Unpacking the quiet brilliance of Marty’s TAG Heuer in Ozark

Unpacking the quiet brilliance of Marty’s TAG Heuer in Ozark

Luke Benedictus

On the surface, Marty Byrde is an unlikely modern hero.  The first series of the Netflix show Ozark opens to reveal a mild-mannered financial adviser stuck in the doldrums of a strained marriage with an adulterous wife.  From there, over the next four seasons, things plummet downhill faster than an Olympic skier. When it turns out his business partner has secretly skimmed $8 million from a Mexican drug cartel, Marty is plunged into a (literally) cut-throat world of murder, mob hits and massive heroin deals as he is forced to make desperate moves to save the lives of himself and his family. Marty (played by Jason Bateman) is an inherently passive and cautious man. But now he is forced to wheel and deal in reckless plays for the highest of stakes.

Personally, I’m totally in awe of Marty. As a beleaguered dad with two small children, I aspire to his unflappable calmness and ice-cold pragmatism under pressure. Even amidst the most extreme provocation imaginable – Marty never ever loses his cool.

Think you’ve got a lot on your plate? By the end of series three, Marty is laundering drug money for the Navarro cartel through multiple casinos, negotiating with the Kansas City mob to deal heroin, and convincing the US army to raid a rival cartel. Yet throughout all the bloodshed and craziness, his composure never flickers for an instant. Meanwhile I find myself yelling at my kids over another spilt glass of milk.

It should also be noted that Marty just so happens to a quietly brilliant man. His ability as a forensic accountant and money launderer is so impressive that the FBI even try to recruit him to their side. This is a guy who can make “$100 million disappear like spit on a hot skillet”.

What’s all this got to do with watches? OK, it’s a little tenuous I admit. But at Time+Tide, we’ve written a lot about how a character’s watch can deepen a sense of their personality from Bruce Wayne’s Reverso that nods to his psychological duality to Walter White’s TAG Heuer Monaco that suggests his spiralling pride. Marty’s wristwear doesn’t receive much air-time over Ozark’s four season, but the wardrobe department’s choice is still exquisitely judged.

In this pivotal scene from the first series, you can make out the tell-tale bracelet of Marty’s watch. It’s a TAG Heuer Link,  a watch that was first released in 1987, beginning its life as the TAG Heuer S/EL (short for Sports Elegance). During the’90s, it was one of TAG’s most successful models until bolder, flashier models pulled the limelight away.

Walking a line between elegant and sporty, the Link is really all about the bracelet that gives the watch its name. The S-shaped are vertically brushed with polished rounded edges and have a way of catching reflections to create a lively mix of light and shadow. In 2017, the collection was relaunched with a 41mm case and three dial options (silver, black and blue). But there’s still something pleasantly retro about that bracelet , prompting headlines like Is the TAG Heuer Link the Perfect Watch for ’90s Nostalgia?

With the Calibre 5 movement under the bonnet, the updated watch is a solid value proposition and still retails for a touch under $3000 AUD. But in my head at least, I like to think Marty’s watch is one of the original Link pieces. An uncharacteristic splurge after his college graduation perhaps?

Marty, after all, is unfailingly modest in everything he does. The desaturated nature of Ozark seems to have seeped into his very soul.  Despite the casinos and millions of dollars that pass through his hands, Marty still drives a 10-year-old Toyota Camry with cloth seats. He is a man of rare humility for whom quiet frugality is his default mode. Due to the similarities of their illegal entanglements, Marty is often compared to Walter White. But the difference is Marty never develops an ego (his wife Wendy is far closer to the Breaking Bad anti-hero in many respects).

The TAG Heuer Link is a great watch for Marty – a decent, reliable watch but one that is also determinedly unobtrusive. This, after all, is a man with a lot on his mind. With the Navarro cartel and the FBI circling, Marty has more to worry about than his wristwear.