March 24, 2023

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“Ozark’s” highly anticipated final episodes hit Netflix in late April, and fans are still recovering. With 14 pending nominations, the departing series is currently feeling the Emmy love. But is the finale really worth all the awards buzz? The critically acclaimed Netflix series tells the story of the Byrdes, a middle-class family that launders money for a Mexican drug cartel. Known to spark controversy, “Ozark” questions the moral compasses of its characters and audience members alike, constantly blurring the line between decency and dishonesty, between good and bad. Some love the Byrdes; some hate the Byrdes; others feel sorry for them. However, one thing remains undisputed: “Ozark” is one of Netflix’s biggest triumphs. But is it really its antihero narrative that makes this crime drama so compelling? After all, morally ambiguous characters have dominated the television landscape for decades.
According to starring actress Laura Linney, the central question of the show, and perhaps its most enticing one, can be traced back to a single word — identity. Working for a drug lord is not the safest career choice. Indeed it is this constant fight for survival that unearths the secrets, fears, and long-forgotten personality traits of its main characters. Just like that, family members turn into strangers. Granted, after three and a half seasons, viewers might think they finally know the Byrdes. But just as that wrongful assumption took hold, Netflix dropped its final season, and it was earth-shattering.
The last season of the Netflix show proceeded largely in “Ozark”-fashion — suspense, revenge, and death dominated the final episodes. Undoubtedly, the show remains one of the most intense and poignant television dramas to date. The storyline is overall riveting and exciting, though at times slightly confusing. There is no way around the fact that certain storylines are obsolete and repetitive. For example, there is simply no need for Mel Sattem (Adam Rothenberg), the private investigator, to return to the Ozarks to look into the whereabouts of yet another dead person. Furthermore, the cat-and-mouse game between Omar Navarro (Felix Solis) and his sister (Verónica Falcón) gets very old, very quickly.
The expanded 14-episode run paired with each episode’s one hour run time left the writers with a lot of time on their hands. Flashbacks attempt to fill that time, but fail to drive the story forward. At times, this season feels like an opportunity for the already deceased to return to the Ozarks to say their final goodbyes — an unusual sudden display of nostalgia. While disarming and slightly out of place, the flashbacks do pay tribute to all the phenomenal actors “Ozark” lured to Missouri — the closest thing to closure audience members can expect from a show that kills off its characters without remorse.
Nevertheless, the last season of “Ozark” is a must-see. Moving performances, imperfect relationships, and shocking deaths coin this piece of television artistry. The show’s final episodes powerfully allude to the danger of childhood trauma by further exploring Wendy’s upbringing — truly a highlight of the season. This storyline not only paves the way for stellar performances but also allows the audience to fathom the pain of childhood trauma through her interactions with her father. Wendy’s upbringing doesn’t justify her irrational behavior, but it does suggest that often bad people are deeply complex and flawed. Marty and Wendy’s relationship is often criticized; they are weighed down by the lust for power, the fear of death, and the struggle of trauma, but it is a relationship grounded in a prevailing love. Knowing this makes their interactions all the more devastating — and heartwarming. “I know I am not easy to love,” Wendy says, looking at Marty. After a pause, he replies: “That is not true.”
Granted, the final episode is not a happy ending. It might not be what viewers hoped for, but it is what feels true to the show and the characters. “Ozark” has repeatedly alluded to the inevitability of fate. Ruth Langmore’s death resembled a Shakespearean tragedy; there was a solemn sadness in the way her white dress slowly turned red. A death so tragic yet peaceful and maybe all along inevitable — as inevitable as the series’ ending? Jonah aims a shotgun at the investigator, who holds the cookie jar with Ben Davis’s remains as the scene fades into black. Viewers never find out if Jonah pulls the trigger or not; instead, we are left with uncertainty. But looking back, the show never intended to provide its audience with straight forward answers. Did viewers really want to know what would ultimately happen to the Byrdes? There will always be someone who knows what the Byrdes did, even if it is only the Byrdes themselves. There is no end. No coda. No way out. Perhaps “Ozark” was never really about closure? Perhaps the show was simply about the journey of life. The journey of what we do, who we encounter, what we believe, and who we become.
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