The Byrde family wants out of the money laundering business once and for all. Viewers of Netflix‘s “OzarkHave heard this before, as it is an oft-repeated chorus carried by the mischievous couple Wendy (Laura Linney) and Marty (Jason Bateman) and their two children through all four seasons of the popular crime series. In the last seven episodes of the series, however, their sometimes hollow words begin to sound true. This is their last chance, an insane line after a happy ending, and “OzarkPerforms a difficult conclusion that makes us feel every moment of it.
“Ozark” began running into its playoffs earlier this year, with a streak of episodes ending with backwoods businesswoman Ruth (Julia Garner) discovers the body of his closest relative, cousin Wyatt (Charlie Tahan). Wyatt was executed without ceremony along with drug dealer Darlene (Lisa Emery) in the hands of the future cartel king Javi (Alfonso Herrera), and the mid-season cliffhanger ended with a crushed, furious Ruth promising revenge. It was “Ozark” at its most intense, and the show carries the wild momentum into the final hours.
READ MORE: Review of ‘Ozark’ Season 4: The Burden Family’s Agreement with the Devil Has No Way Back
Marty and Wendy may want out, but the evil blood between Javi and Ruth immediately puts them back on the defensive. FBI, several factions of the cartel and the private investigator Mel Sattern (Adam Rothenberg) all revolve around them like hungry sharks waiting to tear in at any sign of weakness. Among the school of sharp-toothed opponents is Wendy’s own father, Nathan (Richard Thomas), who arrives in town with his watchful eye on the Byrde children, Jonah (Skylar Gaertner) and Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz).
Over the course of his four seasons, Wendy has evolved into one of the series’ most interesting villains. Linney has played her well and injected nerve-wracking cold-blooded calm into every threat and promise, and this season is no exception. “Ozark” has already taken its character far down the Lady MacBeth route, but its final arc makes the bold decision not to refine her evil further, but to explain it.
The greatest strength of these last episodes, surprisingly, lies not in their twists and turns, but in their emotional yield. While Wendy and her father are upside down, viewers learn more about their relationship with each other and with her sweet, bipolar deceased brother Ben (Tom Pelphrey). Linney swings away from the role of ice queen and into unknown territory with grace and shepherds the audience into an unexpected but believable character arc.
The final season of “Ozark” is full of ghosts, and they deepen all of the show’s plot-heavy story immensely. While Wendy struggles with her own demons, Ruth loses herself in the memories of a time before her family was dead, and fantasies of a time after all the bloodshed will be over. Even Marty, the series’ apparent protagonist, who has recently become so bloodless that it seems boring, begins to wonder at the bigger picture of death and forgiveness. He meets a cartel priest who asks him if he can love unconditionally. “I’m not sure that’s the smartest thing to do,” he replies.
Ruth, Marty and Wendy are the series’ trifecta of power players, and although the season relies on the same ever-changing fidelity that it always uses to advance the plot, they actually seem to mean something this time around. The show’s endless power play can sometimes be exhausting, but with its final menace, the show adds new weight to any broken promise and trouble deal. Disparate characters are also drawn into the fight, as writers seem eager to find any possible excuse to give each member of the show’s extensive ensemble a proper rejection. In a series that has built its suspense on unfulfilled threats and perfectly timed rescues that have always allowed most great characters to live another day, no one is untouchable now.
On a basic plot level, parts of the final season of “Ozark” are disappointing. The show seems to return to its penchant for the superficial twists and turns of fate in the eleventh hour, and it dispenses some of the characters’ conclusions rather arbitrarily. But on an emotional level, the show has never been better. It does not continue its mostly detached wheel of fortune method of storytelling, but instead causes the audience to confront the hope, fear, guilt, and shame that drive each character into their current situations.
“Ozark” has never achieved its comparison with “Breaking Bad“, and the final season actually remains mostly visually unambitious. But in its final arc, the team behind the show finally seems to reach for an emotionally charged pitch that matches other major modern crime shows, with surprisingly good results. Garner, long since the series’ prominent character, Ruth embodies with more purpose than ever before, as the passionate young woman who has often been put on the sidelines refuses to be ignored.Even on its most outlandish points, Garner’s sympathetic character anchored the series, and now she confidently introduces it in the playoffs.
While some of its narrative choices will certainly split audiences, the series ‘final series of episodes are among the series’ strongest. “Ozark” corrects much of what made the first half of the season frustrating, and with nothing left to lose, it pulls all the narrative stops out. The series has at times tended to be repetitive, and at worst, it feels like an endless parade of contract negotiations among criminal companies marked by an occasional sudden shot in the head. Not this time. The quality contrast between the last bow of “Ozark” and some that came before is so great that it is as if the writers held every ace up their sleeves until the last possible moment. Still, the series’ final season is a surprisingly rich viewing experience and a sure end to a series that never stopped rising. [B+]