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[This story contains spoilers for Ozark season four.]
The first half of Ozark‘s fourth and final season hit Netflix last week, with more dramatic twists and turns for the Byrde family as their drug cartel money-laundering operation came under increasing pressure from the FBI and the Navarro family. Critics have heavily praised the seven episodes, with the season earning a 94 percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Below, showrunner Chris Mundy explains some of the reasoning behind the season’s major plot points and teases what the acclaimed drama’s final batch of episodes will bring when the streamer releases the rest later this year.
Did you plan and write the final season knowing in advance that it would be split in two, or was that something you learned along the way?
We learned it along the way, but pretty early on. We originally thought we might be doing 10. Then it became 14. So you’re going to get these seven, and hopefully they’re satisfying, and then the next seven stand alone. Hopefully, it will also makes sense when you glue them all back together.
How did the split impact the creative? Because obviously you ended up with quite a cliffhanger with the big blowout fight between Ruth (Julia Garner) and the Byrdes.
It naturally fell where it did. I had a feeling that might work for it, but you never really know until you kind of get into the muck of it, and it was kind of perfect.
Jonah (Skylar Gaertner) had a pretty dramatic growth spurt between seasons. Did how much he grew, and seemed more like an adult, start to factor into writing the character at all?
I think because of where we left him at the end of season three shooting out those windows, that was really his first act of defiance. And Skylar, every year, he just gets better as an actor. So it was really feeling like we had to answer to that moment from the end of season three, and we knew Skylar could handle whatever we gave him.
I also think it helps that he turned 18 at the end of filming and was 12 or 13 when [the show started]. He obviously changed more than most did — the rest of us just looked the same, but a little older, while he looks like a whole different person. I think that did help make his scenes with Ruth feel more like a partnership.
While Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz) is increasingly seeming like a rather eerie mirror version of her mother, Wendy (Laura Linney). How much of Charlotte reflecting Wendy was deliberate?
That was very deliberate on our part. In the first couple seasons, just by nature of her character’s age on the show, she was going to be more rebellious. She had more of a life in Chicago that got ripped away from her. As they settled in and [the money laundering] really has become this family enterprise, for better or worse, we wanted to have her grow up and mature and mirror her mom’s behavior. Charlotte is now mirroring Wendy in a big way — physically, emotionally, intellectually.
Speaking of Wendy, it’s been pointed out before that she’s evolved into perhaps the scariest character on the show. But fans struggled with the idea that she would actually think turning Jonah into the police for money laundering would be a wise idea when the family is trying to escape prosecution for money laundering. Did you guys debate that move at all?
We did. Wendy wasn’t acting rationally, so we didn’t want to apply too much rationality onto her. For her, she was thinking he wasn’t laundering for them, he was laundering for somebody else, so it wouldn’t topple their own organization. I think it was real desperation. Obviously, Wendy is smart and ruthless, but there’s an immaturity to her at times — and that was driving that moment for her.
Here is a seemingly simple, but probably not-so-simple, question: Do Marty (Jason Bateman) and Wendy love each other?
I think they love each other a lot. That doesn’t necessarily mean they should be together or stay together, but I actually think there’s a deep love there. It’s not just history, it’s actually love.
They’ve done some horrible things. Should anybody be rooting for Wendy and Marty at this point?
That’s a really, really good question. They’ve done terrible things, and they’ve been terrible parents in so many ways. It’s an interesting thing on shows and movies where the heroes are flawed, as these guys are, yet you still want them to succeed. I would hope that people could disagree about this and feel strongly on both sides. As we were plotting the end of the series, we had this exact argument in the writers room. Some are like, “I’m not cheering for them at all,” and some were like, “Of course we’re rooting for them — these are our characters.” It’s a healthy debate even among those of us making the show.
Fans have had questions about Wyatt (Charlie Tahan) and Darleen’s (Lisa Emery) relationship. It’s one thing for them to be together, but another for Wyatt to be willing to reject Ruth’s offer to run away with him and choose to marry Darlene instead. Obviously, baby Zeke was a factor. But what made that the correct choice for Wyatt?
There were two things: One is that he was pulled by Zeke and wanting to be responsible for Zeke. But when it really comes down to it, I don’t think Wyatt wanted to leave. It’s the same reason he didn’t go off to the University of Missouri when he was accepted there. He has the intellect and the dream of going beyond the Ozarks. But he realized he was happy and realized it was OK to feel like a local and be proud of that. That was a big revelation for him. In his heart of hearts, even though he and Ruth are so close, he didn’t want to leave.
Ruth’s final moments this season were terrific. Is her relationship with Marty irrevocably broken at this point?
I don’t think her relationship with Marty will ever be irrevocably broken. He is the first person to see all the potential in her. I think she’ll be grateful for that forever. And I think he thinks of her as his third child, more or less. That kernel will always be there.
You opened with that car crash flash-forward that wasn’t yet resolved. I always feel like — especially in a final season of a long-running drama — that you want the fates of your characters to be decided by the actions of characters and not a seemingly random accident. What made that the right hook going into the season?
Even as you’re trying to control everything, there are always certain things in life that are just completely out of your control. Marty, especially, is always trying to control everything — and he’s so smart and verbally dextrous that he usually can. So some of it was just a reminder that the world is unpredictable that way. Obviously, we will catch up to that at some point. But as much as anything, it was just that feeling that even in moments of relative peace that life can slip through your fingers at a moment’s notice.
How long have you known your ultimate ending for the second half — or have you taken it season by season?
There were pieces we didn’t know until the last second. But the fundamental, main thing we’ve known since sometime in season two — or at least I have. I knew the emotional landing point. I didn’t know all of the details that would get us there. We tried to layer in some stuff in the earlier seasons [leading to it]. But there are a few things that took us all by surprise, to be honest, as we broke the very end.
I’m wondering if you can say what’s the tone you’re going for in terms of the end of the show and how much closure should fans expect?
I always want closure. I don’t want to feel messed with. I want to feel like, “OK, that was the end.” So hopefully people will feel closure by the end — whether they like it or not, I don’t know. In terms of tone, we’re going deeper into the family and their bonds. Is family the ultimate bond? Is friendship? Is marriage? At what point is it almost unhealthy to stay, even if you love somebody? We’re going to delve into that with Marty and Wendy. Hopefully, the back half will still be fun and exciting, but also really emotional for the Byrdes and Ruth.
Are you stressed at all by anticipating the reaction to the ending, given how much scrutiny other long-running dramas have faced when they’ve had their series finales?
We’re really hard on ourselves in the writers room, and so is Jason, and all our editors — everyone. But yeah, you do worry. You want people to feel like it’s really satisfying. I would say for these final 14, we’re all kind of excited it’s finally coming out just because it took a while to make because of shooting during COVID. So we’re excited for it to be out, and, for the back seven, that excitement will have a little more nervousness because it’s literally the end.
In this era of undying IP, could there ever be a spinoff — a Better Call Ruth, or whatnot?
It’s certainly something that’s been floated by various people. Never say never, but right now we want to make sure we land this one as well as we possibly can.
Robin Wright directed the final two episodes of this half. She’s directed episodes of House of Cards but was also on House of Cards. Aside from both shows being made by MRC Television, I was curious how that came about? Is there’s an interesting backstory there?
No, we almost had her direct in season three. She’s a really good director, and we knew people who worked with her on House of Cards. It was just like, “We’ve got 14 episodes, let’s get her if we can,” because we knew she was really talented. She’s obviously a great actress too — she’s able to pull great performances out of people. She came in and was so easy on a set. Both personally and professionally, she was awesome.
Since we have a final minute, this is just something I’ve always wondered: Was the Byrdes’ house chosen for all those windows in order to add more vulnerability to the characters during interior shots — even though the house seems like a spectacularly bad idea for the Byrdes to stay in for that very reason?
We referenced that at one point, [a character saying] “We’re literally in a house of nothing but windows.” But no. It wasn’t really a metaphor in terms of danger or anything. But it does make you feel the water so that you feel that you’re in that location. One of the things that’s unique about the show is that it’s set on the lake. So in the first two seasons, we had the Blue Cat, where you could feel the water; the Byrdes’ house, where you could feel the water; and at the Langmore trailers, where you’re on the water. For us, that was the beauty of it. And that house just gave and gave and gave to us. It was the best location. As many times as we shot there, every director managed to find another way to shoot it because of those windows and its weird angles. I will love that house forever.
Ozark is produced by MRC, which is a co-owner of The Hollywood Reporter through a joint venture with Penske Media titled PMRC.
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