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In Paramount+’s newly released The Offer, various characters spend 10 hours wandering around telling anybody who will listen that the movie they’re making isn’t about the mafia, but rather about family and the American Dream. Because the movie they’re making is The Godfather, they’re largely correct.
The concluding seven episodes of Ozark are similarly dominated by characters attempting to frame 44 episodes of Netflix misbehavior as being all about family and the American Dream. I’d glibly call it The Awful, but that would overplay my series-long ambivalence toward Ozark.
Airdate: Friday, April 29 (Netflix)
Cast: Jason Bateman, Laura Linney, Sofia Hublitz, Skylar Gaertner, Julia Garner
Showrunner: Chris Mundy
Yes, I think the show’s second season probably was awful and its third season was probably comfortably better than average. In the balance, though, I’ve thought Ozark was a mixed bag — always worthy of consideration thanks to a few standout performances and a reliably churning sense of suspense, but also infuriating for its thinly conceived supporting ensemble, narrative sloppiness and my sense that the show the characters kept talking about rarely aligned with the show I was watching.
Guess what? The last seven episodes of Ozark don’t suddenly become anything better or worse than the show has been overall. I was annoyed and rolling my eyes. I was on the edge of my seat wondering if the show would do anything truly surprising. And I appreciated these last few hours of watching Julia Garner and Laura Linney, whose work here consistently withstood the inconsistency of the show around them.
Ozark ends as Ozark. And if I just stopped there, I could leave my editor with some free time this afternoon. Based on the episodic running times — four of seven episodes are over an hour, and the finale is 72 minutes — you’d think the Ozark editing team took lots of afternoons off, but that too is just Ozark being Ozark.
When we left things back in January — and this should count as your spoiler warning for anything up to this point in the series — Garner’s Ruth was on the verge of going full-on berserker after Javi (Alfonso Herrera) killed her cousin Wyatt (Charlie Tahan) and Wyatt’s wife Darlene (Lisa Emery). Ruth’s well-deserved rage presents itself as a major home-stretch risk as Marty (Jason Bateman) and Wendy (Linney) Byrde are trying to adjust their relationship with the Mexican cartel (topped by Felix Solis’ Omar) and beef up their political foundation in the hopes of going legitimate. They still believe they can return to something resembling a normal life after a tenure in the Lake of the Ozarks that was far shorter than makes any sense if you stop and consider it for even a second.
The Mexican cartel, the FBI and Ruth’s unpredictable fury would make for ample final season adversaries, but Ozark loves including several thinly written straw men for complications. Adam Rothenberg’s inexplicably ubiquitous PI, a lesser addition in the first half of the season, is still around. Plus, Richard Thomas returns creepily as Nathan, Wendy’s father, who arrives in Lake of the Ozarks hoping to get answers about Ben’s (the great Tom Pelphrey) disappearance, targeting his grandchildren — Sofia Hublitz’s Charlotte and Skylar Gaertner’s Jonah — either as pawns or out of compassion (though nobody in Ozark does anything out of genuine compassion, “family” be damned.)
This half-season is made with the general awareness that an end is in sight, and you can sense showrunner Chris Mundy’s desire to give some nods to dedicated viewers. Several characters who haven’t been seen or even mentioned for years get cameos. Death isn’t necessarily an obstacle, with flashbacks and fantasies and whatnot.
The show has always been vicious to the point of abruptness when it comes to deaths, so it feels hollow when episodes suddenly start pretending that the lives of certain killed-off characters have value. The show’s approach to surviving characters is not necessarily more humane. No number of people saying things about how Jonah is like Marty and Charlotte is like Wendy will ever make me believe that those two have been developed in any way, shape or form. Charlotte had one threatening scene and Jonah arbitrarily became a master accountant, but neither has ever felt integral to the series — a crippling failure if Marty and Wendy insist over and over again that this has all been for their family.
The story of Ozark has always more effectively been about the literal and metaphorical laundering of money. What makes dirty money clean? Is it religion? Is it capitalism? Is it politics? Is it some combination of elements wrapped in an American flag bow? Spoiler alert: It’s the latter. There’s no riddle Ozark cracked here that The Godfather didn’t solve 50 years ago, or that Better Call Saul isn’t currently cracking on a weekly basis with significantly more personality and panache. That doesn’t stop Ozark from repeatedly making the same cynical observations — cynical to the degree of empty nihilism by the end.
Yet the things I like about the show remain generally intact, or at least some of them do.
Garner is a force of nature, and the show’s best exploration of the American Dream has always been through the possibility of reinvention for Ruth. Garner’s performance captures the optimism of Ruth’s brilliance, the pessimism of her genetically inescapable amorality and her bursts of childlike innocence.
I wish the final season could have found more ways to pair Garner and Linney, but these last episodes are too busy throwing Wendy under the bus at every turn. Even if you accept that Wendy’s infidelity was an instigating event for much of the series, somebody made the decision that, when it comes to the Byrdes, everything is Wendy’s fault and Marty’s biggest sin was being too wishy-washy to resist her criminality — which isn’t the takeaway from the show I watched.
I’ve always preferred when Marty is at his most capable, and after a welcome return for Brilliant Accountant Marty in the third season, the fourth season lost all respect for Marty as a capable character. Bateman’s one-note performance suffered, because he was left without even that single note. The middle of this season suggests a long-awaited turning point for Marty and a chance for Bateman to do some real work, and then that’s forgotten as things race toward the finale.
And the Bateman-directed finale itself? It’s appropriate for the series, which I don’t really mean as a compliment. My very first review of the show called it “pulp masquerading as prestige” and the finale is in line with that. It ought to be about climactic suspense and, heaven forbid, having some fun with the conclusion of this extended roller-coaster, but instead it’s a few cheap shocks and some speeches that aren’t as profound as they should be — though I love the line, “Money doesn’t know where it came from.”
More than anything, Ozark dies doing what it loved: taking itself way too seriously. The show’s many fans probably wouldn’t have it any other way.
[The series was produced by MRC Television, a division of MRC, which is a co-owner of The Hollywood Reporter through a joint venture with Penske Media titled PMRC.]
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