SPOILER ALERT: This post contains spoilers for the television show, Ozark.
Summary of Ozark
The gritty and dark Netflix show, Ozark follows Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman) and his family as they are forced to move to the Ozark region in Missouri. Marty is a financial planner who got involved laundering money for a Mexican drug lord, Camino Del Rio (Esai Morales). When partners in his business are caught stealing from the cartel, Del Rio executes everyone from the financial firm, except for Marty. Del Rio tasks Marty with cleaning eight million dollars in three months in the Ozarks because this area has less government surveillance.
Without much notice, Marty must pack up his wife Wendy (Laura Linney), his daughter Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz) and son Jonah (Skylar Gaertner) and move them away from their suburban home in Chicago and take them to Missouri. The Byrde family soon run into trouble as it becomes clear that they are not just regular summertime tourists. The Langmores, a poverty-stricken family of criminals causes chaos for the Byrdes especially when 19-year-old Ruth Langmore (Julia Garner) steals part of Marty’s pre-laundered money. Later, Ruth plans to learn everything she can about laundering from Marty so she can kill him and take over. The trouble doesn’t stop there are the Byrdes get into a turf war with the Snells, the local heroin suppliers.
This show struck a chord with me beyond the fact that I love thrillers and crime dramas. The way the symbols of this television show are crafted by the writers are purposeful and are trying to tell the viewer an important message. I take a closer look at what themes and hidden meanings can be deciphered from this story.
Analysis of Ozark
Anyone who has watched this show will noticed that there is a lot of bird symbolism throughout the entire project. First off, the family’s name is literally Byrde. On top of that vultures and starlings are both seen and discussed by the central characters. The Byrde family is characterized by a bird because birds are often associated with migration and being able to move from one place to another with ease. This is true of the Byrde family as they must migrate from their old home in Chicago to the Ozark river area.
The family’s association with birds takes a negative turn when their house is constantly visited by vultures feeding off of dead animals near their property. At first, both the audience and Wendy suspect that it is either the cartel or the Langmores who are bringing dead animals to their property to attract the vultures. However, we learn that it is Jonah who has a fascination with these animals and has been luring them in with roadkill. This is a very important moment for Wendy and the audience. She goes from thinking their family is the victim to knowing their family is the perpetrator of their demise. Since vultures feed on dead animals and rarely hunt for themselves, vulture often symbolize danger and death. At first, it might look like the Byrdes are helpless victims and their misfortune is caused by others but they are literally summoning death and calamity themselves. Just as Jonah drags carcasses on to their property, the criminal pursuits of Marty and the infidelity of Wendy bring about danger and death.
As time wears on, it becomes apparent that the Byrdes’ attempts to make their way into the Ozark community. Marty purchases the local strip club as a money laundering front and befriends the local pastor, Mason (Michael Mosley) who preaches every Sunday on the water. Both of these activities disrupt the local heroin drug family, the Snells who use both the strip club and Mason’s services as a means to distribute drugs. Around this time, Jonah learns about Starlings, an invasive species of birds brought to the United States from England but now are so harmful to other birds and the natural habitat that it is legal and encouraged to shoot these birds down. The Byrdes have moved from being the brings of misfortune to being an invasive species themselves. The Snells have been in this area for generations, even after their land was destroyed by the local dam’s creation. Now the Byrdes have invaded and disrupted the natural ecosystem of the Ozarks.
The starling symbols represent not belonging but the Byrdes especially Marty and Wendy are not the only one who are not fitting in. Ruth, the normally fearless female leader of the Langmores becomes submissive and docile when she visits her father in prison. Her father demands that she kills Marty and takes his money. When she fails the first time, her father enlists his brothers to do the job but Ruth electrifies the dock her uncles were climbing on so they could not get to Marty. Ruth, normally protective of her family and fearful of her father, betrays them to save someone else’s life. This act shows that she does not belong to the life she had been living after all.
There is a subplot involving FBI agent Roy Petty (Jason Butler Harner) who is tracking Marty Byrde and seduces Ruth’s uncle, Russ (Marc Menchaca) in the meantime. The homophobic Russ eventually shares his attraction to men with Roy. Since this area of the country is known for its prejudices against homosexuality, the viewer can tell that Russ has not felt like he has belonged his whole life due to his attraction to men. Unfortunately, when he learns that Roy has been using him to get information on Ruth and Marty, the theme of being the prey of an invasive lifeform comes back again.
Marty’s daughter gets a sense of not belonging to her old life when she has a one-night stand with a wealthy and attractive tourist. Yet, she is surprised when she learns that he left the next day without saying goodbye to her. The younger members of the Langmore family point out that she doesn’t belong to her old upper middle-class world anymore and is now just a “local” like them.
While this Netflix show is full of crime and violence, I feel like it is trying to tell us an important lesson about humanity. The Byrdes’ invasion of the Ozarks shows that people in different regions or in different classes have a different perspective and that we can’t waltz into people’s lives and take over. It also points out that people aren’t the hapless victims of circumstance and how we choose to live and where we choose to live can have an impact on those around us.
I hope you all enjoyed my analysis of Ozark, please let me know if there any other symbols or themes you picked up while watching. Please share on social media and follow me on Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.
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