Ozark returns on Friday, March 27, and although the Byrdes are all in, as the slogan promises, they also get hard doses of reality.
Something about Ozark makes the absurdity of their situation -- a middle-class family assuming the roles of major criminals -- feel all too real.
Desperation has forced decisions onto the Byrdes that they never imagined, and by the time Ozark Season 3 begins, they've found their groove.
During Ozark Season 2, Wendy (Laura Linney) found a mentor in Helen Pierce (Janet McTeer), the cunning cartel attorney who acted as the Byrde's handler and go-between.
Since then, the tension that was evident between Wendy and Marty (Jason Bateman) has become a giant rift. While they continue to work side-by-side in the booming casino business, growing their laundering empire, Marty still imagines a time when they can leave it all behind.
Wendy's increased confidence enables her to gain the ear of cartel leader Omar Navarro (Felix Solis), giving her what she believes to be the inside advantage of expanding the Byrde empire beyond casinos. She yearns to be an influential and major competitor in the region's events business, going to great lengths to attract new clientele.
Their marriage isn't exactly over, though, even if awkward sessions with a marital therapist suggest the two might never see eye-to-eye again.
Sofia Hublitz and Skylar Gaertner return as Charlotte and Jonah Byrde, and it's their increased responsibility within the family enterprise that ensures Marty and Wendy will remain steadfast even with their many distractions and the forces working against them.
Other than the Byrde marriage, everything is running smoothly when the season begins. Ruth (Julia Garner) is skillfully running the casino floor for Marty and diligently coordinating drops to keep cash flowing in and out.
Even Darlene Snell (Lisa Emery) has calmed a bit as she lives her dream of being a mother, a development that still causes Wendy to question her own judgment.
As Navarro presses Helen for faster and more plentiful returns on his dirty cash, Helen presses Wendy and Marty to kick up the pace. Everything Marty knows about business sets him at loggerheads with his partners. He can predict what will attract unwanted attention and knows how to avoid it, but the others' drive for more finds him outmatched.
It's Wendy's ambition and Marty's preference to maintain the status quo and keep his head low while searching for a way out that drives the main conflict of Ozark Season 3, and it's beautiful to behold.
Each episode uncovers something that makes viewers bristle. Wendy is experiencing unnerving nightmares. The FBI is alerted to possible illegal activities on the riverboat. Wendy and Marty are actively working against each other, even playing the marriage counselor to their advantage.
But nothing tests them like the arrival of Wendy's brother, Ben (Tom Pelphrey). An unstable but kind man, it's apparent from the onset that Ben and Wendy share an incredible bond.
Ben becomes the voice of reason within the Byrde family, questioning their actions and wondering how they've slipped into their new life so easily.
He’s a beloved figure to Wendy, and he and Jonah begin tooling around town together sharing small misadventures.
But Ben is a keg of dynamite waiting to explode. Our introduction to the character proves it, as well as the fact that social injustices set him ablaze. Rediscovering the family while they’re neck-deep in a criminal empire is a recipe for disaster, and from the moment they first intermingle, it makes your skin tingle.
Pelphrey is a perfect addition to the already established cast. His talents are extraordinary, and his emotional range draws even more out of Linney. She’s a force of her own, but when the two of them are together, it’s explosive.
The current season follows many different avenues, and by the time it ends, the Byrdes and their operation will never be the same.
Emmy-winning Garner is, once again, a standout, as Ruth struggles with her drastically changed relationship with her cousin, Wyatt (Charlie Tahan). While most of Ruth’s other family members rest during her latest arc, Wyatt’s story takes an unexpected direction that influences Ruth’s feelings about her future with the Byrdes.
But the more their present is threatened, the closer Wendy and Marty allow themselves to get, and it’s their more harrowing decisions that bind them together and begin to solidify their relationship again.
Every episode propels viewers to watch the next as the stakes get higher, but just when you think you’re reaching the combustion point, Ozark squashes your expectations with another surprise.
Not everything works as well it could. Giving form to the drug lord makes him a little more human than I would have liked.
The mystery is gone for viewers as Helen talks about “her client,” even before anyone else comes face to face with him. But there appears to be a reason behind the madness of Navarro’s physical introduction, so I’ll allow it.
As a big fan of Pelphrey, I’ve been waiting for his star-making role, and Ben is it. He’s about to become a household name after his moving performance. He’s earned this opportunity to perform alongside giants like Linney and Garner, and he makes every moment count.
And if you’re worried I am not showing Bateman enough love, there is a lot of love about his performance as Marty, a man on the edge using any available resource to keep his family safe and off of the radar of cartels and law enforcement officers.
It’s unclear how many of the Ozark Season 3 episodes Bateman will be directing, but he’s credited with the first two so far, and it won’t surprise me at all if he’s leading the pack again come awards season, and Linney, Garner, and Pelphrey should all get recognized for their outstanding work, too.
There isn’t anything else you should consider doing this weekend besides watching Ozark Season 3 unless, of course, you still have the watch the first two seasons.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.