) are immediately worthy of the highest praise for their utterly superb portrayals of husband and wife team Martin and Wendy Byrde. Marty is a somewhat detached, always level-headed businessman, and Wendy is a clever, tactical woman with a background in political campaigning. In unison, they make a great team for a money laundering racket, and that’s exactly what’s required given the fact that their client is no less than one of the largest tentacles of the fearsome and ruthless Mexican cartel. But let’s not forget: survival is priority number one for the Byrdes.

Created by crack team Bill Dubuque and Mark Williams (who, respectively, wrote and produced 2016’s The Accountant), Ozark makes a fine case for the fact that good writing and a keen eye for detail can grant a project the ability to step out of the shadows of a larger and more established entity. As referenced, Breaking Bad is a television critical and audience-applauded juggernaut with a similar framework, and we all know how amazing and important that series was for this new golden age of TV. Ozark never overplays its hand in striving too hard to distance itself from its older brother; it just does its own thing by consistently painting dark and terrifying tales, leading audiences down a path that is rarely predictable and always engaging.

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Back to the happy couple; to say that they’ve both had at least one foot in the grave since the first episode would be to completely understate exactly how precarious their situation is. Season 2 does little (read: nothing) to assuage that gloomy cloud as it belts right on along with the bloodshed, threats and barriers that plague the Byrdes’ existence. Oftentimes, the whole mess seems an utterly hopeless void for our morally grey heroes, and this new season connects viewers to such deplorable feelings at an even more alarming rate of regularity – and with even greater intensity!

With the absolute shotgun-bang that was season 1’s finale, season 2 does it right by wasting little time in dumping the Byrdes at yet another serious and precarious crossroad that could well see the end of all that they are and love. The framework of what is now keeping them alive is swiftly shown to be little more than a wonky menagerie of “understandings” and “agreements” brokered with a variety of territorial, idealistic and savage parties and stakeholders, all of who are pulling the Byrdes in different directions. The Byrdes are not killers, but by goodness if they haven’t been involved in, the targets of and responsible for a hell of a lot of bloodshed and bodies in their desperate bid to satiate an organised crime entity that is always portrayed as utterly savage and unreasonable. The bodies continue to pile up quickly in this new chapter, and the scope of who is fatally impacted now reaches into local politics and closer to home alike. Chilling stuff…

The most impressive and exciting aspects of these first three episodes are the pacing and the scope. There’s plenty of clever foreshadowing on a variety of subplots that are guaranteed to sprout up and cause untold woe and frustration to the Byrdes. Combined with the sheer size of their new “laundering target” of $50 million, audiences are being set up for an even larger and more harrowing experience than the first chapter, and an even greater return on investment! Whilst always careful to develop its new characters and plotlines, the pace at which Ozark v2.0 punches out its story arcs is extraordinary.

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As ever, Ozark’s slightly greyed out look and the sombre musical score only serve to further the mood and pull the viewer further into this rich enclave of misery and despair. More and more, there’s a real and intensifying sense of dread about the whole damned affair that hits all the right notes and gives one plenty to think about.

All the pieces matter when crafting such an ambitious and crazy tale, and the Byrde-family dynamic is done with such great intrigue and individuality that it will define the show when all is said and done. The Byrde children – Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz, Louie) and Jonah (Skylar Gaertner, Daredevil) – are not merely plot devices to intensify the stakes; they are three-dimensional characters who are completely in on their parents’ whole sordid undertaking. We watched in awe as this once idyllic family of four packed millions of dollars of cartel drug money into the walls of one of their “front” businesses last season (surely one of the most definitive and illustrative moments of the series thus far). The young actors themselves do a great job in balancing the angst and insecurity that comes with their teenage adolescence and with the “things are bigger now” reality of their specific familial situation. The Byrdes are one of TV’s most stand-out familes, and the first few episodes of season 2 further cement that.

It’s risky business saying much of anything about the specific plotlines, as everything is so interconnected and “knife’s edge” fragile that to do so would be to risk spoilers, so I’ll finish with this: this is a show that started very well and has now grown in size and stature to the point where – if it continues along this hyper-intriguing and bloody path – it may well go down as one of Netflix’s best ever exclusives, particularly now that House of Cards has collapsed in a heap (after ambling along from season 3 onwards). It’s a big call, but once you’ve seen these three episodes, you’ll understand.

SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★ ★ ★★☆

OZARK season 2 is now streaming on Netflix.