Ozark‘s moody, blue-tinged palate and tweaked Breaking Bad vibes kept the Byrde family story humming (quite nicely) for three stellar seasons. This week, the first half of the final, supersized season will arrive, and no one can yet speak for the second half, but this first batch of episodes does the damn thing. After that cliffhanger ending with Helen (literally) losing her brain and the drug lord Navarro (also literally) welcoming Wendy and Marty to Mexico with open arms, this season was bound to deliver some amplified comeuppance to the money-laundering fam. And yep, that definitely happens, although not in the way that Marty ever feared that it would go down.
Deliciously, too, this season’s still throwing out the tributes like crazy. Like how Marty (to paraphrase a Justified sentiment) would love nothing more but to get out of Osage Beach, Missouri alive. All he wants is to tie up this drug stuff, satisfy his and Wendy’s end of the Navarro deal, and go back to Chicago and pick up on his old life without missing a beat. What Marty forgot about, though, is that in scary scenarios, the biggest threat can come from inside one’s house. Watch your horror movies, Marty!
Also, I have to get something out of my system: this season’s dialogue continues to nail the trashy-yet-clever dialogue so well. In particular, two lines kept me giggling:
– “You need to be… stronger, like Ruth. But less cussing.”
– “I shot off your dick, and for that I apologize.”
Alright, so I don’t want to give too much away from how this season makes Jason Bateman’s Marty lose his sh*t (because, like snowflakes, every Ozark season does it differently), but let’s just say that it’s as entertaining as always. More than how that inevitable reality accelerates (because, after all, we know that this is the final season), I want to talk about how Ruth Langmore has transformed. In the process, she’s come full circle and gone nowhere at all. She was here when Marty arrived on the scene, and this is her territory, even if she doesn’t always know her own power. Hell, she didn’t have much confidence toward the end of Season 2, which is why I am having so much fun this season reflecting upon her widely meme’d, infamous “I don’t know sh*t about f*ck” quote.
More than anyone else as this show progresses, Ruth is who knows what’s up. She knows the drill, and more than during any other part of this series, she does know sh*t about f*ck. She learned from Marty, having moved up from running a strip club to the casino business to laundering an untold number of millions at his behest. She’s now arguably much more savvy than the Byrde mom and dad combined, and although no one is ever really in control on Ozark, Ruth is putting forth the most impressive effort this season. She’s comparable to Jesse Pinkman, yes (as I’ve argued before), but with a real head on her shoulders. And now that Wendy’s had her brother (and Ruth’s love, Ben) killed to pacify Navarro, Ruth now has almost nothing left to lose.
Garner gives an electric, commanding performance throughout the new episodes, somehow going far beyond (particularly in the last leg of this half-season) what she’s done to win those Emmys and that Golden Globe. To call her “fierce” would be an understatement, and to call her “feral” would be insulting. I’ll settle for “ferocious” and “fiery” and “fearsome” as well because she loves those F-words. She’s both a surrogate daughter to Marty and the person who could very well outdo him at some point. Likewise, she takes no bull from Darlene or law enforcement of any underlings who resent following the orders of a pint-sized spitfire who received that final nudge in Season 3 when realizing that she couldn’t trust Marty at all. And Marty’s realizing that, much like he couldn’t control Wendy or Ruth, his grip on everyone is slipping.
Underneath it all, though, Ozark adds more fuel to the “f*cked up family” vibe that’s dominating prestige TV these days. That’s nothing new, of course, but Succession and The Righteous Gemstones are doing it up in dramatic and comedic fashion, respectively, and Ozark is taking the supercharged crime-thriller ball and running with it. Marty Byrde’s learning that his own kids have been watching him, quite carefully, throughout his money-laundering escapades. Each sibling has a different response to what they’ve endured, and then there’s Wendy, who saved everyone’s asses at the end of last season and isn’t afraid to make deals on her own terms. Ruth, as well, is family, and then there’s Navarro trying to be family in his own messed-up way.
This batch of Ozark episodes goes a long way to set up a final act that would likely surprise every character on this show who’s been around since the first season. None of the Byrde family ever imagined that their lives would have been so uprooted, and for it to be nearly impossible to ever return to “normalcy.” None of the Langmore crew would have ever expected one of their own to be such a power player. And Ruth carries around a lot of guilt from her own acts, which only adds to how her story brings nearly every emotion to the forefront this season. Although I did not receive my ultimate wish — for her to run around hurling everyone off a casino boat — there’s still a ton of layers for Garner to work though. Expect to see her nabbing more awards soon, and for everyone to feel (satisfyingly) frustrated while waiting for the final chunk of this show to arrive.
The first half of ‘Ozark’s final season streams on January 21.