Ever since its debut in 2017, Ozark has worn in the shadow of prestige TV shows like the Bryan Cranston-led hit Breaking Bad, Justified, narcs, The Americans. Although not as powerful as its counterparts, Ozark has still evolved into a uniquely skewed thriller over three seasons. The show's tapestry of characters and their illegal activities may not be entirely original, but it is spun in exciting and attacking ways.
Ozark's appeal lies in the many riveting power struggles at its core, none more fulfilling or intimate than that between Marty (Jason Bateman) and Wendy Byrde (Laura Linney). The former is a slick, gentle financial advisor who loves to talk himself out of trouble only to land in a pile of even worse life-threatening situations. Wendy's political background makes her more of an impulsive criminal brain. Their dueling approaches increase the already massive efforts in season four, now that Byrdes is deeply rooted with cartel leader Omar Navarro (Felix Solis).
Despite their intense internal struggles, Marty and Wendy's tug of war - from mumbling curses to shouting fights to banding together as needed - is the anchor of the show's tumultuous nature. Bateman and Linney's chemistry is raw and impressive as they navigate the fragility of their ties. Bateman's masterful comic flair outweighs Marty's deadly delivery, their dark teasing creates a doomed relationship between recognizably horrible people, both heartbreaking and entertaining.
Marty and Wendy have become the best people for Omar after he got his lawyer and liaison officer Helen Pierce (Janet McTeer) shot in the head. The Byrdes family have barely cleaned Helen's mushy remnants of their hair before Omar calls them "celebrities" and brings them into a plan that changes the game. He wants Marty and Wendy's help to surrender to the authorities for his freedom. The duo use their (extremely dubious) faith in them to their advantage to plan an escape from the Ozarks by arranging an exchange with the hesitant FBI agent Maya Miller (Jessica Francis Dukes).
However, the transfer is far from going smoothly. Omar's persistent demands, the introduction of his ruthlessly eager nephew Javier (Alfonso Herrera) along with a host of other challenges on the home front threaten Marty and Wendy's plans. The challenges they experience feel more personally crushing as they reckon with Wendy's hand in the death of her brother Ben (Tom Pelphrey). Tackling the fallout in irrational ways, Linney takes up the challenge of pushing Wendy into a darker hole by making more hasty decisions.
Marty loses the support of her talented apprentice, Ruth Langmore (Julia Garner). Ruth's development from novice robber to shrewd businesswoman is Ozark's most fascinating aspect, as she is easily the best written character. The show is built around the central couple trying to keep their family intact under horrific circumstances, but Byrdes' close bond contrasts with Ruth's growing isolation. With hardly any notion of self-discovery, and driven by self-preservation, Ruth has often in the past sided with Marty. She has killed her uncle, been abused and let go of her father and is estranged from her beloved cousin, Wyatt (Charlie Tahan).
Garner shoots after a well-deserved hat-trick at the Emmys with his stunning turn in season four. The actor's shocking performance captures Ruth's discouragement and desperation for camaraderie, especially now that she's lost her lover, Ben. Knowing that Wendy is responsible for his death, she is forced to move on from her kind of found family. Ruth takes her knowledgeable knowledge with her to Wyatt and his girlfriend, Darlene Snell (Lisa Emery), who has restarted her heroin smuggling in full force while raising baby Zeke.
This partnership is fun to witness because of the generation gap. Darlene quickly realizes that she is working with a set of naughty millennials who want to sell drugs to hippies. Ruth tap-dances around Darlenes' tendency to pull her rifle on whoever and whenever she wants; like Marty, she is able to talk herself out of trouble. Ozark juggles several complex stories in the first act of his swan song, so there is no time to explore Marty and Ruth's broken connection. Fortunately, by episode seven, "Sanctified," it's clear that the show is depending on their unexpected mentor-mentee ties, the strength of which will determine how the story ends for Byrdes.
Ruth wins 14-year-old Jonah Byrde (Skylar Gaertner) over to her side to help launder money for her surgery. It's not hard, considering he's furious about his mother's role in Ben's murder. Jonah's Annoying Bow Falls Into "Annoying TV Teen" Territory: Think of Dana Brody in Fatherland or Kim Bauer ind 24. It bottoms out in an otherwise thrilling set of episodes where his rebellion causes Marty and Wendy to make atypically stupid choices, and that's the only low point for Ozarkits fourth season so far. On the plus side, Charlotte Byrde's (Sofia Hublitz) release days are behind her, and she's fully on her parents' team now.
Season four unfolds as a clash of titans between the Byrdes, Navarros, Snells, Langmores and Kansas City mob as each party battles their grass and business. Marty and Wendy head out to large pharmacies in anticipation of the future and are influenced by the arrival of Javier and private investigator Mel Sattam (Adam Rothenberg) to the city.
All of these complicated story lines collide in explosive ways as "Sanctified" rolls around. The first half of last season is packed in such a way that it sets up the show's obviously fateful ending - it's hard to see how Marty and Wendy can have a happy ending. But the seven episodes also work well as a shorter season of the show. Ozark returns to prove its worth in the genre by remaining a riveting and satisfying crime story to its bitter (almost) end.