Jason Bateman on what to expect in season 2 of Ozark
Netflix’s hit crime drama Ozark returns this weekend, and things don’t look about to get any easier for financial planner Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman) and his family, now settled in the picturesque Missouri resort community of Ozark, having relocated there from Chicago at the beginning of season one.
To recap, their existence isn’t as simple as it sounds – it rarely is in a Netflix crime drama. Marty may be, at face value, a mild-mannered financial planner. Unfortunately, and get ready for season one spoilers, he’s also a financial planner who became involved in a plot to launder money for a Mexican drugs cartel. His partner Bruce left him in the lurch right at the start of season one by taking it upon himself to skim US$8 million (Dh29.3m) of the cartel’s money off, and the only reason Marty isn’t already lying at the bottom of a swamp with Bruce is a quick-thinking plan to save his own skin – launder even more money through the sleepy residents and businesses of Ozark.
Marty’s Mexican overlords agree to the opportunity, and give him a tight deadline to repay the $8m his partner has already stolen. Marty managed to do this in season one, but, this being a Mexican drugs cartel, it’s no surprise that they won’t be stopping there. The previous season ended with the wife of a local Ozark crime boss killing a key member of the cartel, ironically not over drugs or money, but a racial slur. Marty, meanwhile, is now to all intents and purposes a prisoner of the cartel, along with his wife and children, and has been handed a further $50m to “clean” for the Mexicans, and things don’t look like they’re about to get any easier for the beleaguered bookkeeper.
“Season two starts off on exactly the same night as we left the first season,” Bateman tells The National. “Del’s been killed, and we have to somehow deal with that. Meanwhile, my family are now having to wash $50m instead of $8m in the first year. They thought if they laundered the $8m they’d be free, and able to get back to their normal life in Chicago, but now they’ve received this escalation in money, responsibility and threat.”
At least one positive for Marty is that his wife Wendy (Laura Linney), who was set to flee with their kids at the end of season one, appears to have realised the futility of trying to hide from their ruthless enemies, and has agreed to use her talents in the property world to help her husband with his nefarious schemes: “The family has come back together, Wendy has agreed to put their personal differences aside and try to keep the children, and each other, alive, and they’ve now joined forces to address the increased threat, as a family,” Bateman reveals.
The show is a classic fish-out-of-water, normal guy in way over his head, thriller. As such, it has attracted several, mostly positive, comparisons to the classic Breaking Bad. Whereas that show featured Bryan Cranston as a school teacher forced to turn to drug dealing to keep his family alive, Ozark subs in an accountant-turned-drug money launderer, also trying to keep his family alive. Bateman admits there is some basis for the comparison, though it’s not something he chooses to over-emphasise: “I think the natural instinct as a viewer, and I do this, too, is always to try and identify something and label it and decide if this is going to be predictable or not,” he says.
“We have that whole anti-hero recipe going on, and I guess I can understand the Breaking Bad comparisons to a degree, but honestly, that’s a formula that’s been used for a long, long, time; that idea of putting a character or family that seems normal into a strange situation. There are far worse things to be compared to than Breaking Bad, absolutely, but I think, beyond that central narrative structure, I think there are plenty of things that differentiate us from Breaking Bad, and hopefully the audience feels the same way.”
There’s a good reason why writers so often turn to the anti-hero character type for shows, adds Bateman – the simple matter of relatability: “You always want to put characters at the centre of a story that feel the most like the person watching,” he says. “If the character is relatable, the audience can use the person as a proxy, imagine themselves in that situation. That’s what the family represent, your normal, average everyman, so the environment and the characters and the aesthetic can be very atypical and uncomfortable, which makes the whole thing compelling, that fish-out-of-water dynamic.”
When Bateman begins to wax lyrical about how well his character has adjusted to his newfound predicament, it’s hard not to detect something that almost seems to be a sense of satisfaction lurking beneath the surface, and I wonder if Bateman thinks Marty, too, has begun to take pride in his newly developed skills as a crime linchpin, and perhaps even enjoy his work? The actor is somewhat non-committal: “I think those two things are very different things,” he says. “He definitely doesn’t enjoy what he’s doing, but he does take satisfaction in the fact that he’s making progress.”
For Bateman, Marty’s only goal is to escape the shackles of his life of crime, and return to a life of normality – a goal which, if season one is any indication, seems likely to get further and further away with each passing episode: “His family is not dead, nor is he, and he’s chipping away at the goal. He wants to get back to Chicago. He’s not interested in season 2 or season 3 or season 4, he wants to end this thing immediately,” Bateman insists.
“That’s the burden the writing staff have, and they’ve been really successful at doing it – putting in place a series of obstacles that really stand up to highbrow scrutiny as to why this thing keeps going down a bad path, why he can’t just go to the police, why he can’t just cut and run. There are holes we are obligated to fill every week and the writing team do a great job of doing that.”
The second series of Ozark is on Netflix from August 31