Netflix’s juggernaut series Ozark starring Jason Bateman and Laura Linney as a couple desperately trying to stay one step ahead of a Mexican cartel who has been chasing them since Season 1, came to a close with the shot heard around the streaming world. What happened next is anyone’s guess. But, similar to The Sopranos finale, we are left with the retort of a gun and a whole lot of angst.
I won’t lie. I hated the ending of Ozark. I wanted so much more for Ruth Langmore, the impeachable Julia Garner, who I watched and loved across four seasons of turmoil. Poor sweet Ruth deserved better. Yes, I realize how ridiculous that is to say the words “poor” and “sweet” before her name. She may not have had much money initially, but she was loaded by the end, and it’s a little ridiculous to say someone who was a drug dealer, money launderer, and cartel boss murderer was sweet. Say what you will, the foul-mouthed pixie stole the show, and I wanted to see her ride off into the sunset somehow. Instead, she was gunned down by the cartel and left for dead in the rain.
By the end, I only cared about Ruth, Marty, Jonah, and Charlotte, okay, maybe less so Charlotte, who was fast becoming a mini Wendy. As much as I wanted everything to somehow work out in my heart of hearts, I knew it couldn’t. This was always going to be the ending. Ruth could no sooner avoid paying for killing Javi than Jonah could avoid becoming a murderer, and mark my words, he did. There is no way it could have ended any other way. As I watched each episode and the picture crystallized, I knew only misery awaited.
I puzzled over it for hours. How could I get the characters I loved out of this? I know it’s absurd, but I thought Marty could go to Mexico and take over the cartel operations. I know it seems stupid now, but I would watch Marty run the cartel all day, every day. That would keep Ruth and Rachel safe, Charlotte and Jonah could both go to college and forget they ever had parents, and Wendy could f@#k off. That was my plan. I knew it wouldn’t be faithful to the series, though, and so through gritted teeth, I watched the Shakespearean tragedy that was the final couple of episodes of Ozark Season 4 Part 2 play out.
Ozark was always the story of the Byrde family. The wealthy, white, highly intelligent, and ruthless Byrde family. Regardless of how much Marty admired and cared for Ruth, he was always Team Byrde. All of the terrible things he did to protect his business and his family showed that. So, when he and Wendy looked the other way, albeit painfully, while Camila ordered the hit on Ruth, it wasn’t shocking. It was disappointing, to be sure, but not surprising. The same is true when Jonah picks up a gun to defend his family. When all is said and done, this is the story of greed and power, and the Byrdes had both in ample supplies and passed those traits on to their children.
We don’t actually see Jonah pull the trigger because we don’t want to, and the writers knew it. There is a tiny nugget of hope, even as I’m writing this that there was some way someone else took the shotgun from Jonah and fired it at Detective Mel Sattem. Maybe Jonah just shot above his head and warned him. There’s no way that flawed man was walking away from their house, though. He didn’t deserve to die, but boy, I wish we could have told him to check his ego and take the win. Life isn’t fair, and Mel didn’t want the corrupt Byrdes to win. Like the Kennedys and the Kochs and a bunch of other rich and powerful families, they always will, though.
We still view Jonah as a little boy, not a killer. He is the part of Marty that is still innocent. The kid is beyond brilliant and creative as all get out but also appeared to have a few more scruples than his parents. Sure he was laundering money for a heroin dealer who also killed her fair share of people and stole a baby but whatevs. There are shades of grey on a show like Ozark, and we could easily delude ourselves into thinking he was a good guy.
The sad fact, though, is that this ending has been forecast from the first episode. Wendy has always been selfish and manipulative. Before she became a megalomaniac, she was fun to watch. She saved the Byrds with her ruthlessness on many occasions, but she had a mean streak that was a mile wide. Wendy also was so controlling it was destroying her family. She was the definition of love you to death. Marty and the kids should do precisely what she wants because she loves her family so much that she would kill anyone and anything to save them. By the end, she was awful. Wendy was always going to sacrifice everyone else for her husband and kids. She had her brother killed, for God’s sake.
Marty showed he would never leave Wendy even when he knew she was cheating on him. He knew she was unfaithful and forgave her. There has always been a piece of him that admired the cold, clinical side of Wendy’s machinations. Their relationship is toxic and codependent. Just as Wendy would do anything to save her family, Marty would always betray everyone for Wendy. They taught their children that crime does pay and family above all else.
Clear back in the first season of Ozark, Jonah picked up a shotgun to defend his family, and we all cheered. He wasn’t tainted yet by everything that would come, and to us, the Byrdes were still our heroes. After four seasons, though, it became painfully clear that the Byrdes are the villains. That makes Jonah an assassin, not a protector. If Marty and Wendy truly cared about their children, they would worry about what all the lying and criminal activity were doing to them. I’m all for honesty, but maybe it isn’t such a good idea to teach your kids how to get away with murder.
Jonah was angry with his Mom and, to a lesser degree, his Dad because of what happened to Ben. He wasn’t ever that upset about the whole money laundering and masterminding, though. Charlotte tried to get away from her folks briefly before realizing it might be more fun joining them. They even agreed to leave their parents and live with Wendy’s father, who somehow made Javi and his deadly mother look good. Wendy could never have been anything but who she was because her father’s verbal and physical abuse warped her. If Charlotte and Jonah had gone with Nathan, things would have been different but no less horrible. The cycle of violence was never going to end.
There is a lot that could be said about influential people having an unfair advantage. They do, but Wendy and Marty chose to be rich and powerful after their childhood molded them. They didn’t become criminals in a vacuum. The point of Ozark is violence is cyclical. Ruth probably was always going to end up dead. Her uncle and father were dangerous, and she probably wasn’t going to avoid her fate. Wendy was so ruined by her father she could never be anything other than what she became. She needed power and control to feel safe and content. Marty liked money and loved his family. He warned us in the pilot episode that the measure of a man was money. To him, his decisions were justified by all the money he had.
Jonah was always going to be standing there at the end, defending his family with a shotgun. He proved he was coolheaded and unafraid to pull the trigger. Jonah just didn’t have to make that choice until the Season Finale of Ozark. He and Charlotte probably still dislike their parents, or at least their Wendy, but Jonah hates the idea that he could lose everything more. Pulling the trigger is about self-preservation as much as defense. The inevitable truth was we should have seen it coming because they told us all along. We hated the ending because the truth hurts. The ending wasn’t satisfying, but it was exactly what needed to happen. These characters were doomed to be the people they became. We can rail against reality, but we can’t fault the writers for delivering complete character arcs.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.