The Shocking 'Ozark' Season 3 Finale Points the Show in a Promising New Direction
Major spoilers for Ozark up to and including the Season 3 finale follow. Click away now if you don't want the Netflix show spoiled for you.
As soon as Marty, Wendy, and Helen climbed aboard that private jet headed to Mexico for the baptism of drug kingpin Navarro's baby, it was clear that at least one of them wouldn't be returning home. Throughout the third-season finale of Ozark, Netflix's addictive chronicle of the Byrde family and their scheming associates, the money-laundering couple and their dangerously efficient attorney made moves against each other that suggested the episode would end with spilled blood. Or splattered blood. Maybe some brain matter, too.
The surprise execution that ends "All In," a tense hour of payoffs to long simmering conflicts and set-ups for future rivalries, wasn't shocking because of who got killed. Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman) and Wendy Byrde (Laura Linney) are the dueling protagonists of the series, which is only in its third season, and it was a safe bet that showrunner Chris Mundy wasn't going to kill off his two Emmy-nominated leads. Marty already got kidnapped and taken to Mexico earlier in the season, making it out alive after showing off some of his highly specialized accounting skills. And Wendy had paid a huge price in the penultimate episode with the killing of her brother, Ben (Tom Pelphrey). They weren't going anywhere. So, farewell, Helen.
The scene was shocking because of the abrupt, brutal way Helen Pierce (the stern and icy Janet McTeer) was dispatched. Throughout the season, Helen maintained the upper hand on the Byrde's, forming an early alliance (and tentative friendship) with Wendy and controlling the channel of communication between the casino in Missouri and the armed fortress of war-time cartel leader Omar Navarro (Felix Solis). In the same way Wendy saw a potential political future in Missouri, Helen saw an opportunity to run the Byrde's casino business and push them out of the picture. At multiple points, it looked like she might accomplish her goal, especially when Wendy was spiralling out following Ben's death. It felt like Helen was calling the shots.
But she ultimately over-played her hand and got out-maneuvered by the Byrde family, who secured their safety through some very bizarre -- even for them -- family collaboration. In one of the episode's most intense scenes, it looked like Jonah, wielding a shotgun with a startling degree of confidence, was going to murder Helen as vengeance for his dead uncle. But Helen, always a calming voice in troubling times, managed to talk him down, further turning him against his parents. The question remained: What could Marty and Wendy offer Navarro that Helen couldn't? Somehow, they found a way to "end the war" he found himself trapped in.
Though he didn't shoot Helen, Jonah ended up playing a role in the solution to Marty and Wendy's larger problem. Earlier in the season, Jonah filmed footage of a drug deal gone wrong, which ended with a number of Kansas City mob members getting killed by a gang. Charlotte knew about the footage and told her parents about it and then Marty fed the (slightly doctored) evidence to the FBI agent investigating him, thereby providing justification for the U.S. government to take out Navarro's competitors. Is it a little bit of a coincidence overload? Perhaps. But it was also fun to watch the puzzle pieces, laid out over the course of the 10 episode season, suddenly click into place. So that's why they spent so much time on the drone plot!
With this action, the Byrde family proved an even higher degree of loyalty to the Navarro cartel. Marty's plan, which he laid out to Wendy as she curled in the fetal position on their bed, involved making themselves essential to the operation in an even bigger way. This also involves becoming even more compromised as criminals; if there was ever a chance at redemption, it's long gone now. "Our security is tied to Navarro," he patiently explained. "We need to burrow to the center of this thing."
What is at the center of "this thing" that Marty referred to? That's a trickier question, one that the show occasionally gestures towards. Like countless other ethically challenged TV protagonists, both Marty and Wendy like to insist that they do what they do to "protect their family." The justification gets repeated over and over like a mantra. But their children are already fully aware of and immersed in the intricacies of their crimes. (One of the finale's droller, funnier moments involved Wendy saying, "Keep an eye on Jonah," to Charlotte right as they were about to leave.) The claim that everything is about "security" rings especially hollow after Wendy failed to keep her brother alive. It increasingly feels like they will sacrifice anything to maintain power.
With Helen out of the picture, a clash between the Byrde's and old foes will likely play out over the next season. After shacking up with Ruth's cousin Wyatt -- making for one of the more unexpected sex scenes I've seen in the show's history -- Darlene Snell again emerged as a major force in the world of Missouri crime. She may not have the backing of a powerful international cartel, but she now has the Kansas City mob on her side and years of experience dealing heroin in the area. She also has Ruth, who appears to have finally turned on the Byrde family for good. Having learned so much from Marty and Wendy, Ruth could make Darlene a real threat to the Byrde family empire. Ending the season covered in the blood of their enemy, Marty and Wendy don't exactly look like they're in control.
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