I came to the party very late for Ozark, Netflix’s critically-acclaimed drama that has frequently been compared to the likes of Breaking Bad. I only first watched all previous episodes of the series this year, and found them both compelling and shocking. Par for the course with several television dramas, Ozark’s final season was split into two halves. With part one fresh in my mind, I headed into part two of the fourth season with the hopes that the audience would be afforded an excellent conclusion. I can safely say that Ozark goes out with an emotional, intoxicating bang that stays true to the multiple themes brought to light in Bill Dubuque’s powerful and bleak series. The nail-biting tension that has become a trademark of the Netflix show returns full-force, as the foundation beneath the Byrde family begins to crumble.
In case one has forgotten January’s cliffhanger ending, Wyatt Langmore (Charlie Tahan) and drug lord Darlene Snell (Lisa Emery), freshly married, were both shot in the head by sociopath and newfound leader of the cartel, Javi Elizondro (Alfonso Herrera). Once volatile loose-cannon but total sweetheart Ruth Langmore (Julia Garner) discovers Wyatt dead, she has a complete mental breakdown and wishes only to exact her revenge. The Byrdes have just made an exclusive deal with the brilliant Clare Shaw (Katrina Lenk), head of Shaw Medical, to funnel cartel drugs for use in Shaw’s research. The FBI has agreed to allow this activity on the grounds that cash seizures via negotiations with cartel head Omar Navarro (Felix Solis) will continue on his way to an immunity deal, and the ultimate dismantling of the organization.
Of course, this is Ozark, and this is the Byrde family we are talking about. Disaster and the constant struggle to stay just above the water follow the Byrdes at every turn. We pick up immediately in the aftermath of the double murder from the conclusion of part one—Javi instructs Wendy (Laura Linney) and her husband Marty (Jason Bateman, who is also heavily involved creatively) to clean up his mess, and “get rid of that hillbilly cunt.” This show has always been host to surprising out-of-nowhere pivots, and perhaps the most shocking of the season comes in the very first episode back, titled “The Cousin of Death.”
Julia Garner’s Emmy-winning performance as Ruth Langmore continues the fascinating dimensions to her character. This is perhaps the biggest journey of changes that anyone in this universe has had to face, losing now every single member of her blood-relative family apart from one mere brother: Three (Carson Holmes). Ruth becomes ensnared in the action like never before. My minor complaints about some aspects to the previous seasons (especially the first) is how disconnected the Langmores felt from the primary action. There is no such misstep here, as Ruth’s story intersects with the Byrdes and their relationship with the cartel in worthwhile fashion.
The best part about this stretch of final episodes is that one can feel how timely and important it was to the creative team to finish the story they have aimed to complete from the very beginning. Writing in particular has become practically meta in its references to previous seasons, embracing the absurdity in ways that Glee did once before during its sixth and final season. Characters are brought back into the fray that have been around since the beginning, and the majority of subplots are able to reach organic, often surprising conclusions. Former-drug-addict Rachel (Jordana Spiro), scheming social climber Jim (Damian Young), and Wendy’s asshole father, Nathan (Richard Thomas), have essential arcs this time around. Wendy continues to push away her children despite her best efforts to keep them close, whilst Marty struggles with being forced into doing Navarro’s dirty work and sticking by Wendy in spite of questionable morals.
The assured energy to end Ozark on a high note carries over themes that have loomed large on its entire run. What is the cost of fame and fortune? Can one really escape a life of criminality when they’re already in this deep? Those hoping for a crazed bloodbath may walk away disappointed, but for this viewer anyway, Ozark could not have possibly ended in a better fashion. I have been waiting what feels like forever to see how they would choose to end things; Jason Bateman does a terrific job directing its series finale episode, titled “A Hard Way to Go.” Clocking in at a short-movie length with 1 hour and 11 minutes, the concluding chapter left me in tears, and satisfied fondness for a near-perfect run.
Customary for each episode of Ozark, a brief title sequence provides four distinct images that will foreshadow the major events of what one is about to watch. I found it the source of discussion and fun with my husband to try to spot what each item would be referencing from subsequent episodes. Something as rudimentary as the visual of a hoodie represents the literal item of clothing worn by Ruth in an episode. Another, like what looks to be shattered glass, can symbolize beyond the obvious. I can only imagine that the appearance of these teases at the top of the episode would make a rewatch that much more engaging.
Finishing a good series can be tough on the psyche, but concluding a great one can take an even greater toll. It leaves a hole behind that only re-watching can even hope to fill. Since I finished Ozark, I have not stopped thinking about what an absolute roller coaster the whole blood affair really was. From the beginning, Marty’s quick-tongue persuasion was the only thing that ever really saved him and his family. With the promise of a casino, Marty was spared a hasty death, while everyone else involved in his first money-laundering mishap was calculatedly dispatched. Now, four seasons and innumerable casualties later, can the Byrde family really hope to make it out the other side unscathed? The answer is a slam-dunk of an ending that will undoubtedly leave people talking.
Ozark’s last seven episodes play a dangerous game exclusively to Netflix on Friday, April 29th.