TV: Ozark (Season 4)

The fourth and final season of Ozark was split into two seven-episode chunks, and it’s easy to see why they staggered it. Consuming the first three seasons in one go made for a compelling binge, but it gave me a certain amount of twisty-stomach heartburn. Season four’s fourteen-hour, tension-filled wrap-up frequently threatens to the do the same. It is, once again, an impressive logistical feat, regularly attempting to do the impossible in its story of a family constantly attempting to do the impossible. The finale certainly isn’t uplifting, but it’s true to the show’s mission and impressively manages to ties up the series’ many, multifaceted plotlines.

Ozark chronicles the exploits of the Byrde family: father Marty (Jason Bateman), mother Wendy (Laura Linney), daughter Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz), and son Jonah (Skylar Gaertner). Outwardly, they’re an ordinary Midwestern white family, but they have a massive secret: they launder money for a powerful Mexican drug cartel run by Omar Navarro (Felix Solis). Most of the show’s highwire-act tension over three seasons involved the Byrdes’ desperate attempts to keep this secret, but as season four opens, it’s starting to look more and more like an open one, as more and more players involve themselves in the family’s endeavors. Aside from just trying to survive, Marty and Wendy balance their political aspirations against the legal practicalities of their increasingly complicated entanglements with both the North American criminal underworld and federal law enforcement. At this point, one would think it would be enough for the Byrdes to safely extricate themselves from the torturous, scheming hell in which they’re embroiled. But Wendy wants more, determined to channel their illicit gains into power and prestige with which they can do some good. In his usual calm, collected way, Marty labors to help her make this happen, even as the odds get worse, the dangers increase, and Wendy’s obsessive pursuit of her goal grows ever more unhinged.

The blessing and the curse of Ozark has always been the sustained urgency of its nerve-wracking plot, which like many suspense-forward shows requires near-constant twists, obstacles, and threats to keep its characters in a heightened state of life-or-death conflict. It’s a testament to the writing staff that they, like the Byrdes, manage to juggle the chainsaws as long as they do. Once again, this involves layering new players atop the already-cluttered chessboard; in season four, the new troublemakers include Navarro’s hot-headed nephew Javi Elizonndro (Alfonso Herrera), beleagured pharma exec Claire Shaw (Katrina Lenk), relentless PI Mel Sattem (Adam Rothenberg), and Wendy’s two-faced father Nathan (Richard Thomas), among others. They all bring something to the table, and if their stories complicate and escalate the saga so often as to strain credulity, they’re all strategically integrated into an endgame that brings the series to a smart close—which comes none too soon. Those turned off by the story can sit back and marvel at the incredible performances of Bateman, Linney, and Julia Garner, whose bravura turn as foul-mouthed local Ruth Langmore basically takes over the show by sheer force of her vibrant will. Ozark’s gritty, rural milieu may lurch frequently into a certain pulp silliness, and realism is by no means its forte. But the Byrdes are the perfect American villains for this political era, and it remains a gripping diversion right through to its tragic, fitting end.

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