The Head Writer of 'Ozark' on 'Breaking Bad' Comparisons & Where Season 2 Could Go
With Ozark, Netflix has entered another horse in its increasingly busy anti-hero race. Jason Bateman stars as Marty Byrde, a brilliant Chicago-based financial advisor who moves his family to Missouri so he can launder truck loads of dirty money for Mexico's second biggest drug cartel. When Heisenbyrde cracks, the Breaking Bad connections become inevitable. Turns out, the writers expected them. But if you give Ozark time, head writer Chris Mundy says, you'll start to see an entirely different beast, a saga (or at least a Season 2) concerned with something bigger than a single character's transformation.
Read on to see what Mundy means and to learn where the gritty crime thriller could go next.
Thrillist: Given the subject matter and setting, it's easy to see why viewers might expect similarities to Breaking Bad and Bloodline. What did the writers' room try to do to make this show different from its forefathers?
Chris Mundy: Honestly, somebody getting involved in something illegal who isn't necessarily prone to being illegal -- different things like that have been going on forever. But we think of the heart of this as being about family. Walter White's sin was always pride or hubris. This is something about a mistake someone makes, and slipping, and, How can you hold your family together after all that?
We never wanted to be on a path of the hardening of a heart, which Breaking Bad was -- partly because they already did it, but partly because that's not our path. We just had to plot the course that we thought our characters in this family were gonna take. As it's about the Byrde family, the show is also about the Langmore family and how they mirror each other in certain ways. The Snells are now going to come into it too. It's really about families more than it's about any one person's path.
The Langmore family fascinates me, especially Julia Garner's character.
Mundy: Before we ever cast her, just sitting around talking, plotting the show, we sort of fell in love with the Ruth character. She was our favorite character. It would've been so heartbreaking, once we cast someone, if it didn't quite work. Instead, Julia is so good it's better than we ever imagined. We love that character more than you can know.
Where did the idea for her character come from? And why did you decide to make her the substitute Langmore don?
Mundy: We always thought of her as a feral creature -- and what it would take to survive in a world of men and testosterone. It helps that Julia is a tiny little thing, so she has to be that much stronger and smarter. We were just fascinated by how someone like that can control a situation in order to survive. And then from there: What are reasonable expectations for her? Does she ever have reasonable expectations to be happy? Or is it only about survival, because that's where all your energy is going? We've just started thinking about Season 2, and those are some of the things we're talking about with her: Is there going to be a moment where she can glimpse the idea of, Oh, wait, maybe I can want more! Maybe I can want happiness or fulfillment too!
Ruth is initially painted as an enemy of Marty's -- then she saves him. By the end of Season 1, I couldn't help feeling like she was still somewhere in the middle, like a frenemy. What's she feeling in the finale, especially toward Marty?
Mundy: The writers and I spent half of yesterday talking about this -- I think she's very conflicted. Marty's the first person to ever show a little bit of faith in her, and Wendy's one of the first people to ever show her any kindness. I think that's all disarming to Ruth, so she has grown to care for Marty in a way. At the same time, the smarter play for her future, if either Marty has to die or Russ and Boyd have to die, is for Russ and Boyd to die. So there's still something pragmatic about that. The one thing in the world she does truly care about is Wyatt, her cousin. She's just killed his dad, so I think there's going to be an inevitable feeling of justifying what she did. I think there's a potential for that to turn into anger and resentment toward Marty, like, Look what I did for you! What am I getting? You're right to say they're frenemies.
Truthfully, I'm much more worried about her dad, Cade. Can we read his "You and me are gonna talk in person" comment as him getting parole soon?
Mundy: She comes to visit him in person, so it could be referring to that. But I do think there is a very, very strong chance that he is gonna get paroled in Season 2. It's both, and it's sort of like, I know what you did. There's gonna be a reckoning at some point.
We're talking a lot about Season 2 here, but Bateman's said he feels like you just ended the show. What do you see as the future of Ozark if it gets renewed?
Mundy: With any TV show, there's an assumption that it's gonna keep going. But the one thing we absolutely don't want to do is have next year be like, Oh, look, now they've gotta launder more money and they're in more danger -- it's just like last year, but more! So we've tried to think of things thematically. This season was really about, on a plot level, Can this family survive? And on an emotional level: Can this family come back together?
You meet Marty and Wendy at the absolute furthest apart any couple could be. Strangely, if all this horrible stuff didn't happen, would they have stayed together? In Season 2, they've kind of gone from the shadows into the light a little bit. There's this idea that Marty's enemies, the Snells and the cartel, are now his partners. It's more about capitalism and what you do to win, the difference between things that are legal and illegal, ethical and unethical. Are the Byrdes going to own this new life? Next season, there will be tons of problem-solving, but we want to breathe a little before we introduce more problems.
There's lots of potential trouble with the cartel and the Snells, but after watching the finale, I was also curious about some of the lesser enemies-in-the-making we've met along the way. What's going to happen to the preacher? Did he really almost kill his kid?
Mundy: I think in that moment he went planning to baptize the kid, but I think there was a moment where the other questions went through his mind. It's a battle for his faith right there, whether or not he's going to keep believing and hoping. The length of time with the baby, which is excruciatingly long, is his internal fight. I don't know when he's going to show back up in our life, but he's definitely going to show back up. The thing we really like about that character is that even though he's a person of faith, there's a real blue-collar, not-as-super-preachy quality to him. He would throw a punch at Marty as easily as he would quote scripture.
What about Rachel? When she bailed, was that her getting written off the show, or will she return?
Mundy: She was one of the only people who wasn't privy to Marty's secrets. And now, with the money and her understanding of what's going on, she has leverage and power over him. She'll definitely come back into our world. What we really love about her character is she seems so authentically of the place. We always thought of the Byrde family as an invasive species on that place. Rachel's not a criminal like the Langmores, but we want her to extract whatever she wants from the situation after the Byrdes have messed with her life so much.
This interview has been edited and condensed.