I’m not sure “Ozark” ever improved upon “Kaleidoscope.” The first season’s eighth episode takes place entirely in flashback, as director Ellen Kuras and writer Ryan Farley bounce between the pivotal choices that precede the Byrdes’ fateful decision to start laundering money. Wendy (Laura Linney) is fighting through an extended depression, brought on by a complicated miscarriage, and she’s doubly frustrated by a job market closed off to a woman who spent a few years having kids. Marty (Jason Bateman), who’s typically mocked for his cautious nature as “the numbers guy,” is being courted by Camino Del Rio (Esai Morales), who wants to hire the Chicago-based financial advisor to handle his accounts, even after (or because) Marty spots suspicious activity on the books.
Conversations continue. Hypothetical scenarios are played out. The allure of greater purpose, financial security, and just a hint of danger — the kind of danger two well-off suburbanites think they can manage — builds until Marty and Wendy relent. But the second they officially say yes, the illusion of control so carefully invited by Del’s gentle nudging is eradicated, as Marty watches the former bookkeeper get his eyes cut out, dropped in a glass, and placed on the bar next to him.
“Ozark,” after all, is about the moral compromises available to those with enough money, power, and privilege to make them. Its early episodes are focused on the weight of choices that may seem insignificant at the time, but can lead to life-altering consequences later on. “Kaleidoscope” makes it easy to see how Wendy’s unfulfilled ambitions and Marty’s greed masquerading as protection can push them into the life they live for the rest of the series. One concession allows for the next. Circumstances can shape those decisions, but Marty’s entitled perspective refuses to account for chance. He gets the credit, or he takes the blame. As he insists in the series premiere, “Money, at its essence, is the measure of a man’s choices.”
But “Kaleidoscope” is also framed around a random car crash. On the one hand, that kind of loss of control scares Marty, perhaps enough to make him seek the kind of added security, further insulation, that big bucks can buy. But on the other, he rejects the oft-touted belief that “these things happen for a reason”; that a mistake, tragedy, or unforeseeable disruption can actually work out for the best. He can’t see that side of things, even when, right before the accident that causes Wendy’s miscarriage, they were discussing why they may not want another baby.
Car accidents play a major role in “Ozark.” There’s the accident in “Kaleidoscope,” which sets up the show’s central premise. Rachel (Jordana Spiro) wrecks her truck while driving drunk, which puts her under the FBI’s thumb. Buddy (Harris Yulin) dies in Wendy’s car, after burning the Snell’s opium field. A garbage truck kills Sam’s mom, resulting in the young man (Kevin L. Johnson) owing a debt to the Byrdes. And, of course, there’s the accident that kicks off Season 4, where a passing truck causes Marty to swerve, spin out of control, and roll to an ominous stop, with none of the passengers immediately moving to escape. The first part of the final season never catches up to this moment, but just as previous accidents led to unknowable consequences, so too does this one.
That’s all I’ll say (for now). I know you haven’t read this far to hear predominantly about an episode that premiered five years ago, rather than the seven episodes left to air before “Ozark” ends. But this close to the finish line — and before audiences are able to cross it — not much can be said without tipping the remaining twists and turns of an often unpredictable series. Context is key, as always, for appreciating how a drama dependent on surprises and substance chooses to sign off, and while none of the above is meant to signal one ending or another, remembering the shape of “Ozark’s” initial convictions should help to process its ultimate point.
Steve Dietl / Netflix
Season 4, Part 2 comes to a fitting, pointed close. For the most part, it works. But people, as always, will respond differently. Under showrunner Chris Mundy, the last episodes lean into many aspects of what the series does best: Laura Linney is given ample room to strut her magnificent stuff. Julia Garner gets to explore Ruth beyond swearing vengeance, as she so memorably did to end Part 1. Bateman returns to the director’s chair for the finale, while excelling in smaller, fleeting moments onscreen. Bodies are buried. Tension mounts. The last 72-minute episode balances shock with inevitability, and it lands with the blunt force expected of a show that started with a voiceover about the true meaning of money.
Whether you’ve been hooked since that first scene or grew weary during the bleak ensuing seasons, “Ozark” remains true to itself as it comes to a close. Even if you see the Byrdes’ felonious odyssey as a metaphor for the perils and pitfalls of a long-term marriage, raising children, and/or preserving the American ideal of family, the conclusion should click cleanly into place. It may not have much more to say about the Byrdes than what’s already been said, but that, arguably, only makes the final note more striking. As Bateman himself asked before learning the ending, “Are they going to get away with it, or are they going to pay a bill?”
Well, what do you expect?
“Ozark” Season 4, Part 2 premieres Friday, April 29 on Netflix. All seven episodes will be released at once.