Netflix’s ‘Ozark’ Finales Its Web of Corruption With Masterful Intensity
The final episodes of Netflix’s “Ozark” almost confirms that some Peak TV can come close to achieving what was once called “the great American novel.” If these episodes had been a book, it would have been quite the riveting page-turner. Violence, shocks and moments of raw honesty commingle with a broader idea of what greed and success mean in our society. This is the second half of the show’s fourth and final season, continuing the grand chapter that first premiered back in January. The defining question for longtime fans is if Martin (Jason Bateman) and Wendy Byrde (Laura Linney) will get away with it all. After all the money laundering, murder and collaboration with a Mexican drug cartel, will they achieve the all-seductive American dream? Unlike lightweight dramas, this one concludes on the note that dreams can be achieved through the nightmares of others.
For the Byrdes, the dream entails finally getting out of the dirty money business. This has proven tricky when you’re entangled with entities like the Navarro cartel. As the final episodes commence, Martin and Wendy are close to sealing a deal with business partner Clare Shaw (Katrina Lenk). The deal would also include ruthless cartel drug lord Javi Elizonndro (Alfonso Herrera). It’s the best chance for the couple to finally get clean and leave. Gunning for revenge is their former partner Ruth (Julia Garner), who knows Javi killed her cousin Wyatt (Charlie Tahan) along with drug dealer Darlene (Lisa Emery). Despite Martin and Wendy attempting to dissuade Ruth from doing anything rash, she’s unstoppable and eventually shoots down Javi in Clare’s office. Now left with a shattered deal that had involved the FBI, the Byrdes need to figure out a new escape route, which involves Martin agreeing to travel down to Mexico to represent the interests of incarcerated cartel boss Omar Navarro (Felix Solis).
While “Ozark” is a much more refined thriller than your average cartel yarn, including big hits like “Narcos,” these final episodes easily merit the cliché claim of “delivering for the fans.” Showrunner Chris Mundy, with Bateman again expertly directing a few episodes, makes sure no step can easily be predicted. The brilliance of the show is its combination of tension with a stark realism. It can almost be classified as true crime because there is little doubt personalities like this exist. Martin and Wendy Byrde are WASP America linking up with the Mexican drug underworld, personifying how it’s a market that dismisses the southern border literally, and culturally. Greed has no defining language or social tinge. The final episodes build a sense of entrapment created by how the Byrdes need to think fast, increase the lies and fight back any human feelings. When Martin tries to show some understanding of Ruth’s emotional turmoil, Wendy can’t stand it. She’s too much of a cold operator with a sober view of the world. After Ruth kills Javi, now the couple has to lie to Omar Navarro about his nephew’s disappearance. They also have to maneuver around other backers within the local elite who can provide their foundation with needed cash in order to become legitimate.
In the world of “Ozark” no one can be trusted until the very end. Sometimes it’s simply a case of a weighing conscience, like when the Byrde kids, Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz) and Jonah (Skylar Gaertner) continue giving Ruth essential information because they genuinely sympathize. The writing still finds new ways to give a major character like Wendy, played with such icy brilliance by Laura Linney, richer layers as well. We get a hint of why she is as she is when her father, Nathan (Richard Thomas), arrives with his church group to search for Wendy’s missing brother, Ben. We viewers know Ben is dead, thanks to Wendy, but of course Nathan doesn’t. His evangelical façade cracks when he drinks and spews passive aggressiveness at his daughter, whose backstory as a troublemaker is subtly hinted at in conversation. No wonder Wendy wanted to get away and now craves the ability to have some power of her own.
An aspect of its larger saga that these final episodes of “Ozark” capture so well is the sensation of colliding with very dark forces. Bateman and Linney’s acting is some of the best in any crime series because it contrasts a genuine WASP behavior with a world of brute violence. Martin travels to Mexico in order to represent Navarro, since the kingpin needs to cement his control from beyond prison to keep any fallout from Javi’s death at bay. With the tone of a college-educated professional, Martin explains the situation to a room full of cartel thugs and then proceeds to do their bookkeeping. Eventually he has to witness a torture session while keeping under control a very palpable sense of fear. “Ozark” dramatizes like no other show the surreal way in which cartels are essentially violent corporations making, distributing and competing for a product. For the Byrdes the problem is the environment comes with someone like Camila Elizonndro (Veronica Falcón), Omar’s equally ruthless sister who wouldn’t mind taking over the Navarro cartel, while planning how to avenge Javi.
Out of the whole impressive cast, it is perhaps Ruth who proves to be the most memorable. The scrappy young woman from the backwoods symbolizes the downtrodden American desperate to make it in our capitalist shark tank. While the Byrdes suffer losses but still keep their privileges, Ruth loses and has to dust off over and over again. As the curtain closing nears, she’s in the deepest despair we’ve ever seen her. Wyatt is dead and her business is ruined. Wendy offers new deals but in a powerfully poignant moment, Ruth warns Clare Shaw that the Byrdes are loyal to no one. They will tear down and build up as they please, as long as it brings them closer to their goal. That’s how it works for many in this country. The poor are left fighting for scraps while the privileged, even within the criminal class, have the means to survive. Wendy can easily bribe the new acting sheriff and lure back a wealthy collaborator for her foundation. Ruth sits in her trailer, shotgun ready, for when one of these players decides to show up and intimidate her. This is a show about choices and for Ruth it’s not wise to act rash and kill someone like Javi, because you have no leverage left to take on the consequences.
The final moments of “Ozark” have the potential to be as divisive as the infamous finale to “The Sopranos.” It’s a much more clear, complete conclusion, yet it will not give the audience exact, moral satisfaction. It masterfully conveys what makes this show so great. Dancing with violent and criminal elements will certainly take a toll on someone, but it doesn’t necessarily mean there will be a storybook ending where good triumphs over evil. Private investigator Mel Sattern (Adam Rothenberg) might get close to pinning Ben’s murder on the Byrdes, yet he’s not connected to great wealth, so what tools does he really have? For some characters there are definitive endings, for others there’s no “finale” in the traditional sense. “Ozark” is now complete and ready to be enjoyed again from the very beginning, as the bigger picture of its dark journey takes on a more defined shape. It doesn’t necessarily “end,” because for every dreamer who gets killed pursuing ill-gotten gains, there’s plenty more waiting in line.
“Ozark” season four part two begins streaming April 29 on Netflix.