The New 'Ozark' Episodes Methodically Push the Byrde Family to the Breaking Point
As the Netflix crime drama draws to a close, the fourth season continues to apply pressure to its core characters.
After 37 episodes filled with ear-splitting shotgun blasts, bodies getting tossed off high-rises, and the occasional electrocution, Ozark has perfected the art of the abrupt character death. While some shows prefer to deliver suspense via slow-build sequences of creeping terror, maximizing tension as each piece falls into place, Netflix's money-laundering crime drama prefers the element of surprise. Why set up a slow, tragic downfall when you can rip the rug out from underneath the viewer? The writers clearly take a degree of joy in dealing out violent mayhem with little warning.
"Sanctified," the mid-season finale of Season 4 (seven more episodes will follow later this year), effectively delivered two of those shocks to the system, killing off longtime Byrde family antagonist Darlene Snell (Lisa Emery) and her much younger boyfriend Wyatt Langmore (Charlie Tahan). Those deaths will inevitably reshape the landscape of the Missouri drug trade just as Marty (Jason Bateman) and Wendy Byrde (Laura Linney) attempt to plan their escape from a life of crime via a return to Chicago's North Shore. If getting away clean was ever an option, it feels like it's off the table now.
The bifurcated structure of Ozark's final season resembles the last stretch of Breaking Bad, the show Ozark most often gets compared to. That show controversially allowed its grizzled, antihero protagonist Walter White to go out in a blaze of relative glory and it sent his young sidekick Jesse Pinkman driving away in a car on the road to a different life. Expect Ozark to swerve a bit from that template. With the first half wrapped up, these are three questions to think about going into the final seven episodes.
What will Darlene's death mean for the last seven episodes?
Though she was a formidable opponent, Darlene Snell (played with wicked humor by Emery) never felt like she was going to end the show on top of the food chain. She wrestled away the heroin business from her husband Jacob, protected Baby Zeke, and pissed off the Byrde family every chance she got, but she was always going to be outmaneuvered by either Wendy or the powerful cartels. It would have been strange for her to survive the final season. She had too many enemies and killed too many people. On some karmic level, it was her time.
Darlene's death actually matters less than the death of her lover Wyatt, the beloved cousin of Julia Garner's Ruth Langmore. Unlike Darlene, Ruth is probably the character most likely to emerge from the chaos of Ozark with a degree of financial independence and happiness. She's already paid a heavy price for getting involved with the Byrde's and she will likely continue to suffer as she seeks vengeance for her cousin. But the character is due for at least a bit of grace in the series finale.
Will Javi be the main antagonist for the end of the show?
It sure does seem that way. With Omar Navarro (Felix Solis) now locked up by the FBI, his nephew Javi (Alfonso Herrera) has seized control of his business and will continue to triangulate against Marty and Wendy. Temperamental and violent, Javi is more threatening than his soft-spoken uncle, but he actually feels like a less existential threat to the Byrde family. It's possible Javi could meet his own violent death in the beginning of the next part of Season 4, setting the stage for Omar's release and a more traditional battle of wits for control of the Byrde family fortune.
What's the endgame for Marty and Wendy?
Here's a tougher question: What is Ozark actually about? The show moves with such unrelenting focus, providing complicated logistical problems for its characters to discuss and solve, that it's easy to lose sight of the larger themes. In fact, one could argue that Ozark doesn't really have many larger themes beyond vague notions of "greed" and "family." In its weaker episodes, the show can feel like a prestige drama so stripped of pretense that it's merely a ruthless plot delivery system, pinging from one set piece to the next.
There's a reason the best scenes in Season 4 typically involve Marty and Wendy dealing with their children. Unlike The Sopranos or Breaking Bad, where the younger generation was often shielded from the brutality of their parents, Ozark mines bleak, absurd humor from the way the Byrde family blends money laundering, drug dealing, and murder into their dinner table conversations. These scenes hardly scan as realistic, but they're often quite funny. It feels safe to assume that the show's real moral endgame will involve Marty and Wendy finally reckoning with how much damage they've done to Jonah (Skylar Gaertner) and Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz) in their pursuit of wealth and status. Or, perhaps, Jonah and Charlotte will be the ones dealing out their own form of justice. Either way, a quiet life in Chicago is probably not in the cards for anyone.