[Editor’s Note: The following story contains major spoilers for Season 3 of “Ozark.”]
How do you top the brain-busting bang of the last minute of Season 3 of Netflix’s “Ozark”? This season of the series seemingly birthed from an algorithmic cocktail of “Breaking Bad,” “Justified,” and “Narcos” emerged as top-tier TV in its final hours. Wendy said goodbye to her brother in the most painful of ways; Helen Pierce had her skull blown out by cartel heavyweight Omar Navarro; and Ruth finally stopped selling her soul, flipping the bird to the Byrdes with the ultimate diss of calling Wendy a “bitch wolf” — a slam that deserves to go down in history.
To help situate that in the context of “Ozark,” explain why it’s become such a hit for Netflix, and what it means for us now, here’s IndieWire TV Critic Ben Travers’ review of “Ozark” Season 3:
“At its core, ‘Ozark’ is about two people who screwed up so badly there’s no coming back. The only solace they can find is temporary. Maybe it’s in the day-to-day grind, when they can distract themselves through work. Perhaps they only feel at ease when they’re lying — lying so convincingly they believe each other when they can’t believe themselves. Or maybe their only true peace comes during those fleeting moments when they’re able to confront the truth, which means focusing on one thing: saving their kids.
From a broad social perspective, it’s easy to look at the pandemic in similar terms: America has screwed up pretty badly in handling the crisis, and history will be divided into before and after the COVID-19 outbreak. But right now, we’re still in the middle. We’re just trying to get through it, fiscally, emotionally, and for some, physically.”
Though Netflix has yet to announce a Season 4, with a cliffhanger like that and a huge bump in viewership numbers for the third outing, its return is inevitable. Let’s break down where each of our favorite “Ozark” characters might be heading in the next season.
The undisputed MVP of “Ozark” Season 3 was Wendy Byrde, with the always-reliable Laura Linney turning in a truly gut-wrenching, possibly career-best performance as the Lady Macbeth of it all. The third season saw Wendy go from handwringing, guilt-plagued accomplice to queen of the Byrde’s money-laundering machinations and dirtiest deeds.
Linney’s astounding performance hits an apex in Episode 9, when she’s forced to sacrifice her mentally ill brother Ben (Tom Pelphrey, destined for an Emmy nomination) to Navarro bounty hunters after he flips his shit and reveals Helen’s (Janet McTeer, also gunning for that Emmy) identity as a cartel lawyer to her own daughter. At the moment where Ben runs out of a gas station and back into Wendy’s car after buying a burner phone (he really just didn’t — and couldn’t — get it), there is a shift in Linney’s eyes that’s just devastating as she realizes a new tactic is needed.
It’s fascinating to watch the wavering flickers of conscience burning in Wendy, who at one moment can seem to have no soul at all — when that horse got his balls cut off, you just wanted to kill her — and at the next is at the rock-bottom howl of despair over what a disaster her life has become. Things will never be the same after her drive home from the diner, where she left Ben to die, and she scream-sobs into the void.
After the gruesome assassination that capped off Season 3, with Wendy and Marty literally covered in Helen’s brains as Omar Navarro (Felix Solis) offers a big bear hug, the finale sets up Wendy to figure out how to cook the books for the growing Byrde empire on her own, and that’s because…
Steve Deitl / Netflix
Throughout Season 3, Marty (Jason Bateman) felt lost in the shadow of his wife and her increasing grabs at power, especially after manning the money-laundering scheme for so long while managing multiple casinos and shell businesses. The death of Helen before his very eyes could send Marty into a catatonic, PTSD-addled depression that will render him incapable of running the show. If Season 4 of “Ozark” is Season 5 of “Breaking Bad,” Marty is the Skyler White to Wendy’s Walter, totally traumatized and looking for a fire door.
And Marty is no stranger to PTSD, as we learned earlier when he was kidnapped and held hostage in Mexico under punishing torture tactics. He never fully dealt with the psychological damage that must’ve caused, as evidenced by his manic decision to “turn an FBI agent.” No one well ever said that. Demons past and present are likely to surface for Marty Byrde, whose desperate phone-call plea to his wife to come home in Episode 9 suggests an unraveling man now fully broken by his metastasizing empire and its pile-up of casualties.
As for his marriage, that’s a question mark, too. The unexpected arrival of Ben in Season 3 put a pin his marital conflicts with Wendy, unveiled explosively in a way-too-candid therapy session that cost the counselor her life, so Marty and Wendy are going to have to reckon with their messy relationship in Season 4. As we’ve learned from many a crime drama, a marriage is bound to founder beneath the pressures of a criminal enterprise, and leading a life that is altogether a lie.
Courtesy of Netflix
After realizing that Wendy not only ordered the hit on her father, but also on her lover Ben, Ruth (Julia Garner) quit Byrde Enterprises at the end of Season 3, only to get scooped up by Darlene Snell (the brilliant and terrifying Lisa Emery, who gives Dale Dickey a run for her money any day) to bring her poppy farm back to life alongside her boy-toy, Ruth’s cousin Wyatt (Charlie Tahan). Expect Ruth to achieve newfound agency, and a fueling vendetta against the Byrdes for fucking her over yet again despite years of service. Ruth and Darlene Snell, who’s had it out for the Byrdes since day one, will prove a formidable match to take down Wendy and Marty and regain control of the Ozarks.
Garner blew the house down this season with another scene-chewing performance as the foul-mouthed, emotional center of “Ozark,” which earned her an Emmy for Season 2. Expect nothing less for the next go-round. “Bitch wolf!”
As if it couldn’t be more obvious where the Byrdes’ daughter is headed, Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz) is literally handed the keys to Buddy’s mausoleum, which stores the cartel moolah, in the final episode of Season 3. Season 4 will surely find Charlotte taking on greater responsibility in the Byrdes’ criminal activities. She’s had to grow up very fast in these last few seasons. Remember how delighted she was with her cunning way of getting one of the Kansas City Mafia boys to stop chasing after Helen’s daughter? The sick, giddy glimmer in her eyes was much like the infamous “smile” pasted on Carrie Mathison’s face in the second season of “Homeland,” when she finds herself back on the saddle of mischief.
Jonah (Skylar Gaertner), meanwhile, will confront the sins of his parents. At the end of Season 3, he’s angry, having held Helen at gunpoint and then shooting a hole through the Byrdes’ picture window. He’s by now a pissed-off, and very skilled, marksman perhaps too smart for his own good, running a cryptocurrency scheme of his own to help his parents. In Season 4, Jonah will likely be tunneling his way out of the Byrdes’ nest, perhaps not quite in the form of Charlotte’s botched emancipation earlier in the show, but in ways more sinister and sly. If he’s capable of holding a gun at someone as terrifying as Helen, there’s no telling who could end up in his crosshairs next. I wouldn’t rule his own family out of the picture.
“Ozark” Season 3 is currently streaming on Netflix.