Ozark delivers slow-burn tension in Season 4 Part 1

The Netflix suspense drama continues to deliver with methodical brilliance.

Previous seasons of Netflix’s Ozark followed Martin and Wendy Byrde’s (Jason Bateman and Laura Linney) quest to survive death and prove their family’s worth to the cartel and their violent rivals. Now, in the fourth and final season, the Byrdes must figure out if they can survive without their dark, criminal lives. They sacrificed a lot to get to the top—but what would they sacrifice to stay there? Thanks to this ask and its answers, Ozark Season 4 Part 1 is slow-burn suspense at its finest, with the Byrde’s maneuvering to stay on top, no matter the personal costs. 

As Ozark’s end beginsMarty and Wendy have ascended to new heights in the Navarro Cartel, only for Omar Navarro (Felix Solis) to suddenly murder Helen Pierce (Janet McTeer)—one of the organization’s lawyers— right in front of them. On top of witnessing this, they need to outmaneuver Navarro’s unpredictable nephew Javi (Alfonso Herrera), aggressive FBI Agent Maya Miller (Jessica Frances Duke), heroin matriarch Darlene Snell (Lisa Emery) and her new business partner, Ruth Langmore (Julia Gardner). To ratchet the pressure higher still, a private investigator Mel Sattem (Adam Rothenberg) starts digging into Helen’s disappearance, and in the course of his investigation catches wind of everyone’s schemes and secrets. 

Ozark. (L to R) Jason Bateman as Martin ‘Marty’ Byrde, Laura Linney as Wendy Byrde in episode 401 of Ozark. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2021

The Byrde family has been Ozark’s dysfunctional heart from the beginning, and they remain so in the final season. Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz)’s settling in fine with her family’s new way of life. Jonah (Skylar Gaertner)’s having a harder time accepting that his mom ordered the hit on their uncle and Wendy’s brother Ben (Tom Pelphrey). This pushes him towards a new family—becoming Ruth and Darlene’s money launderer. Wendy may object, but Marty can’t help but show a little bit of fatherly pride in his son’s endeavors. Conversely, when Charlotte kicks Ruth out of the Missouri Belle for attempting to steal software, her tough tactics earn her praise from her mother—who sees herself in her daughter’s actions. Even with all their scheming and their ruthless manipulations of others, the Byrde family’s relationships are healthier and more honest thanks to their criminal lives.  

[I]n this final stretch it’s Linney’s devious work as Wendy that commands particular attention

Ozark’s cast has been strong from the word go, and in this final stretch it’s Linney’s devious work as Wendy that commands particular attention. In previous seasons, Wendy might have turned to proxies to get dirty work done—ordering her brother’s assassination, for instance—in the alleged name of protecting her family. Now though, Wendy is far more willing to act directly, to bring the full brunt of her power to bear. Linney hides Wendy’s ruthlessness under a veneer of “Midwest nice” and “mother knows best” in order to get what she wants. It’s chilling—particularly at the end of episode six, where the depths of Wendy’s cold-blooded behavior become apparent and Linney grins a wicked grin as things play out.  

As for Bateman, it’s fair to say that Ozark owes a great deal of its look and feel to his work behind the camera—he directed the pilot and many subsequent episodes, and won an Emmy the 2019 episode “Reparations.” His direction is much like his portrayal of Marty: stoic, observant, and restrained—creating space for the ensemble lead the way. He and his fellow directors took Missouri’s nickname “The Show-Me State” to heart, standing back and letting the cast show the whole of the Byrdes and their fellows’ conniving, twisted ways 

With Ozark showrunner Chris Mundy and the writers crafted a slow-burn thriller that unravels the truth about America: no one stands on an unimpeachable moral high ground. Wendy and Marty tell themselves they’re doing bad things to justify all the good they’ll do in the future—even as Navarro notes to Wendy that the hardest part of a post-crime life will be stillness. Agent Miller tells herself that her shady dealings with Marty will help bring down the cartels, only to realize that the FBI is just as dangerous and exploitative as their opponents.  

For all of this final season’s twists and turns, Ozark’s greatest pleasure lies in its poking at the rot in America’s soul, the rot in its capitalist dreams. The question, as the finale approaches, is this: will the Byrdes outrun that rot? Or will it devour them? The answer is waiting, and the journey to it is well worth taking—methodically observed and brilliantly acted. 

Ozark returns to turn the screws on Netflix on January 21st.

Ozark Season 4 Part 1 Trailer:

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Ashley Lara

Ashley is a writer, producer, and avid karaoke fan living in New York City. She co-produces/co-hosts She Makes Me Laugh, a monthly female and non-binary comedy show. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram at @smashley_lara.

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