I’ve been sitting on this review for a while.
Allow me to explain. Like you, I am a complex person. I have certain mission statements, philosophies, operating systems—whatever names you want to give to whatever it is in my brain that governs what I do, think and write.
On one hand, I’ve always considered myself a reviewer, not a critic. I seldom write reviews for things I don’t like. No one’s paying me to do this. Which is fair, since I also don’t charge anyone to read it. Why would I waste my time thinking deep thoughts (or even shallow ones) about things I didn’t like? Or even things I only like a little. Life may not always be too short, but it is finite.
It has always seemed to me that some movie critics seemed to relish writing bad reviews. Rex Reed and Gene Siskel come to mind. I don’t deny that scathing reviews have some entertainment value. They certainly do. It’s just that I don’t enjoy writing them.
On the other hand, I am a completist. I have the collector’s curse. I wrote reviews for all three of the seasons of Ozark released on Netflix prior to this one, the fourth and final season. For the most part, these reviews were filled with praise for this series. Deserved praise.
This has been one of the rare series that my wife and I watched together. Our tastes in most forms of entertainment are radically different, but we both appreciate a good, violent crime drama. The series has never failed to entertain or shock us, often at the same time. We looked forward to this COVID delayed final season long before it was released.
Then, we watched it.
My wife has remained young and hip and tends to favor binge-watching. I, on the other hand, am old and curmudgeonly and have a strong anti-binge-watching stance. We compromised on this season and watched more than the one or two episodes per week that I tend to prefer these days, and less than whatever huge number my wife can tolerate.
We both developed the same opinion about this season. There were some good moments. But, over all, we didn’t like it as much as the first three seasons. More to the point, we were lukewarm about it as a season of streaming entertainment. As the finale season of an entire series, we hated it.
That’s the thumbnail sketch of my review. Buckle up, and I’ll give you a few more details. Since I’ve delayed writing this review, I’m not pulling any punches. Here there be SPOILERS.
The season opens with a flashforward. Risky tactic, that, showing us the ending of the series before filling in everything’s that happened since the scary, dead-eyed lawyer Helen Pierce (Janet McTeer) had her head blown off by Mexican drug cartel boss Omar Navarro (Felix Solis) in the shocking finale of Season 3. The Byrdes are together again as a family in their minivan, talking about an upcoming meeting with the FBI. It looks like they are finally going to get to leave the Ozarks and return to their real lives in Chicago, their long nightmare finally over.
Then, they have a spectacular accident that involves multiple rollovers. It’s unlikely that any of the Byrdes survived this crash.
Except, as we find out in the last episode, they all emerge from the wreckage virtually unscathed. In fact, the accident itself seems mostly pointless, a stupid cliffhanger that never really pays off. A cheap trick to keep the viewer watching.
I warned you that there would be spoilers. There will be more, and these will be even bigger. If you haven’t watched the season yet and plan to, you should probably leave now.
The flashforward ends and we’re back with the Byrdes, Marty (Jason Bateman) and Wendy (Laura Linney) washing Helen’s blood off of themselves in a bathroom at Navarro’s Mexican compound. It seemed like they were in too deep with the cartel before the lawyer’s execution. Now things seem even more hopeless.
Omar’s nephew Javier “Javi” Elizondro (Alfonso Herrera) is introduced in the first episode of the final season as well. You’d have to be brain-dead (like Helen Pearce, I suppose) not to detect the foreshadowing that Javi will be the Big Bad this time out. He turns out to be an agent of chaos in the story. He kills Sheriff Nix and dumps the body on the Byrdes to get rid of in their crematorium, which has probably been their best investment. Later, he kills Darlene Snell (Lisa Emery) and Wyatt Langmore (Charlie Tahan), which serves to tie up some loose plot threads and to make Ruth Langmore (Julia Garner), the breakout star of Ozark, his mortal enemy. Ruth kills Javi a little over halfway through the season, which means he couldn’t have been the season’s Big Bad after all.
Other things are going on, of course. Mel Sattem (Adam Rothenberg), a disgraced former cop turned private eye, is also introduced. He’s trying to locate Helen Pearce about her impending divorce. Turns out he’s a better investigator than anyone knows, as he stumbles upon the wacky criminal goings-on in the Ozarks. Eventually, he’s investigating the disappearance of Ben Davis (Tom Pelphrey), Wendy’s bipolar brother, whose death at his sister’s orders was presumed in Season 3 and confirmed through more flashbacks in this season. I was holding out hope that Ben was alive somewhere, since his death occurred off-screen, but he wasn’t.
This particular branch in the plotline requires the introduction of Wendy’s estranged father, the religious Nathan Davis, portrayed with a gusto by John-Boy himself, Richard Thomas. Marty and Wendy’s son, Jonah Byrde (Skylar Gaertner) has turned his back on his family after he’s convinced they killed his Uncle Ben, and he’s helping Ruth (and, by association, Darlene Snell) launder money from their heroin operation. Grandpa Nathan connects with Jonah and is threatening to take the Byrde children from their parents. Wendy’s dad also ends up hiring the p.i. Mel Sattem. The ultimate plan, it seems, is to just further complicate an already complicated plot. Ben is dead, but his presence still looms large during the season, leading to this series’ own fade-to-black moment in which Jonah kills Sattem after the investigator discovers Ben’s ashes in the goat-themed cookie jar. Really, that’s how the series ends, with another off-screen death.
Oh, there are other things going on. This season may be frustrating, but it is never boring. Omar Navarro wants Marty and Wendy to make him a deal with the FBI, so that he can move freely between Mexico and the US with immunity from prosecution. FBI forensic accountant Maya Miller (Jessica Frances Dukes) is reintroduced to the plot, but, after having her baby, seems to exist just to further complicate the plot. Clare Shaw (Katrina Lenk), the CEO of a pharmaceutical company, is drawn into these complications when Marty and Wendy agree to supply her company with heroin. There’s a new sheriff, which seems like an important development until it suddenly doesn’t. Rachel Garrison (Jordana Spiro) returns to the show after being absent for the third season. She teams up with Ruth this time out, and gets to kill one person, even though she never seems as integral to the plot as the writers want us to believe.
It turns out that the Big Bad of the season is Camila Elizondro (Veronica Falcon), Navarro’s sister and Javi’s mother. She investigates her son’s death herself, all the while planning to usurp her brother’s position in the cartel. She ends up killing both her brother and Ruth Langmore.
Yes, you heard me correctly. Ruth is dead. You’ve probably already had this spoiled for you. Like most of the fans who were dissatisfied by this finale, I did not like the fact that Ruth was killed. I was rooting for her even more than I was the Byrdes. In fact, in the end, it’s Marty and Wendy who are the Big Bads in this series, even more than the various cartel heads we’ve met. The Byrde family survives, but very few others who’ve crossed their paths can make the same claim.
You can argue amongst yourselves about which Byrde was more evil. Marty is a cold, calculating sociopath, and Wendy is an ambitious, power-hungry politician. Neither are good people, and their children seem to be on track to be the same.
I know that, in the real world, wealthy people seem to come out unscathed all the time, while poor people get punished for their crimes. I didn’t want Ozark to reflect this particular facet of reality. But it does.
Should you watch Ozark?
Yeah, I think you should. Even with my ultimate disappointment with this season, there are still plenty of good moments for you to enjoy. The performances are excellent, from all of the actors. It’s the story itself that collapses under its own weight.
Firewater’s Ruth-Don’t-Get-Yourself-Killed Report Card: C
A disappointing ending to what otherwise would have gone down as an excellent crime drama. Maybe more time will mellow out my feelings about this season, but I seriously doubt it. My personal head canon says the Byrdes died in the minivan crash, and Ruth Langmore survived into old age.