How the ‘Ozark’ Ensemble Heightened the Suspense of the Show's Final Season

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Photo Source: Tina Rowden/Netflix

As we prepare for the 29th Screen Actors Guild Awards, Backstage is breaking down this year’s film and television ensemble nominees for your consideration.

Main Cast: Jason Bateman, Lisa Emery, Skylar Gaertner, Julia Garner, Alfonso Herrera, Sofia Hublitz, Laura Linney, Felix Solis 
Casting by: Alexa L. Fogel
Created by: Bill Dubuque and Mark Williams 
Distributed by: Netflix

In the golden age of gritty TV drama, “Ozark” stakes a convincing claim as its reigning champion. The brilliant cast brought complexity to Bill Dubuque and Mark Williams’ story of the Byrdes, a seemingly ordinary family that gets swept up in the world of organized crime. By the final season, they’ve become money-laundering schemers who have sunk into ruthless manipulation and murder.

Jason Bateman subverts the name he’s made for himself as Hollywood’s go-to “nice guy,” playing the calculating Marty Byrde to disturbing effect. His unassuming facade disguises a confidence and intelligence that allows him to deliver quick-fire dialogue with model timing. The Emmy winner traces Marty’s moral descent via his growing anger and ill-placed pride. The writers give him the chance to play his character’s rationalization and self-deception; taken together with Bateman’s natural affability and warmth, it’s a convincing portrait of one man’s journey into damnation.

Laura Linney elevates the drama in her powerhouse performance as Marty’s wife, Wendy, whose fierce loyalty and heartlessness eventually come to surpass her husband’s. Her chipper, friendly persona sits in contrast to her underlying viciousness, giving way to a struggle between light and dark. The four-time Emmy winner is an expert at personifying the series’ high stakes. This is particularly true when she drops to her knees, begging to maintain custody of her children; Linney rocks back and forth, squeezing her eyes shut when she’s called out on her lies. Steadying her voice whenever she’s facing an enemy, the actor imbues Wendy with an unsettling air of practicality.

Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz) and Jonah Byrde (Skylar Gaertner) come to reflect their parents’ most honorable qualities. Hublitz channels Linney’s mannerisms and inner strength, adding pathos to Charlotte’s attempts to escape the Byrdes’ corrosive influence. Over the course of the series’ four seasons, Gaertner builds Jonah’s arc with subtle changes to his delivery and physical bearing. In the end, they both sacrifice their principles in order to keep their family together. 

OzarkTina Rowden/Netflix

As Ruth Langmore, Julia Garner brings a raw quality to her performance. The actor’s disarmingly innocent appearance belies Ruth’s unsparing honesty about the cost of her chosen path. Garner pairs an earthy, direct delivery and flawless Southern accent with flashes of savage wit; no wonder she’s already won three Emmys for the role. Her fiery attitude sets her apart from the rest of the characters; Ruth has never once been driven by cowardice or fear. 

Rich characters also populate the criminal underworld the Byrdes have found themselves in. Lisa Emery evokes the downtrodden grit of heroin-dealing power player Darlene Snell; Felix Solis plays cartel leader Omar Navarro as a man who’s as calculating as he is prideful; and as Omar’s nephew Javi Elizonndro, Alfonso Herrera is all impulse and arrogance.

“Ozark” tells a grim story that begins in moral murkiness and only grows darker as the series progresses. Thanks to its top-notch cast, the show stands as one of the finest examples of how a great ensemble can elevate suspense.

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