ST. LOUIS — Fear and consequence run hand-in-hand. They live on the same street and attend your whole life. Marty Byrde knows this very well, having both glued to his brain the minute he watched his business partner brutally die right in front of him. That was the series pilot for Netflix's "Ozark," which wrapped up its four season run with the release of the final season this past Friday.
A show that dominated the pop culture conversation for the past few months as its two-part final season unfolded will maintain that momentum this week. A mixture of "Breaking Bad" and "The Sopranos," the plot for "Ozark" concerned a family from North Chicago moving to the Lake of the Ozarks so they could launder money for the Mexican cartel. No big deal really, except for the fact that Marty and Wendy have a pair of teenagers, Jonah and Charlotte, who are inadvertently swept into the crooked family business before the family can even set up shop in Missouri's infamous vacation spot.
Played exquisitely by Jason Bateman and Laura Linney, Marty and Wendy's main goal throughout their criminal enterprise--one that brought Julia Garner's ferocious Ruth Langmore into the fold--was to keep their kids safe. Allow them to have a life after the madness had ended and begin that long road to sanity, one plagued by a potpourri of discrepancies since the Byrdes' arrival. As show writer and executive producer Chris Mundy put it in the special "Making of" featurette-which played after the final hour, their family is essentially an "invasive species," one that basically overwhelmed the lake resort and made it their own home office.
But even invasive species like to keep their children safe and create a future for them. That's where fear and consequence come in. Marty and Wendy ran out of ways to measure those two harboring threats of both the mind and reality. Outside of what actually happens in life, don't we create extra internal dangers ourselves? Now, switch out your seemingly normal life for the Byrdes, and you have madness. They feared the consequences every moment of their pimp for the cartel actions. The biggest one was something either happening to Jonah and Charlotte, or an event that would corrupt their souls for good.
This is where I tell you using big bold lettering that spoilers will follow. SPOILERS! SPOILERS! Get your SPOILERS RIGHT BELOW HERE! Alright, let's continue.
By the end of Season Four's "A Hard Way to Go," one of those things had happened. One season after pointing a shotgun at his parents for their involvement in the death of his uncle (Wendy's brother) Ben (beautifully played by Tom Pelphrey), the last thing audiences saw was Jonah pointing a gun at former private investigator Mel Sattem. The reinstated Chicago cop was the last thing standing between the Byrdes and freedom. A freedom that included endless wealth, a huge global foundation, and finally... a way out. That's been the goal since the end of the pilot, which saw Marty uproot his family, one on the verge of splitting due to Wendy's infidelity, after the cartel spared his life--with the catch of laundering millions of dollars for them in legit resort businesses.
But this final obstacle, the P.I. who wouldn't go away, cost the Byrdes their son's morality. It's one thing to help your folks hide loads of cash around the internet with expert computer skills, but it's quite another to murder a cop. Since his parents helped Mel get his badge back--in order to short-circuit his investigation into Ben's disappearance--Jonah did indeed kill a cop. Oh, and don't mistake that cut-to-black maneuver for ambiguity over those final seconds. Jonah did in fact point the shotgun at Mel and pulled the trigger. He isn't going to shoot his parents or sister, and I don't think lead writer and executive producer Chris Mundy would lead us to believe he fired a warning shot.
Now, the Byrdes did make it out alive, but they're even farther from clean. It is clean that they can never fully meet again.
Ruth is dead, the result of Medical Solutions CEO Clare Shaw telling new cartel boss Camilla Elizonndro (Veronica Falcon) that the fiery Langmore had killed her son, Javy. This admission came at the big fundraiser in the series finale, right when the audience thought the crafty Byrdes had eluded another catastrophe. With Ruth happy at the casino with a clean record and willing to launder the cartel's money since it was connected to the FBI, a fleeting idea ran through my head of how the dirty would return to "Ozark" before the final moments played out.
Falcon's Camilla was the dirty component, a stick of dynamite in a nice dress. She wasn't going to go away until someone came forward and told her what happened to her son. It's one of those point of view benefits that the viewer has over the characters. Unlike her, we know that evil Javy isn't missing; he was shot and killed by Ruth, and disposed of by the Byrdes, in Clare's office in Chicago in the first episode of the Season Four's second part. The audience is also aware that Camilla tried to have her own brother and former cartel boss, Omar Navarro, killed midway through the final batch of episodes. She's ruthless, cunning, and patient.
Shaw buckled when Camilla informed her how she would be killed if the lie continued to be kept. This is on Marty, because he knew Ruth was unstable immediately after the death of her brother, Wyatt. All he did was talk her down and try to get some sense into her. If he was cold to the touch, Marty would have called Javy and warned him that Ruth was out for blood. Alas, the show is only worth watching if we somehow retain some empathy for the Byrdes.
That is surely gone now with Jonah's murder of Mel. It's like the 15-year-old kid was being made in the Mafia, and this was his final test. Or he's a gang member collecting his first coldblooded murder, because you could legit label this family a gang. Whatever they are called, the Byrdes came into the Lake of the Ozarks and cleaned the house. They came, conquered, and headed back to Chicago with their blood-soaked foundation intact.
It will be easy to claim that Mel got another inkling for cocaine and went rogue on an investigation not sanctioned by the Chicago Police Department. Camilla has her pound of flesh and will head back to Mexico to run the cartel, following the murder of Omar by a corrupt prison guard. as Thom Yorke once wrote, everything is in its right place... if you're an immoral criminal.
You see, early on in "Ozark," the Byrdes were merely criminals. They performed illegal operations for the cartel yet kept their hands cleaner than the killers, but that changed near the end of Season Two and Three. Once the fourth round opened up and the bodies started dropping, Marty and Wendy were the deadliest people in town.
When you think about it, few people saw the Byrdes coming. From afar, they are a normal-looking family with their wits and looks about them. Mom and dad are healthy and fit, and the teenagers are good-looking and well spoken. But they are anything but that, especially now after the end of the show. They are deadlier than Walter White and more cunning and shadowy than Tony Soprano. The Tellers from "Sons of Anarchy" would be no match for the Byrdes.
The finale will rightfully divide audiences, but it's hard not to admire the audaciousness of "Ozark's" end. Without killing any of the main four leads while still poisoning the waters with their final actions, the creators will keep people talking and analyzing for weeks. Good luck watching something else for a few days. The best kind of shows aren't going to usually end like a triumphant, feel-good movie. They aren't built that way.
"Ozark" was never going to have a completely blood bash end, and it wasn't going to be an "Ocean's Eleven" type slick exit either. It chose chilly, understated horror. The realistic kind that occurs when lines are crossed, ultimatums are avoided, and too many secrets get kept. Think about the tanks of consciousness the Byrdes went through; all the secrets they had to hold inside. That doesn't end well.
The worst thing for Marty and Wendy was if their son or daughter found their DNA and life forever poisoned by an irreversible action. As they say in chess, checkmate.
In my opinion, the "Ozark" finale was perfect. It works as a cohesive bookend to the first batch of episodes, where all the subplots were being set up and Season Four landmines buried. It made me want to dive back into season four, episode eight and relive it again.
The best shows should turn you into a dog chasing a car. By the time you catch up to it, you have no idea what to do but to keep chasing it, or thinking about it. Well done.
All episodes of Netflix's "Ozark" are currently streaming.