Over the course of its nerve-rattling five-year run, Ozark has suggested a variety of outcomes for the Byrde family — few of them promising. Consequently, the back half of the Netflix hit’s fourth and final season (April 29) is laced with monumental portent, as if the world might come crashing down around Marty (Jason Bateman) and Wendy (Laura Linney) at any moment. Yet while calamity is somewhat inevitable for this cartel-complicit clan, whose every move invariably mires them in further trouble, showrunner Chris Mundy has managed to land on a conclusion for their saga that’s at once surprising and fitting, not to mention underscores the series’ bedrock truths about greed, ambition, and immorality in 21st-century America.
The end of Ozark begins with Ruth (Julia Garner) hell-bent on avenging the death of her beloved cousin Wyatt (Charlie Tahan) by assassinating his killer, current Navarro cartel boss Javi (Alfonso Herrera). This is a foolhardy undertaking that will put Ruth in extreme peril, but she nonetheless barrels headlong down her chosen path while listening to hip-hop (in particular, Nas’ Illmatic) that makes her feel close to Wyatt. Considering that Ruth is threatening the arrangement they’ve established with Javi, Big Pharma CEO Claire Shaw (Katrina Lenk), and the FBI to net them everything they’ve ever coveted — namely, freedom from the cartel and enough donation cash to make them regional political power players — Marty and Wendy are naturally compelled to intervene. As is so often the case in Mundy’s show, though, the best-laid plans are often the ones most apt to explode, and explode they do, sending Marty and Wendy once again scrambling to secure a way out of their perpetually precarious predicament.
Marty and Wendy’s union — equal parts business arrangement and domestic agreement — has always been held together with spit and duct tape, and it’s put to the test during Ozark‘s closing installments. Complications are everywhere, starting with Omar Navarro (Felix Solis), who wants out of US federal prison, and convinces Marty and Wendy to concoct a scheme that’ll achieve that aim — to some extent, by having Marty operate as Omar’s head-honcho proxy in Mexico. That temporary position also entangles Marty with Omar’s sister Camila (Veronica Falcón), who has her own designs on the cartel throne, and whose involvement in this affair causes additional panic and havoc. Compounding their narco nightmares, Marty and Wendy are also dealing with a variety of crises at home, including Jonah’s (Skylar Gaertner) continued estrangement from the family (he’s still living at the Lazy-O Motel), and the newfound alliance struck between private investigator Mel Sattem (Adam Rothenberg) and Wendy’s abusive dad Nathan (Richard Thomas), who’s chosen to stick around with his church group in order to locate his missing son Ben (Tom Pelphrey).
Those are merely the initial headaches Marty and Wendy must contend with during these climactic seven episodes, which integrate a variety of familiar faces into the sprint to the finish line. Rather than playing as cameos, those characters’ reappearances are Mundy and company’s means of bringing things full circle, as well as illustrating the closed-loop nature of this entire situation. No one really escapes the cartel life, nor the horrors they’ve been perpetrated, as Ozark repeatedly reminds its principals, who here are burdened by not only their present catastrophes but the onerous atrocities they’ve committed in the name of keeping families safe and together — a justification that’s rung hollower with each successive betrayal, double-cross, and murder.
“To a greater degree than before, Marty and Wendy find themselves at odds over the best way to proceed, with the former interested in survival and the latter consumed by a hunger for triumph, and that tension is the engine that drives them toward the figurative cliff .”
“Perceptions are fluid — like power dynamics,” states Javi, and Ozark bears that out via the Byrds’ distressed quest to realize their goals. To a greater degree than before, Marty and Wendy find themselves at odds over the best way to proceed, with the former interested in survival and the latter consumed by a hunger for triumph, and that tension is the engine that drives them toward the figurative cliff . Whether liberation and reinvention is possible without the money and clout Wendy craves is the question that looms over both their lives, as well as those around them, especially given that they’re beset on all sides by forces committed to seeing them fail, be it the rancid Nathan, the persistent Mel — who soon enlists the aid of disgraced FBI agent Maya Miller (Jessica Frances Dukes) —or the hard-nosed Ruth, who’s finally taken her destiny into her own hands, damn the consequences for her or anyone else .
Ozark stays true to its focus on ruthlessly enterprising women, with Linney and Garner as formidable as ever, and Falcón a welcome addition to what has long been the best female cast on television. Yet it’s Bateman who does perhaps his finest work of the series in these chapters, expressing through stoic grimaces and silently determined expressions the internal war raging between his better instincts and his loyalty to his wife. Right up until the finale, it’s not clear precisely where Marty stands in relation to Wendy, and it’s a credit to Mundy — and to director Amanda Marsalis, who expertly helms four of these last seven episodes — that such suspense is both sustained and cast as a natural outgrowth of intricate criminal and familial dilemmas with no easy solutions.
Religious overtones are ubiquitous in this concluding batch, intimating that Marty and Wendy are courting some measure of divine damnation with their harsh and harrowing choices. Ultimately, though, Ozark remains a show about the mercilessness required to make it big in today’s America, and the similarly ferocious resolve needed to maintain a marriage and to raise a brood. There’s no preaching required; with every step that Marty and Wendy take, the series serves as a stinging snapshot of endurance through cold-blooded calculation, and relatedly, the ruin that comes from operating according to your heart instead of your head. In its worldview, victory is the byproduct of desperate, callous manipulation and exploitation, as well as — more fundamental still — an ability to believe that means means justify the ends. Perhaps they do, and perhaps everyone who doesn’t see that is just a patsy waiting to be passed in the race to the top. Ozarkhowever, never loses sight of the fact that selling your soul is rarely done solely for righteous reasons.