A friend once described Ozark as “Breaking Bad, but faster and more insane.” It’s a fitting description for the Netflix drama, created by Bill Dubuque and Mark Williams, which premiered in July 2017 and has gained a rabid following as its audience has fallen in love with the Byrdes, a family forced to move from Chicago to the Ozarks to launder money for a Mexican drug cartel. While the show does have some similarities to the Vince Gilligan-created Breaking Bad, which ended in 2013, also about an otherwise average family man who lives a double life as a drug kingpin, Ozark does part ways in several key areas, notably its pace, its darkness and its much wider galaxy of fascinating characters. But Ozark does follow Breaking Bad’s lead in one very significant way. Much like the final season of Breaking Bad, which was split into two mini-seasons, Ozark is also dividing its finale season, releasing the fourteen episodes of season four in two batches of seven, with the first half dropping on Netflix on January 21, with as of yet no date announced for the second.
If there’s one thing Dubuque and Williams may have learned from Gilligan, it’s that the anticipation can almost be as good as the thing itself. Still, I can assure you, as one who has seen the first seven episodes of Ozark’s last season, I promise its fans will not be willing to wait very long to see the final seven. It’s hard enough to accept the fact that this gripping, addictive show is bowing out after just four seasons. It’s just extra torture to make its audience wait even longer to see how it ends. But I guess that’s another thing Dubuque learned from Gilligan: leave them wanting more.
In keeping with leaving everyone wanting more, Ozark’s final season begins with a flash-forward teaser, ending in a cliffhanger before it jumps back to where we left off at the end of season three. This opening teaser provides just enough of a glimpse into the future but only prompts more questions that may or may not be answered. As if we aren’t hooked enough.
After the opening cliffhanger, the narrative jumps back to where we left off at the end of season three, with the Byrdes still reeling from the sudden bloody elimination of cartel lawyer Helen by their boss, Omar Navarro (Felix Solis). Although shocking and disturbing, Helen’s death creates an opportunity for Marty and Wendy, played to calm, cold-blooded, and panic-free perfection by Jason Bateman and Laura Linney, who have never been ones to be affected by anything shocking or disturbing.
After essentially holding them hostage for all this time, Navarro is now offering the Byrdes a way out, but, as always, it will require some delicate maneuvering, fast-talking, and plenty of fancy footwork on the Byrdes’s part. But tapdancing is Marty’s specialty, and with a carrot such as this at the end of the stick, there’s not much Marty won’t do to reach it. Wendy, meanwhile, is already several steps ahead, planning for her future, focusing all of her time and energy on getting The Byrde Foundation in bed with the rich, powerful, and connected. Even though she may have every intention of becoming a clean and legitimate political influencer, she doesn’t hesitate to use some dirty tricks she’s picked up from Navarro along the way.
But Wendy’s skill at compartmentalizing her life is strained this season, as Ben’s death continues to linger in her psyche. Both Ben and Helen’s deaths loom large in season four, as the ripple effects of both untimely passings (and missing bodies) wreak havoc both internally and externally, not just for the Byrdes but for everyone in their circle. Ben’s death threatens to rip apart the usually tight-knit Byrde family, as Jonah (Skylar Gaertner) blames his mother for his murder and rebels accordingly. At the same time, Helen’s disappearance raises red flags with her estranged husband, who sends a private investigator (Adam Rothenberg) to look for her. If there’s one thing nobody in this town needs, it’s someone from the outside poking around.
Meanwhile, Ben’s death has also put a wedge between Ruth and the Byrdes, as Ruth is not finding it easy to forgive Wendy’s part in his death. Ben’s death has devastated Ruth, which motivates her even more to best the Byrdes at their own game, but she has her hands full dealing with Darlene (Lisa Emery), her loose cannon partner whose itchy trigger finger might start to become a problem.
Meanwhile, the Byrdes’s relationship with Navarro (and their plans for the future) are jeopardized by Navarro’s hotheaded nephew, Javi (Alfonso Herrera), who doesn’t trust the Byrdes and has his own ideas of how things should be run.
One of the best things about Ozark is the fearlessness of the writing. No show has ever burned through plot the way this show does–you can’t turn away, even for an instant, for fear of missing something. Every episode is packed with twists. Things can turn on a dime, as allies become enemies, family become pawns, partners deceive, and bonds are broken. And that’s not even mentioning all the death, most from very unnatural causes. Season four brings much of the same, as the stakes continue to get higher and the fall threatens to be even steeper for the Byrdes.
As with any anti-heroes, Marty and Wendy blur the lines between good and evil, two characters who have embraced their dark sides while convincing themselves of their pure motivations. While it may seem like Marty is still grasping for—and still hopeful for–the light, Wendy has become fully engulfed by her own darkness, as Ben’s death may have been the last plank to give way underneath her feet. Linney’s performance throughout the series has been quietly searing and raw, as Wendy is the character who has made the biggest shift since we first met her, and Linney’s unflinching portrayal reveals Wendy to truly be the most dangerous one of all.
As for Marty, Bateman continues to navigate an even keel in playing the Byrde family’s rock, ever stoic, ever calm, and practical in the face of danger and ever-increasing threats. Season three put Marty in a much more introspective place, but season four has him back at doing what he does best: problem-solving and planning. But nothing will be easy and, with the stakes as high as they are, Marty will need every one of his unique skills to wiggle his way out of each tight spot he lands in this season. And as if he doesn’t have enough to deal with, he now has Ruth as an enemy, his one-time partner, and protégé who may take everything she learned from him and beat him at his own game.
Speaking of Ruth, what Julia Garner continues to do with this character is simply transcendent. There has never been a more perfect marriage of character and performance than Julia Garner as Ruth Langmore. She is a character unlike any we’ve ever seen before, and Garner has feasted on it, delivering a performance that, season after season, gets bigger and stronger, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a beast not to be underestimated, shattering in her ability to absorb heartbreak. Her petite stature belies her monster ambition and unfathomable fortitude, and Garner’s ability to craft a character with so much vulnerability, confidence, insecurity, fearlessness, and downright badassery is honestly genius and nothing short of enthralling to watch. There’s a reason Garner has won the Emmy for Best Supporting Actress two years in a row. It’s likely a third is in her future.
This final season of Ozark is undoubtedly destined for multiple Emmys, as every performance is pitch-perfect, and the show’s precision craftsmanship continues to create a moody, captivating, gorgeously sinister story that we desperately don’t want to see it end. It is just as engrossing, intense, and jaw-dropping as you would hope and expect. Although the writers are clearly using the first seven episodes to get the pieces in place for the big sprint to the end, there is no shortage of action in the first seven episodes, no shortage of powerful performances, and certainly no shortage of teasing for the insanity still to come. Try to resist binging all seven at once because it will only make the long wait for the last seven all that more painful.