This week, the Story Grid Showrunners watch the THIRD season of the Netflix TV Series OZARK - a thrilling story about an unassuming finance man who is forced to run to the Ozarks to launder money to save his and his family's life.
In this season, the Navarro cartel is at war with the Laguanas Cartel and the fight spills over on US soil. Wendy has decided to expand the business for Navarro, her brother Ben starts to cause trouble and Navarro's right-hand woman, Helen starts to doubt their ability to run the operation. It's a brilliant combination of a thriller with a cautionary tale, with morality interlaced.
What’s the lowdown?
Randall: I totally understand the hype on this series, I can’ believe it took this long for me to watch it. It just keeps getting better.
Parul: This show is getting darker and more complex. It’s riveting
What are the Editor’s Six Core Questions?
It’s a great way to analyze any story and figure out if it works. Here are the questions. We’ll touch on them in this podcast, but the full notes can be downloaded afterward.
- What’s the genre?
- What are the conventions and obligatory scenes for that genre?
- What’s the Point of View?
- What are the objects of desire?
- What’s the controlling idea/theme?
- What is the Beginning Hook, the Middle Build, and Ending Payoff?
What is the Beginning Hook, Middle Build and Ending Payoff?
- Inciting Incident: The Lagunas cartel attack the Navarro cartel’s operation (Episode 1)
- Turning Point Progressive Complication: Wendy tells Narravo she would like to expand his business using the Big Muddy, frustrating Marty (Episode 1)
- Crisis: Does Marty support Wendy’s attempt to convince Carl and Anita Knarlson to sell the Big Muddy knowing it will get them more entangled with the cartel or does he support it, humiliation them and also potentially endangering their standing in the Cartel’s eyes. (Episode 2)
- Stakes: if Marty supports Wendy, they get more deeply tied to the cartel when he is trying to get away; if he doesn’t support her then they are no longer a team and more vulnerable
- Climax: Marty does not support Wendy, tries to undermine her purchase of the new casino by secretly talking Carl into declining.
- Resolution: Marty uses Frank Sr to start a fire at the Knarlson’s competitor. Carl hits his wife and kills her (egged on by Wendy’s comment to use any force necessary) (Episode 3)
Editor’s Note: How is all this connected to life and death? Navarro is a cartel drug leader, as we’ve seen when he waterboarded his most trusted lawyer, Helen - he is not all there. If the Navarro empire collapses, Marty sees that as a good thing and maybe they can get away from the cartel, but Wendy is inventing ideas to be closer to the cartel, which is dangerous.
- Inciting Incident: Cartel kidnaps Marty and tortures him to see if they can launder without him (end of E3 / E4)
- Progressive Complications: FBI audit, Ruth attacks Frank Jr, Frank Jr attacks Ruth, Darlene starts building her business again and acquiring allies, Ruth quits, Ben is off his meds and confronts Helen and Erin, Wendy buys the stud farm on Navarro’s instructions
- Turning Point Progressive Complication: Navarro gelds the stud horse, ruining Bryde’s reputation (E5)
- Crisis: Does Wendy confront Navarro for interfering with their attempt to create a legitimate business which threatens their reputation? Or stay safe and keep quiet? (E5)
- Stakes: Wendy takes her job seriously and she has a plan for helping Navarro to legitimise his business. His actions have dented her reputation thus putting them at risk of being found out, or shunned locally
- Climax: Wendy takes Helen’s phone and confronts him (Ep 5)
- Resolution: Navarro puts Wendy in her place, and reminds her of his power and position (Ep 5)
- Inciting Incident: Helen has Sue killed (E7)
- Progressive complications: Ben confronts Helen, Helen goes to FBI with signed confession from Marty (fake)
- Turning Point Progressive Complication: Maya calls Marty as he is getting on the plane for Mexico and tells him about the signed confession (E10)
- Crisis: Does Marty get on the plane or not?(E10)
- Stakes: if he doesn’t get on the plane they will probably kill him and Wendy right there, if he gets on the plane he might be able to talk himself out of getting killed
- Climax: Marty is confident in himself to talk his way out of trouble, he gets on the plane with Wendy and Helen to fly to Mexico (Ep10)
- Resolution: Cartel kills Helen (Ep 10)
What’s the Genre?
Randall: Thriller, no doubt
Parul: Thriller above all, with a streak of morality
What are the Obligatory scenes & Conventions of the Global Genre
Thriller (Global) Obligatory Scenes
- Inciting Crime indicative of a master villain - Navarro cartel waterboarding Helen: shows how bad the cartel is
- Speech in praise of the villain - consistently showing the far reach of the cartel and what they are willing to do, they even know that Marty is bugging Wendy’s phone
- Hero becomes the victim - When Maya calls and tells Marty about the signed confession Helen has
- Hero at the Mercy of the villain - Marty and Wendy are at Navarro’s mercy in Mexico
- False ending - Helen is killed
Conventions of the Thriller
- MacGuffin - Cartel wants safe, clean money for his family in case he dies
- Red Herrings - Helen with signed confession, FBI is the biggest danger/ biggest friend (Maya); Ben as a shapeshifter;
- Making it personal - Endangering the Cartel’s money, the Cartel feel threatens
- Clock - no time to downgrade the signed confession as they get closer to Mexico; limited time to ingratiate themselves with Navarro after Ben tells Erin what Helen does
Morality (Internal Genre)
The protagonist faces an All Is Lost Moment and either discovers their inner moral code or chooses the immoral path. Whether or not the protagonist ultimately accepts the call depends upon the subgenre, the kind of story you want to tell.
In the last Season Marty faces constant all-is-lost moments - does he kill Mason?
In this season Wendy faces an all-is-lost moment, does she allow Ben to be killed by Helen
To illustrate the presence of morality in this story, look at the showdown. What’s the showdown for Morality?
- The Showdown - protagonist actively sacrifices self in service of an individual, a group, or humanity (positive) or consciously chooses to remain selfish (negative): Wendy sacrifices her brother for the family.
- The protagonist faces literal or metaphorical death and either loses the battle but gains self-respect, meaning, and peace; or wins the battle but loses those things a great sacrifice. In all internal genres, there is a paradoxical ending: Wendy wins the battle to stay in Navarro’s favour but has lost her chance to find peace.
Focus on: Red herrings/ Sub-plots while still keeping the villain involved.
Red Herrings definition: distracts the audience with false or misleading clues that bring the spectator to the wrong conclusion. As the reader we are in constant suspense about how Marty is going to die. Who is going to betray him? Will it be Ruth? Will it be Wendy (remember that she dreams of killing him?). Will the FBI take the Byrds down? Will they die in the cross-fire of the Lagunas- Navarro fight?
- Marty is followed by the Lagunas cartel
- Wendy dreams of Killing Marty
- Helen asks Ruth if she could run the operation without Marty and Wendy
- Helen forges a signed confession for Marty to submit to the FBI
- Darlene talks about taking down the Byrds and turns Wyatt against the Byrds
- Sue is taking advantage of Wendy and Marty and getting bribes from both.
- Ben falls for Ruth, and finally puts a smile on her face but he’s determined to see justice and expose all the lies
- Frank Jr continues to threaten the Byrd family
I think this is really what makes a good thriller, the ability to have compelling subplots/ red herrings that also have equally life/ death repercussions, but at the same time reminding the viewer/ reader who the real villain is. The cartel is involved throughout the season, as Helen is present in just about every episode, but we never forget that they are the most dangerous player at the table in Marty and Wendy’s lives - they kidnap Marty, they seem to know everything that is going on, they manipulate Wendy (with the horse farm purchase). At the same time, Frank Jr. and the mob are mad at Marty, the other cartel is a danger to Marty (he could get caught in the crossfire), Darlene is becoming more dangerous with every episode, the FBI is hot on Marty’s tail - all of these have life and death endings and they are just as engaging as the main battle between Marty and the cartel. The story would have been so watered-down if these sub-plots weren’t there and not so deadly if it had just been Marty vs. the Navarro cartel.
Compare this to Killing Eve - we keep losing sight of the threat of the 12 and there aren’t many other threats to keep the characters occupied.
What’s the next Series for the podcast?
Game of Thrones Season 1