‘Ozark’ — A Lesson In Tension

by Frank Martin

Tension is a very integral part of storytelling. It can be created through almost infinite means, but it’s a difficult thing to capture because it’s a feeling that resonates within a reader or viewer. With storytelling, writers can analyze various elements and break them down to build a story up. But to invoke a sensation or feeling within someone is pretty much out of your control. You can do things that you believe can heighten those feelings, but you will never know for certain if you will succeed. What causes tension in one person might not inspire it in another. The general idea is to make characters relatable because if you can place yourself in their shoes then you can feel the tension that they feel, and one show that does this very successfully is Netflix crime thriller Ozark.

The program is in a similar vein to Breaking Bad in that it focuses on a unimposing man getting wrapped up in a dangerous world of criminals. His entire family gets sucked into portions of the business, and people are constantly dying all around them. Essentially, the show sets up the family as a means for the cartel to launder money. But not by choice. They are constantly under a drug kingpin’s thumb, and the threat of death is forever present.

That is what makes the show so successful in setting up tension. From the story’s onset, there is always the presence of danger — not just for the parents but for the children as well. People that have loved ones and family know what it’s like to fear for someone else’s safety. So it’s very difficult to imagine yourself in this family’s shoes as they constantly make difficult choices where one wrong move can result in their demise. It’s extremely reasonable to assume at any moment a cartel assassin could enter their home and try to kill them. That possibility is always looming over their heads, and so the show’s tension is constantly dialed up to ten. Seriously, I couldn’t even imagine how these characters sleep soundly at night given the situation the show sets them up in.

Ozark is streaming now on Netflix.

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