Why 'Ozark' & 'Maniac' Star Julia Garner Is the Queen of Fall TV

Cailin Loesch
Opinion Netflix

With two polar-opposite roles in two of Netflix’s most buzzed about original shows of the season, Julia Garner is having a moment… and for good reason!

At only 24 years old, the actress is best-known as the tough-but-not-heartless Ruth Langmore, the teenage accomplice to Jason Bateman’s Ozark character Marty Byrde, who winds up tied up in multiple Mexican drug cartels. But Garner is not about to be typecast..

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In the new Netflix limited series Maniac, she does a 180 as Ellie, Emma Stone’s character Annie's more sensible and controlled younger sister. Where Ruth resorts to even the most drastic tactics to solve her problems, Ellie tries to talk them out.

Where Ruth’s crude, over-the-top, deep-South persona dials up the drama on Ozark, Ellie’s (usually) even-tempered nature brings Maniac back down to Earth. And now that both series are out, Garner's unique talent for switching between characters, no matter how different, is on full display.

Below, a round-up of five of Julia Garner’s most memorable moments on-screen this year.

The Boat Deal (Ozark)

Episode: "Precious Blood of Jesus"

Reminiscent of the Season 1 sequence in which Ruth applies for a job at a strip club — sweet-talking Bobby Dean in order to appease Marty — the boat deal scene puts Ruth’s loyalty to her partner (and Garner’s acting chops) on full display. Her Ruth Langmore is so nuanced she is just as commanding in this scene as she was minutes earlier, hurling cringeworthy insults at the top of her lungs as she physically forced a Lickety Splitz worker out of a breakroom hookup. Ruthie need not raise her voice to be brutal: All it really takes is a few brilliantly-delivered lines — and looks — and she has you in the palm of her hand.

Confronting Annie (Maniac)

Episode: "Windmills"

Through some flashback scenes, in which Annie (Emma Stone) suckers her younger sister (Garner) into posing for a photo to remember their trip (only to snap a picture of her underarm), Garner begins to do the impossible: turn us against an Emma Stone character.

Tensions boil over later on when a light-hearted conversation back at the motel turns into the last straw for Ellie. Her earnest comment about enjoying spending time with Annie is met with more snarky digs and a big fight. Still, Ellie’s patience with Annie only makes us more frustrated with Stone's character for being so awful.

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The fact that Garner can so seamlessly switch from Ruth to Ellie — the boxer to the punching bag — is a testament to her ability to draw empathy for whoever she's embodying.

Maniac (Netflix)

Full-Blown Fantasy (Maniac)

Episode: "The Lake of the Clouds"

As if wasn’t enough of a surprise to see the Ozark scene-stealer as a typical American girl on Maniac, in Episodes 7 and 8, we are hit with Garner as an elf with a perfect British accent! Ellie’s elfin alter-ego, Ellia, is so in-tune with her world of spells and hobgoblins that she doesn’t understand she’s in a globular cluster, much to her sister Annia’s irritation.

But it’s not long before Ellia starts to remember her real life as Ellie, and what comes next is an emotional turning point for Annie. Ellia remembers that, after Annie ran away, their mother called Ellie “utterly and predictably normal.” You can hear the sadness in Garner’s voice as she tells the story, which helps Annia to finally connect with her sister, setting the sibling storyline on the path to a dramatic conclusion.

Some may complain that Garner wasn’t in Maniac enough, but even under the guise of a comedic, heavily fantastical dream sequence, the young star's emotionally-charged scenes bring about a shift in the show’s tone.

Maniac (Netflix)

And while we're on the topic of Annia and Ellia, this scene gets an honorable mention:

“I Swear on My Life” (Ozark)

 Episode: "Game Day"

In this scene, Ruth runs to Marty after she learns the cartel is threatening her life. In it, we see every facet of the character start to come together. She shows up yelling and cussing, as usual, but soon her more human side comes back into focus. The second Marty questions Ruth about her plan to kill him on the dock, Ruth’s anger turns to fear and guilt. In just a couple of seconds, she says with her face more than she’s ever said in words.

It’s tough because it’s true: She did try to kill Marty, but things have changed since then, and she means it when she swears he can trust her. Ruth Langmore is nothing if not honest, and she doesn’t deny it. And this might be the moment we're most in-tune with Ruth up until this point in the series. She’s more lost than she’ll ever let on, and we feel for her.

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“The Only Thing in This World” (Ozark)

Episode: "The Gold Coast"

Ozark (Netflix)

If you weren’t already completely on Ruth’s side, you are after Ozark’s second season finale. After her father tries to blackmail her into giving him money, threatening to tell Wyatt that Ruth killed his father, Ruth puts it all on the line and walks over to tell him herself. In a heartbreaking scene, Ruth admits to what she's done — and practically yells at Wyatt through tears that he is ‘the only thing in this world she’ll ever f***ing love.' She's no longer just a criminal like her dad (perhaps she never was): She’s a layered, fiercely-loyal person with the capacity to be both vulnerable and strong.

Ozark (Netflix)

Ozark and Maniac are both streaming on Netflix.

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