'Ozark' review: Stakes have never been higher in first half of explosive final season
Courtesy of Netflix
This review contains spoilers for the previous season of “Ozark”
In the final moments of “Ozark” season three, arguably the best yet, when Helen Pierce (an excellent, Emmy award worthy turn from Janet McTeer), lawyer and confident to drug cartel leader Omar Navarro (Felix Solis), got a bullet to the head we watched the horror and shock on Marty and Wendy Byrde’s faces as they had seemingly made a deal with the devil. Season four, the final episodes in the Byrde saga that Netflix has conveniently split into two parts, picks up in the immediate aftermath as they’re literally washing Pierce’s remains off their faces. They, like the “Ozark” faithful who have stuck around through the rough patches of season two and beyond, have no idea what they’ve signed up for and through the first seven episodes of this two-part finale (all provided in advance for reviewing press) won’t give the answers or closure many are looking for, it does, however, set the stage for a wild conclusion and if you’ve remained steady on the Byrde train, then these twisty, impeccable performed preludes gives plenty of reason to stick around.
The Byrde’s have wanted to get out of the money laundering business for awhile, but with each subsequent season new challenges (or villains) have presented themselves. Just when you think Marty (Jason Bateman) or Wendy (Laura Linny) will meet their demise (be it from talking too much or overstepping boundaries) the dynamic duo have always given ruthless captors and drug traffickers incentive to keep them around. The new season is no different as Navarro presents the Byrde’s with a near impossible task that will test the family dynamic like never before. For starters, the clan is still reeling from the death of Wendy’s bipolar brother, Ben (Tom Pelphrey) and as a result, alliances and loyalties have shifted. Back and furious as ever is Emmy award winner Julia Garner’s grieving Ruth who’s left Marty hanging in favor of Darlene Snell (Lisa Emery) and her since restarted heroine operation.
Meanwhile, Marty and Wendy are trying to bridge the divide between their own family, but that hasn’t stopped son Jonah (Skylar Gaertner) from working under Ruth, laundering Snell’s drug money which, of course, directly conflicts with their interests. Especially as Navarro’s menacing and trigger happy nephew, Javi Elizondo (Alfonso Herrera) is being groomed to take over his Uncle’s Cartel operations and doesn’t see the value Marty and Wendy bring. Have the two finally met their match?
There’s obvious parallels this new season of “Ozark” tries to bring from the real-world, including the Purdue-Pharma opioid scandal that befell the Sackler family. Here, a CEO of a biopharmaceutical company uses Wendy and Marty’s cartel connections to help meet quota and stock projections and there’s a solid dose of political grandstanding and behind closed door meetings (bribery, blackmail etc) that has felt baked into the “Ozark” DNA since day one. The real question becomes, does this add up to anything? Or are these events just another misdirection? With “Ozark” it’s always tough to know as you’d be a fool to guess one thing will happen because, if previous seasons have taught us anything, it’s always the unexpected.
Bateman and Linny are at the top of their respective games, showcasing a new range of sorrow and desperation we haven’t seen since season one, but it's Garner, once again proving her Emmy wins are no fluke, that takes the cake ascending to new highs as viewers will see an incredible character arc transpire over these seven episodes. The first half of the series’ victory lap does a fine job straddling the line between introducing newer elements (Herrera is near flawless and terrifying) while also looking towards the future and bringing the entire franchise full circle. The stakes have never been higher and when part two releases this summer, all bets are off.
OZARK Season Four Part 1 drops on Netflix Friday, January 21st.