Netflix’s ‘Ozark’ premiered in 2017. I remember pursuing the streaming giant’s countless offerings, dismissing the show’s little “tap me” icon every time. I didn’t even know what an “Ozark” was, nor did glimpses of the show’s overly washed-out, blue-toned (unless they’re supposed to be in Mexico) color grading really pull me in. Five years later, I don’t even remember what it was that finally got me to give the show a chance, but I did, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Never before had a show made me feel so uncomfortable, anxious, or dirty and cavernous as ‘Ozark’ has. As the episodes and the seasons went on, the series became a sort of guilty pleasure in a sense, as they legitimately stressed me out.
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Watching an episode felt like smoking a cigarette, enjoyable but not healthy. I felt Marty (played by Jason Bateman) and Wendy’s (played by Laura Linney) desperation, their sense of the world closing in as the Mexican drug cartels and the FBI breathe down their necks for four solid seasons. I felt the heartbreak and dysfunction as their family slowly crumbled apart, with their son (played by Skylar Gaertner) and daughter (played by Sofia Hublitz) finding out about their money-laundering extracurriculars, as well as their mother’s infidelity. Just like Marty Byrde, himself with the Navarro cartel, I was all in.
Seasons one through three of ‘Ozark’ were astounding to me. I was thoroughly enthralled by Jason Bateman’s Marty Byrde, and conflicted in wanting this dysfunctional family both to fail and succeed. Bateman, known for ‘Arrested Development’ and ‘Game Night,’ also helmed the director’s chair for several episodes of the series, as well as starring in it, beginning with the show’s very first episode, “Sugarwood.” Bateman actually got to book-end the series in terms of directing, having directed eleven episodes in total, including both the very first and the very last. Once I realized this, I would start to watch the show with an analytic lens, waiting to see the “directed by” credit at the end. To my delight, many of the episodes I felt the strongest about, were directed by Bateman, himself – specifically, episodes one and forty-four. Laura Linney also served as an excellent complementary addition to Bateman’s performance, delivering multiple truly chilling, Shakespeare-esque monologues. Linney, I am excited to say, also made her directorial debut in season four, which we’ll get to later. For fans of ‘Breaking Bad’ and ‘Better Call Saul,’ ‘Ozark’ offers a refreshing but welcome alternative to fans of the crime thriller series, intertwined with intense, interpersonal drama.
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The show also held an excellent supporting cast. Peter Mullen and Lisa Emery play Jacob and Darlene Snell, an older, wealthier couple established in the community as respectable landowners, yet secretly run a heroin manufacturing business out of their farm in the Ozarks. Charlie Tahan, Carson Holmes, Julia Garner, Trevor Long, Marc Menchaca, and Christopher James Barker altogether make up the Langmore family, a group of redneck hillbillies slumming it in trailers on their ancestral patch of land next to the lake. Each member of this family is fraught with tragedy and despair, a fate that is only cemented in the series finale. Equally tragic and dismal, we had Wendy Byrde’s younger brother, Ben, who suffered from bipolar disorder, played by Tom Pelphrey. And, in season one, the primary antagonistic force was Esai Morales as Del, a ruthless but rational enforcer for the cartel. Then, in season two came Helen, a chilling cartel lawyer played by Janet McTeer.
And finally, in season three, we met the man at the top, the kingpin himself, Omar Navarro, king of the Mexican drug cartel that the Byrde family has been laundering money for all this time. Felix Solis portrays the villain, delivering a menacing yet calculated drug lord, whose presence feels like a force to be reckoned with. Then, of course, you had the FBI. The questionable Agent Petty was played by Jason Butler Harner, and was a character you truly loved to hate. Each one of these characters, at one point or another, stood as a potentially lethal obstacle for Marty Byrde and his family, all of which were eventually overcome and forced to aid them in their venture.
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That Final Season, Part One
When it was announced ‘Ozark’ would be concluding its run, it was revealed it would be in a style atypical for Netflix. The show’s fourth and final season would air in two parts, with part one releasing in January 2022, and part two premiering on April 29th. This is kind of an odd move, but one Netflix has been making recently, as it is also doing the same thing with season four of their hit show, ‘Stranger Things,’ which hits screens on May 27th and July 1st, 2022. And, in the words of REO Speedwagon (who cameoed in season three), “it hurts to say goodbye,” but I was excited to sit down for the beginning of the end of my time with my favorite dysfunctional crime family. However, upon completion of the first half of season four, I was massively underwhelmed. Not just that, I was downright disappointed. In season four, we are introduced to Omar Navarro’s nephew, Javi, played by Alfonso Herrera. Javi seeks to overthrow his uncle and replace him as head of the cartel, by whatever means necessary. Yet, he’s just a cliche. He’s never anything more than a cutthroat, dastardly bad guy with a bad plan, who goes around doing completely outrageous bad things – namely killing people.
Up to this point, what I had enjoyed about ‘Ozark’ was, what I thought to be, its adherence to plausibility. When watching a crime show of this nature, where you’re following along with and routing for the bad guys, it’s typically hard for them to really nail down exactly how the protagonists evade the law in a way that seems believable. But, ‘Ozark’ managed to do this. Every move a character made in an effort to solve a problem created an orchestrated cascade of various other ones, more evidence they had to clean up, more people they had to threaten to keep quiet. Season one also went to great lengths to convey the stress and toll this life was taking on Marty’s physical and mental health.
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And whenever someone was killed you knew that opened up a world of new problems and consequences, whereas killing characters off in shows like this tends to be an easy solution. Lazy writing. Yet, in season four, that’s exactly what ‘Ozark’ does. Character after character just gets killed off, with their bodies being conveniently disposed of, no real questions asked. At one point, Marty is literally caught with cleaning supplies in a dead woman’s house by an acting sheriff, and he just talks his way out of it. No longer did it feel like I was watching my favorite money-laundering crime show with all of its intricate nuances and complexities, instead it felt like I was reading the last act of a fellow student’s script, and they were running out of pages…or ideas…or both. With this, I was very disappointed and understood why it was to be that this would be the show’s farewell.
That Final Season, Part Two
So then, when I returned to my television screen on April 29th, poised to resume my goodbye to the Byrdes and Lake Ozark, I didn’t go in with much enthusiasm. But, to my delight, they managed to pull through. I am honestly of the opinion that Netflix should not have released this season in two parts. Having experienced the mess they shamelessly created in the first half, I was really quite disheartened going into the home stretch. However, in the second half, they made good on their actions, following through with dire consequences. Every person that was haphazardly killed off ended up serving a key role in the series’s closing act. In general, every major character over the course of the show’s run had a sort of curtain call at some point during the last season, either being mentioned, holding some influence, or being seen.
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And, while I will still say that my show lost the magic it had in its early days as a crime drama, it finished strong as the straight-up thriller, pseudo-political-scandal series it became, barring that weird Killer Mike cameo. It was a fun ride to enjoy, one that I recommend to any viewer looking for something that feels like a good smoke. The overall ending was a satisfactory one, all things considered, and I for one am excited to see where the careers of those involved take them next. Julia Garner (Ruth Langmore) has already seen the release of a Netflix original series led by and starring her, with this year’s ‘Inventing Anna,’ and during his time working on ‘Ozark,’ Bateman also worked on directing, starring in, and producing HBO’s ‘The Outsider.’ This show was one of my favorites, and though it sort of went astray there at the end, I’m sad to see it go. And so, to quote REO Speedwagon’s Kevin Cronin again, “I know it hurts to say goodbye, but it’s time for me to fly.” So long, ‘Ozark.’
Cast: Jason Bateman, Laura Linney, Julia Garner, Skylar Gaertner, Sofia Hublitz, Tom Pelphrey, Felix Solix, Alfonso Herrera, Veronica Falcón, Richard Thomas, Adam Rothenberg, Katrina Lenk, Jordana Spiro, Joseph Sikora, Kevin L. Johnson
- Director – Jason Bateman, Laura Linney, Robin Wright, Melissa Hickey, Andrew Bernstein, Alik Sakharov, Amanda Marsalis
- Producer – Patrick Markey, Chris Mundy, Erin Mitchell, Jed Rapp Goldstein, Wes Hagan, Laura Linney, Dana Scott, Paul Kolsby
- Editor – Cindy Mollo, Vikash Patel
- Writer – Ning Zhou, Paul Kolsby, Martin Zimmerman, Chris Mundy, Miki Johnson, John Shiban, Laura Deeley, Michael M. Chang, Jed Rapp Goldstein
By Connor Garvin
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Connor Garvin has been a writer for as long as he can remember. Writing has enabled him to distill the thoughts within his own head, as well as allowed him to have those same thoughts heard. Connor is a screenwriter, and filmmaker more generally, with a focus on television. He also believes that real change only occurs if everyone is heard, and is therefore a proud champion of the arts, and a kindred spirit to The Hollywood Insider and its values.