Steve Dietl / Netflix
Ozark has made a number of implicit promises.
As it has told the story of the increasingly powerful, increasingly wicked power couple Marty and Wendy Byrde (Jason Bateman and Laura Linney), it has built tension over where, precisely, their loyalties lie and how far they will go. Will one of them turn on the other? Will one or both of them turn on Ruth (Julia Garner), the abused and largely abandoned teenager Marty brought into a life of crime much more dangerous than the one she might have slid into on her own– much as Breaking Bad‘s Walter White once did with young Jesse Pinkman? What will become of the Byrdes’ kids, Charlotte and Jonah? The show has promised its viewers that the tension over these questions is building to something, probably something very big.
At a more basic level, though, Ozarka show of exceptional violence and brutality, has unapologetically leaned toward a single question: Who’s going to survive all this?
Netflix gave critics only one rule about not spoiling the finale, one thing that could not be given away: “All character deaths.” They know what you’re here for, you see. They don’t want me to spoil it for you. I wouldn’t anyway, of course, because it would be rude and terrible, but that’s the one thing they want to make sure you discover for yourself: the final body count, and which bodies are counted. Don’t let anybody tell you this show is not largely about people waiting on tenterhooks to see who lives and who dies, because it’s exactly about that.
On April 29, the end of the story – or the end of the story as far as we know – will be told. And you will soon know what the ending has to say about all character deaths.
The final seven episodes of Ozark drop on Netflix on Friday, April 29th.
What’s left to resolve
When we left off, Ruth had just discovered that her beloved cousin Wyatt and his wife Darlene had been murdered, and Jonah had revealed to her – over his parents’ strenuous objections – that the culprit was Javi Elizonndro, the nephew of drug kingpin Omar Navarro . Ruth drove off in her truck vowing revenge, while the Byrdes panicked. This explosive development could throw a great big wrench into the existing plan for Marty and Wendy to get out from under the cartel and head for Chicago to start over as a politically connected couple of rich philanthropists.
But this is not all that’s left to resolve. The show also opened the fourth season in January with an isolated car accident that appeared to be a flash-forward. In the scene, the Byrdes are all driving together in apparent pleasurable companionship, quite contrary to their current intrafamiliar warfare, when Marty suddenly has to swerve and flips the car, which is left upside down with wheels spinning, looking very wrecked. Not only do we still need to find out what happens in that accident and whether everyone survives, but we need to find out how on earth the Byrdes ended up in that state of contentment, given that Jonah, in particular, seems unlikely to ever forgive his mother for having his uncle – her own brother – killed by the cartel. (Can you blame him?) Where are the Byrdes all going together that everybody looks so … chill? How does the family get to that point, having started at a place where Jonah is willing to defy Marty and Wendy and give up Javi to Ruth?
Ozark has always been derivative: it sometimes seems like a smoothie whirred together from helpings of Breaking Badthe second season of Fargo, Justifiedand a little of The Americans. It has gotten almost funny watching the show tick off the boxes in emulating Breaking Bad in particular: the split final set of episodes. The flash-forward that introduces the last season. The young person who never had a chance once they got mixed up with a much worse, much more immoral – but much more superficially “respectable” – adult. The all-seeing, all-knowing, hyper-brutal “cartel” that borders on caricature. The people who are decent and doomed. The marriage where the principals kind of hate each other.
If you haven’t seen the end of Breaking Bad, for heaven’s sake, go and watch that show (it’s better than this one) and don’t read this spoilery paragraph. But if you have, you know that Breaking Bad faced a lot of similar choices in its final season, and it made them all: Walt died, Jesse was saved, Skyler got rid of her terrible husband, Walt got to go out in a triumphant (and, in fairness, absurd) blaze of glory mowing down his enemies, and Jesse got to kill the worst of the worst of the bad guys in a very close-up and grisly manner. They certainly did not hold back when it comes to all character deaths. Maybe you liked the way it ended; maybe you didn’t. But the show’s team made its choices, and Ozark has promised to make them, too.
Of course, there’s always the example of The Sopranos, which ended on a carefully calibrated note of ambiguity, almost rebelling against the idea that who lives and who dies was ever the point of the show. Show creator David Chase famously cut to black at a moment that didn’t feel like an ending; that it turned out to be an ending is what made it seem important. What was it about that dinner that made that end of the story? Nothing much seemed to be happening; was that point, that in the end, the life of Tony Soprano simply went on, far less dramatically than the “it’s about people getting whacked” crowd perhaps wanted? Or was that the end for some other reason? Can you infer that the only reason that’s suddenly the end of the story is that it’s the end of Tony’s life? They’re interesting questions.
That worked for The Sopranos, because the show made good on its particular promises, which were never to give you a final body count. It’s okay to deploy ambiguity within your ending, of course. It’s okay as long as it doesn’t feel like a trick. Ozark is, to say the least, not The Sopranos. It has always implicitly relied on a final accounting of deaths – and if you asked fans what they wanted from the finale, which I did, a lot of them will describe their desired outcome in terms of who should live and who should die.
What to anticipate from the end of the series
So let’s talk about what you can expect from these final episodes. In addition to all character deaths, Netflix has specifically asked critics not to say anything about the very last episode, including whether it is good or not, until Monday, several days after the last episodes go live. So what can I tell you about what to expect from the end without saying anything about the ending?
You should expect to see the immediate aftermath of Ruth’s fury dominate the beginning of this set of episodes. The immediate emergency in the Byrdes’ world is the collision of Ruth, and Javi, and Ruth’s great big gun, and Ruth’s profound loss (losses, really). Wyatt’s death seems to have made Ruth into a bit of a nihilist, understandably enough; sure, she’s still concerned about the best interests of Wyatt’s brother Three, but Wyatt was Ruth’s soulmate, her confidante, her best friend, her only decent and supportive family. And she watched him dragged under by the drug business, which raises the question: What does she have to lose?
But Marty and Wendy’s quieter emergency is that their children are slipping away. Jonah, in particular, seems to hate his parents and love Ruth in a way that makes him a potentially potent player in the power struggle between them, even though he’s young and in terms of crime, he mostly does math. (He has been known, of course, to pick up a gun.) These episodes explore how deep that divide between Jonah and his parents has gotten, and to what degree it includes Charlotte, and what Marty and especially Wendy might do if the family broke even more.
You will eventually find out about that car accident. You will learn what happens in the aftermath of it and what kind of role it plays in the larger story. The writers will place the Byrde kids in that car with their parents, and you can decide for yourself whether it seems plausible that everyone looks so content, whether that moment seems earned.
Characters you have seen before will show up in unexpected moments. Some plot threads will be tied up; others will be abandoned.
And you will eventually see the credits roll for the last time while Netflix tries, in the way that is its signature, to immediately shuffle you from the end of this four-season epic to whatever else they have on offer. And it will be up to you to decide, in that moment, whether you think the show kept its promises.