Netflix 'Ozark’s' Chris Mundy Talks Season 3 Character Work
August 27, 2020
If you've been watching Ozark, you’ve been watching Wendy Byrde (played by recent Emmy® nom Laura Linney) rise from housewife to co-operator of a money laundering business fronted by the casino underworld of Missouri’s lake country.
It was an unpredictable and fascinating transition; as it turns out, Wendy likes power. Her brother Ben (played by the infinitely watchable Tom Pelphrey) tells Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman) that he hasn’t seen Wendy more like herself in a long, long time.
This season is undeniably a study of female strength, power dynamics, and, in turn, internal and external battles with the men in their lives. Ruth (Julia Garner) struggles to become vulnerable as she falls for Ben. Helen (Janet McTeer) struggles with parental power with her ex, as well as staying in her drug-lord boss’s good graces. Even young Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz) struggles with familial power as she stands up for herself and takes a larger role in the family business.
But above all else, this season is about the dynamics of power within a marriage. Chris Mundy, writer and executive producer of Ozark, states he wanted to see everything through the lens of the Byrde marriage this season.
“There’s the control of the marriage, the business, the ebb and flow of it all; at the end of season two, the Byrdes realized the marriage would not work without more of a balance between the two of them,” he said.
“This season really was about Marty vs. Wendy; and when Wendy comes out on top, Marty’s gotta get on board. Marty is able to say, ‘you were right,’ which is not easy for him to do. We really wanted to dig into complicated marriage dynamics, but through the prism of a drug cartel and money laundering.”
As Wendy and Marty constantly undermine each other and their ideas of what’s best for the business and their family, their marital spats are felt as ripples for everyone close to them. Ruth finds herself constantly exasperated, asking Marty to, “get your shit together.” But Ruth’s whole world is thrown for a loop as she starts to fall for Wendy’s brother, gregarious bipolar Ben, who plays a pivotal role in the season.
“We wanted to give Ruth a break before we put her through the wringer again,” Mundy said.
Ruth undeniably goes through the wringer as the season ends, but she also realizes, “she wouldn’t lose her strength by admitting she could be loved,” Mundy highlighted.
“I think Ruth could get to a place where she more completely accepts love and knows it could come into her life again.”
The loss of Ben to keep their safety rocks the Byrdes to their core, not to mention their strongest alliances. One wonders if it will also possibly crack the Byrdes’ ability to manipulate and strengthen their desire to finally come clean. Mundy isn’t so sure.
“I think they want to believe that they would live a life where they manipulate people less,” he said.
“They believe if they are out they will be clean, but I don’t know how it’s possible once that gets baked into your DNA. If you get away with it, or if the next generation does, or the generation after that.”
As Wendy and Marty struggle to maintain power both at work and with each other, the viewer is reminded that every human (no matter if they’re working within a multiple-continent crime syndicate or not) has the capacity for good and evil. Mundy reminds writers you can get away with a lot if you like and care about your characters; he uses the character of Darlene as an example. Reminder for the casual viewer: Darlene Snell became intertwined with the Byrdes after their work with the cartel interfered with the Snells’ heroin distribution operation.
“Darlene … is evil, but at the same time she has a code; in a weird way she lives by a strict moral code. When we think of her, we think of the way that she thinks of herself.
“None of us are just one thing,” Mundy added.
“We all have different kinds of thoughts and different sides of us, and sometimes we are goofy, angry, and moody. If you accept that, and like the characters in that way, then they will walk around as real people and not just as plot points.”
By the end of the season, the Byrdes are simultaneously emotionally broken and united as a family unit. Marty and Wendy are back to a place of trust, and Wendy is open to comfort from Marty in the wake of Ben’s death. That said, it’s unclear if and when Wendy may fully gain the trust of her children, not to mention if they can still count on those in their operation who’ve put their own lives at risk to keep them safe.
“I feel like everyone has their own rooting interests,” Mundy iterated.
“In a strange way, I think people will always root for Marty and Wendy, but at the same time there’s so many people whose favorite character is Ruth, and it’s hard not to love her.”
Mundy explained he likes that people can, “cheer for all sorts of different people.”
“In the next season, there will be a few new characters around the Navarro cartel, bringing new people into the world,” he said.
“It’s interesting and fun to know what you are willing to cheer for in make-believe, you might not be so willing to cheer for in real life.”
If Season 3 was all about power dynamics, especially within a marriage, Mundy noted he’s going to strive to make Season 4 different and surprising. Ultimately, Mundy stressed every season stems from relationships and character motivation.
“We’re a show that tells a lot of story, but we’re a character-based show. As far as advice to writers; when plotting, don’t forget in the middle of your plot it’s ultimately just about what these people feel, and what they're doing,” he said.
“If you illuminate that, and if you have a choice between a hard plot and what falls more on the emotional side, always fall on the emotional side. People watch shows because they love the characters much more than the things that happen to those characters. Just make sure you are pulling as much out of people as you can.”
Mundy and the writing staff ultimately did an excellent job pulling everything out of Marty and Wendy this season. There are multiple moments throughout that you wonder if the pair is done with each other for good; notably, when Wendy dreams of shooting Marty. When Wendy sets adrift after Ben’s death, for a moment the audience wonders if she’ll ever come back. But Mundy has done such an excellent job crafting tangible people full of pain, hope, and the drive to survive that, much like the Byrdes’ therapist, whether it’s healthy or not, they are a couple you just can’t quit.
Written by: Lindsay StidhamLindsay holds an MFA in screenwriting from the American Film Institute. She has overseen two scripts from script to screen as a writer/ producer. SPOONER, starring Matthew Lillard (SLAMDANCE), and DOUCHEBAG (SUNDANCE) both released theatrically. Most recently Lindsay sold PLAY NICE starring Mary Lynn Rajskub. The series was distributed on Hulu. Recent directing endeavors include the Walla Walla premiering (and best screenplay nominated) TIL DEATH DO US PART, and the music video for Bible Belt’s Tomorrow All Today. Lindsay is currently working on an interactive romcom for the production company Effin' Funny, and a feature film script for Smarty Pants Pictures. Lindsay also currently works as an Adjunct Screenwriting Faculty member at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. You can follow her work here: https://lindsaystidham.onfabrik.com/