This article contains spoilers for the latest episode of “ozark.”
Say this for the final moments of “Ozark”: They talk about the show’s sense of its own importance.
After four seasons, the Byrde family saga has come to an end with the launch of the drama’s final set of episodes on netflix – or, at least, the part of the story that we, as viewers, see complete. The implication of those final seconds is that Marty and Wendy, the amoral husband and wife played by jason batman and Laura Linneywill indeed accomplish anything they want, and will do so with the buy-in of their son Jonah (Skylar Gaertner).
In the finale, the Byrdes hold a charity gala that represents their emergence from the depths they have occupied to become rightful citizens once again. After the event, their last real threat emerges: a private detective (Adam Rothenberg) who reappears to confront the couple. But Jonah manages to catch him, with a gunshot ringing out and the family’s triumph sealed as the camera cuts to black.
From a cinematic perspective, it feels like a spin on the finale of “The Sopranos,” but on a show that lacks the guts of its beliefs. (The “Ozark” finale was directed by Bateman, who won an Emmy for his work behind the camera.) Not showing the final act of the Byrdes’ rise literally suggests ambiguity, but Bateman makes sure to leave the gunshot audio – just in case viewers get confused.
And narratively, that final murder completes the series’ rather sketchy understanding of who the Byrdes are and what they want. We were told, all along, that Marty and Wendy relentlessly laundered money not just to top debts to organized crime (as they literally were), but to build a future for their children. Now one of their children has admitted that their parents had the right idea.
In the past I have written critically about “Ozark,” a show that’s relentlessly watchable and often kind of wicked fun. But he often came across as a “Breaking Bad” with the ideas washed out – all heart-pounding action, not much more to grab. And what I see as a tendency to lean into a cliché about potential criminality lurking in the hearts of men and women, fans might just call a willingness to play in bold, elemental terms. A show about good and evil would have more nuance than “Ozark,” which is about evil, plain and simple. The show likes to show us Wendy and Marty’s greed, desperation, and willingness to do anything to get ahead; its conclusion, with the final corruption of the eternally ambivalent Jonah, is the ultimate blow.
It doesn’t quite work either: on the one hand, the finale leaves his daughter Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz) out of the family equation, as if she doesn’t matter to the story. She is shown upside down, standing next to her brother as he aims his gun; the implication is that she approves, but it’s clumsily executed. This awkwardness may be due to the fact that no Byrde child did matter a lot to the story until they can be used to prove a big point about generational wealth and generational violence. They were certainly far less important to the story than Julia Garner’s Ruth Langmore, the unfortunate young woman whose aptitude for crime made her the true heiress of the Byrde parents before she was killed in retaliation for a murder. which she had committed in retaliation for … etc.
Ruth runs out of luck just as upper-class Byrdes stumble upon even greater fortune is, to some literal way of thinking, the way of the world. And, if it means nothing else, “Ozark” wants, badly, to express this cynical point of view. Trouble is, he’s left with a bit more to say than “it’s the breaks, huh?” This is expressed in sermons, such as when Rothenberg’s character – thinking he’s about to ruin the Byrdes – tells the couple that they can’t just reinvent themselves as American royalty and “the world doesn’t work that way”. It’s a line that’s only written for drama: Wendy’s response (“Since when?”) is the last line of dialogue we hear. The show’s closing argument that the wealthy create their own reality was best expressed, frankly, through Ruth’s fierce struggle to the top in previous seasons.
The final moments feel “inevitable” and lack the sharpness of surprise. Ruth has extended sentimental moments with various members of the Byrde family in the run-up to her death, a parting shift in her bearing that clearly indicates we’re about to say goodbye. (Of course, her fate was sealed when she impulsively took down a key cartel member in a revenge killing, but there seemed to be a bit more suspense watching in the moment.) And We Should Have knowing the Byrdes were invincible when a massive car wreck they’re in – one teased early in the season – leaves the family unscathed and Wendy more convinced of their righteousness than ever.
This last detail intrigues: Wendy, interpreted by Linney, is the richest character of the series (followed closely by Ruth, who could more often be used as a device to contrast the classes in the middle of “Ozark” than a fully rounded figure). Wendy’s expressed belief that the family is on the path to some kind of transcendent American greatness is a note that remained under-explored until the end of the show.
If this had been established more clearly, we might have a better understanding of what Jonah and Charlotte believed they were getting into as they engaged in the family lifestyle. Instead, we get “Since when?” — a line written with a sort of sardonic certainty. “Ozark” ends by praising itself for accurately documenting the state of American life, all in a made-up reality even more rigged in favor of the Byrdes than real life could have been.
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