One of the most appealing characteristics of “Ozark” is how the writers create a constant undercurrent of tension. The action is full of fluid situations that demand one life and death decision after another. Keeping this type of storytelling from becoming too far fetched, almost exhausting, takes skill and “Ozark” rarely slips. It’s a thrill to watch. But what really sets this show apart goes beyond the high stakes action to a deeper story about choices, lies and surrendering to dark impulses. In season one, desperate financial adviser Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman) relocates his family from Chicago to the Missouri Ozarks, where he must launder $500 million for a Mexican cartel or his family dies. His appearance in the Ozarks disrupts an FBI operation and a heroin business operated by Jacob (Peter Mullan) and Darlene Snell (Lisa Emery), a dangerous couple with deep roots in the region and little patience for outsiders. Season one focused on Marty’s desperation and guile, as he buys a series of businesses to launder the cartel’s money, as well as the fractured Byrde family. Marty’s wife Wendy (Laura Linney), his daughter Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz) and his son Jonah (Skylar Gaertner) are trying to find a way to reconnect among the chaos of their new life. Season two focuses on a new plan and a different family dynamic. Marty and Wendy, partnering with a local developer, the Snell’s and the Kansas City mafia, push through the licensing of a casino to launder the cartel’s money. Marty and Wendy’s manipulations deeply damage the family’s fragile bond, as “survival” takes on a much darker meaning. Bateman continues his excellent performance as the stoic Marty but it’s the richly crafted female characters of “Ozark” who shine in season two. Linney is a tour de force. She takes Wendy on a convincing emotional and psychological journey from reluctant participant to confident power player. In episode seven, she has a powerful monologue that is a highlight among a season’s worth of outstanding moments. Julia Garner, as Ruth Langmore, steals every scene she is in and gives a troubled character unexpected complexity. Charlotte is the Byrde family conscious and Hublitz handles the character with skill. Lisa Emery makes the unhinged and unpredictable Darlene one of the most frightening women on series television while Janet McTeer hits every cold-hearted note with ease in her portrayal of the cartel’s ruthless lawyer Helen Pierce. Lodge owner Rachel (Jordana Spiro), reeling from her discovery of Marty’s real purpose in her business, begins to self-destruct. It’s a sad downward spiral that Spiro delivers with emotional depth. As Wendy slowly begins to accept the dark path she is walking, she tells Marty, “We’ve done a lot of things. Things we said we would never do.” “People make choices Wendy,” Marty says. “Choices have consequences.” It’s a simple and stark reminder of this compelling crime drama’s central question. When does the end stop justifying the means? Season two of “Ozark” screens on Netflix on Aug. 31. — Melissa Crawley is the author of “Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television’s ‘The West Wing.’” She has a Ph.D. in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at staytuned@outlook.com or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.