Somehow, the Byrdes pulled it off—sort of. Probably. Maybe.
The conclusion to Netflix’s deep, dark drama Ozark keeps the Byrde family on its toes as much as ever, navigating everything from FBI deals to cartel deaths to custody battles. Marty (Jason Bateman) grapples with his increasingly immoral responsibilities; Wendy (Laura Linney) schemes more than a cartoon villain (a good thing); Jonah (Skylar Gaertner) stands on his moral high ground in spite of being a Youth Money Laundering Laureate (a bad thing); and Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz) retains a startling and heartbreaking amount of understanding around their whole screwed-up situation.
Byrdes aside, there’s another family rift playing out between Navarro siblings Omar (Felix Solis) and Camila (Veronica Falcón), who duel each other for control of the cartel with veiled threats and secret alliances. And, of course, we have Ruth Langmore (Julia Garner), who steals the show in every way imaginable.
Compared to Part 1 of this fourth and final season, this last batch of seven episodes is sleek, direct, and action-packed. In January, Part 1 spent far too much time on the same emotional beats while also introducing a litany of characters into a plot already overflowing with them. Part 2 still has to contend with some of these issues (did we need Javi if Camila was going to be the real threat all along? why are there two different sheriffs? does anyone like Mel Sattem?), but it manages to clean things up around the edges. Wendy’s father, Nathan (Richard Thomas), remains a bit superfluous to the Byrde’s family troubles, but some of Linney’s most compelling character work of the season comes from her interactions with him, rehashing a personal history that makes her shift to stone-cold power broker all the more fascinating.
While on the subject, the gradual Gone Girl-ification of Wendy Byrde over all four seasons has been nothing short of sublime. However, since her major moral sacrifice at the end of Season 3 (when she allowed her brother to be killed by the cartel), the show’s writing has lacked nuance in how it reveals her villainous tendencies. Linney’s venomous performance makes most of this forgivable, but Wendy can yell at her children only so many times before it feels one note. Luckily, her fraying nerves add some much-needed layers in the final episodes, and the failure she is confronted with in the finale really shines a light on her series-long insecurities.
Bateman brings a new intensity to Marty in this home stretch as well, showing just how dark this man can get in spite of his preference for all things buttoned-up. At one point, he steps in for Omar Navarro to run the cartel for a few days, and it brings out the brilliant tension of complicity versus active violence that always seems haunt Marty. In spite of his frequent admonishments towards Wendy for being too reckless or too aggressive, we see him and all of his twistedness. They did agree to go into the money laundering business as a couple after all—both must be culpable for what follows. At the end of the episode “Pound of Flesh and Still Kickin’” (directed exquisitely by Linney, and at the mid-point of Part 2), Marty explodes in a road-rage incident, beating a driver who’s not only insulted him but cursed at and manhandled his wife. The sparring match between Wendy and Marty, between the Byrdes and the driver, make this scene the perfect encapsulation of their relationship; Wendy may escalate what’s already been started, but Marty always has the ability to match her, even if he doesn’t want to. They’re a toxic, stunted, but strong dynamic duo, and it’s no wonder that both of them made it to the end.
Now, we’ve got to talk about Ruth. Ruth! What are we going to do without Ruth, especially now that she’s well and truly gone from our screens? Julia Garner performs an almost impossible feat in these last seven installments, imbuing a well-known and well-loved character with a new sense of self after 40 episodes. Ruth Langmore is an unstoppable force for all but the last ten minutes of Ozark, and as she charges forward into a future of her own making, you can’t help but root for her as the real hero of this story. Whether it’s a violent revenge mission or just trying to figure out where to put her new in-ground pool, Garner’s Ruth is utterly captivating, and she’s certainly making the case to win her third consecutive Emmy for the role.
In fact, Ruth is so impactful that her fate renders the final scene of the show a bit moot. Through weaselly detective work and a vaguely signaled moral streak, P.I. Mel Sattem ambushes Marty and Wendy with evidence of one of their many, many crimes. In his speech to the problematic power couple, he insists, “You don’t get to win.” But that’s the thing—the Byrdes have already lost. They lost the second they agreed to work with a drug cartel, the moment they moved to the Ozarks, the instant they put their kids in the loop.
Wendy and Marty were never going to win, and that reality sunk in for both of them as their new ally stalked off into the night to track down the only person they could ever consistently count on in the Ozarks. As the last shot cuts to black and a gunshot rings out, it’s hardly an implication of victory for the family. The Byrdes were never going to win, even if they somehow came out of everything alive. That may be a kind of victory, but it’s certainly a bleak one—just what Ozark ordered.