All About That Shocking 'Ozark' Finale! Do the Byrdes Fly Away? Does Ruth Come Out on Top? Who Lives, Who Dies?

It was the end of a very bumpy ride for Jason Bateman, Laura Linney, and Julia Garner as the Netflix thriller wrapped this weekend after four seasons

OZARK OZARK: (L TO R) Laura Linney as Wendy Byrde and Jason Bateman as Marty Byrde in Episode 3010 of OZARK Cr. Steve Deitl/Netflix © 2020
Laura Linney in Ozark. Photo: Steve Deitl/Netflix

In a new edition of surprising timeliness, the Encyclopedia Britannica has this to say about the Lake of the Ozarks, the man-made body of water that features so prominently in the Netflix thriller Ozark, which just concluded with seven episodes released April 29:

"Covering an area of 93 square miles (241 square km), the lake is approximately 90 miles (145 km) long and has a shoreline of more than 1,100 miles (1,770 km). The lake, with facilities for fishing and aquatic sports, is a popular recreation and resort area. In recent years, however, the interloping presence of Marty and Wendy Byrde, a professional couple from Chicago and the parents of teenagers Charlotte and Jonah, has reduced the area to a moral swamp polluted with corpses. Experts are hopeful that the area's image as a family vacation destination will rebound now that all the Byrdes have returned to Chicago."

The second half of that entry, needless to say, is not really from the Britannica. It was just a polite way to lead you down into this recap without top-loading the text with spoilers. Because there's a lot to unpack here: Coming after four nail-biting seasons, the finale was a violent, joltingly cynical wrap-up with abrupt reversals of fortune and a shocking death.

The Byrdes survived. That point the Encyclopedia states accurately. The Byrdes, who spent four seasons money-laundering for a deadly Mexican drug cartel while constantly fighting the Ozark area's own criminal element, were threatened with exposure, torture, arrest and death, on an almost hourly basis. Their life was pure hell. Worse, at the end of any given bloody day the only way they had to let off steam was by sitting down to a family meal of what appeared to be congealed pasta in their ugly waterfront home — mother Wendy (Laura Linney) at least took the opportunity to sedate herself with a generous glass of red wine.

If the question driving Ozark was whether the Byrdes would get out alive, the answer at the very end was a definitive "yes" — "yes" as in "You betcha!" If anything, Wendy and Marty (Jason Bateman) found themselves stronger than ever, close to invulnerable, corrupt but assured in their power, and confident about how to increase it: The future lay in Wendy's bogus-sounding Byrde Foundation, ostensibly dedicated to championing worthy causes even though it was rooted in dirty business. You wouldn't contribute your rolled-up pennies to the thing.

In the end, we realized, the Byrdes were just bad people — even son Jonah (Skylar Gaertner), as we'll explain, became a cold-blooded killer — and they seemed to regret nothing.

Actually, it's possible that Marty, who always tried to keep up a pleasant front, as if he were a dependably tail-wagging neighborhood dog, wasn't completely happy. But the show long ago became Wendy's. The ending certainly was hers.

Ruth? Sorry, she died. It was hard to determine ultimately how much Wendy and Marty even cared about the big, terrible twist: the decision by the new cartel head — we'll get to that too — to murder Ruth Langmore (Julia Garner), the clever, foul-mouthed local girl who (depending on the episode) was the Byrdes' accomplice or rival in cooking books, managing the Missouri Belle riverboat casino and outplaying the cartel — in her case, unsuccessfully.

The death was especially shocking because many viewers were betting on Ruth, with her level-headed toughness and gut-rock integrity, to be the one left standing. Instead, the whole Langmore family, including Ruth's beloved cousin, Wyatt (Charles Tahan), were rendered nearly extinct (Wyatt's brother, Three, who said roughly that many sentences in the run of the series, is still out there, somewhere). The Langmores had gotten by as dangerous lowlifes for generations, apparently, but they couldn't compete with the Byrdes' level of illegal cunning and all the complications that came with it. In that sense, Ozark was a kind of Hillbilly Elegy, only without Glenn Close in the Brillo wig or any of the uplift that puts a smile on Ron Howard's face.

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How Ruth was undone. In the final seven episodes, Wendy and Marty were — as always — caught up in desperately tricky and, at times, confusingly over-plotted negotiations to free themselves from having to deal with the cartel, especially after the chief they'd been working for, Omar Navarro (Felix Solis), wound up in prison in the United States. That left Omar's hotheaded nephew, Javi (Alfonso Herrera), free to run around the Ozarks settling scores and doing whatever he damn felt like doing. That included gunning down Wyatt and his ornery old lady companion, Darlene Snell (Lisa Emery), a thorn in the Byrdes' side who was angrily determined to be a player in the Ozark drug trade. But Darlene had murdered her own husband in season 2 and was about as lovable as a bucket of rusty nails, so she didn't score too many pity points by dying.

Ruth, though, with her stubborn Langmore pride, took it on herself to avenge Wyatt's murder — a decision that started her on the path that would end with her own death. After stalking Javi for days, she gunned him down in the sleek Chicago offices of Clare Shaw (Katrina Lenk), a pharmaceuticals executive who — like everyone on Ozark — was always anxiously hopping in and out of bed with the cartel. For a while after that, things were actually looking up for Ruth: She managed to take control of the Missouri Belle — thanks in part to having inherited Darlene's shares — and began renovating the junk-strewn Langmore property, even digging a pool. Perhaps she was indulging in Selling Sunset fantasies, which is a touching thought. Or she may have just been relieved that one of the cartel's worst associates, an assassin named Nelson, was now buried in the pool pit, having recently been shot and killed by Ruth's friend Rachel (Jordana Spiro) as a helpful preventative measure.

OZARK season 4 episode 10 Julia Garner
Steve Dietl/Netflix

Unfortunately for Ruth, her act of vengeance overheated the gastric juices flowing through the corrugated-steel digestive tract that was coiled within Javi's mother. Camila (Veronica Falcón) first entered the show in season 4 as a quiet, furtive figure discreetly stationing herself at the back of the room. Now, suddenly, she was out in front and on the march, with a vicious two-pronged plan of attack. 1) She had her brother Omar assassinated and — allowing the Byrdes to extricate themselves from the whole inchoate Ozark mess through a delicate arrangement involving the FBI — took over the cartel. 2) She also resolved to destroy whoever had destroyed Javi. Wendy, Marty, and Clare could all finger Ruth — they had been witnesses — but Clare, who for all her clout tended to fold like a caterpillar poked with a pencil eraser, was the one to spill the beans (Camila threatened to do awful things to her with a knife).

Wendy and Marty, not surprisingly, looked disconcerted by the realization that Ruth, whom they'd known since season 1, was going to be rubbed out in the very near future by a character sprung on them only a few episodes prior. Camila, sensing their unease and resorting once again to very forceful language, ordered them not to tip Ruth off. And they didn't — no one had scared them with such ruthless efficiency since they were still taking phone calls from Helen Pierce (Janet McTeer), the cartel attorney who could freeze the blood with just the phrase, "Are we good?" (Helen had been shut up, for good, at a Mexican baptism at the end of season 3).

Ruth, true to her character, was defiant when confronted by Camila and Camila's loaded pistol. She stared back with the same snarling contempt she brought to every encounter, life-threatening or not — she probably wouldn't have let her guard down for Santa. "I'm not sorry," she said. "Your son was a murdering b—h, and now I know where he got it from." This, if we may offer a criticism, was a fairly typical Ruth Langmore line, but hardly adequate for the sad farewell of one of the show's best (and best-acted) characters. Ruth should at least have been allowed a dozen or so swear words, strung across a few sentences in a colorful configuration, while taking in one last view of the lake and popping the tab on a beer can. Instead she took a bullet, fell to the ground and bled out.

How the Byrdes triumphed. The Byrdes, on the other hand, were now rid of the cartel and free to return to Chicago and pursue the ambitious dream of Wendy's foundation, which seemed conceived as if it were the Clinton Global Initiative's Mini Me. The endless to and fro over the establishment of this foundation was probably the weakest, most thinly sketched part of the whole series — a vague matter of pulling strings, swapping favors with politicians and throwing what appeared to poorly catered fundraisers on the riverboat. But it was all orchestrated by Wendy, played by Linney with such command and wit that you were always eager to know more, or to believe that it all made sense.

A good deal of the wrap-up, in fact, focused on how members of the Byrde family were starting to resent Wendy's manipulation of everyone and everything. She was accused of undermining Marty's authority — if Marty hadn't been behaving like a dependably tail-wagging neighborhood dog, this might not have been an issue — and she also alienated the children, who came close to going off to live with Wendy's father, Nathan (Richard Thompson). A man of deep religious conviction with an even deeper mean streak, he told Wendy he had never even found her especially lovable. Then again, Nathan's opinion of her had probably been fatally torpedoed after a private detective (Adam Rothenberg) tipped him off about Wendy's role in the death of her mentally ill brother Ben (Tom Pelphrey): In season 3 she ordered a hit on Ben after he proved too unstable to be trusted with the family's secrets. Then, in an un-endearingly sentimental gesture that nearly undid the whole family with seconds to go before the closing credits — again, below — Ben's ashes were preserved not in an urn but in a kitschy cookie jar.

Dramatically, this Wendy pile-on was a bit unfair, and maybe sexist, but it gave Linney the chance to have a terrifying public meltdown that, even with all the show's violence, was possibly its single scariest moment (a lot of Wendy's growing importance, one suspects, had to do with Linney's breathtaking ability to run with any scene she was handed, no matter how extreme). After that, Wendy checked herself into a mental-health facility, where she recuperated nicely — so nicely, you wondered if she had been faking it to make the kids feel guilty.

Reemerging with her mojo fired up again, she shut up Dad by buying him off. But Wendy ultimately didn't have the same success with the detective, who in the show's last minutes broke into the family's ugly lakefront home and confronted them all with the kitschy cookie jar filled with Ben's ashes. He had figured it all out. "You don't get to win," he said. "You don't get to be the Kochs or the Kennedys or whatever f——g royalty you people think you are. World doesn't work like that."

To which Wendy coolly responded: "Since when?"

At that point, Jonah came into view with a shotgun and, as the screen went black, we heard a blast. First, though, we had seen Wendy's side-glance reaction: She looked pleased, even proud, that her son was ending their troubles on such a tidy if brutal note. She had told him earlier: "Your dad and I were trying to build something for all of us, and I promise I will not trap you inside it." But Wendy, it turned out, was not truthful about a lot of things.

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