To say ‘endings are hard’ is probably the greatest understatement in all of writing. A story IS its ending. Endings are the culmination of all the emotion and time and detail invested into the narrative; the greater tapestry revealed after all of the individual threads when been carefully woven together. A good ending elevates a story to immortality ala “Breaking Bad” while a poorly constructed ending can poison the series down to its roots, making it unpalatable even in its virtues, ala “Game of Thrones,” “Dexter,” “How I Met Your Mother,” “Lost,” etc. As you can tell, there are more geese than swans when it comes to TV show endings, mostly because climaxes are demanding little narrative maws, having to simultaneously satisfy our narrative desires and keep us on our toes with surprises. In essence, we want our endings to give us what we expect in an unexpected fashion, a feat of high stakes narrative gymnastics that most writers can never quite stick the landing on. Of course, it’s easier to land on your feet when the bar you’re balancing on is lower. Ending a long running dramatic series in a sloppy or rushed manner can be cataclysmic. However, when said series has been spinning its narrative wheels for a couple seasons, introducing new threats and crisis’ on an episode to episode basis to the point where it might was well be a Seinfeld-esque self contained situational drama show, the standards we hold the ending to are far lower and much more forgiving. And so we come to “Ozark” season four, part two, released on April 29. As an ending to the six year old star studded nail biter series, it’s fine, and I am fine with how agonizingly, stuck-in-the-mud, fine it is. I feel like I should have expected more as a fan, but this show has been marching in place so much, the fact that it finally finished shuffling its feet is all I could have hoped for.
Picking up where the first half of the season cut off, the foul mouthed, trailer trash firebrand that is Ruth Langmore (Julia Garner) reeks bloody revenge on the cartel boss who killed her beloved cousin. As usual, beligured money launderers Marty and Wendy Byrde (Jason Bateman and Laura Linney) are forced into desperate damage control, attempting to salvage their long term plan’s of securing the cartel’s legitimacy in America, while simultaneously trying to cover up Ruth’s crime and counteract her rash plans of sabotage against them and their interests. It’s nothing particularly new. As I mentioned in my review of the first half of this season, “Ozark” is a show that revels in keeping you constantly on edge to the point where your stress response goes numb from overuse. Every episode is a new fire for the characters to put out, characters who have been walking the cliff’s razor edge for so long that you want them to either sit down or jump off already. Nothing changes in “Ozark,” which is kind of the point. Spoiler alert, but at the end of the series, evil wins, with Marty and Wendy Byrde, along with their family surviving their years long dalliance with cartel politics and backwoods corruption. Despite all the lives they’ve ruined and bodies they’ve stepped over, the Byrdes get out scott free. In all honesty, while comeuppance would have been karmic, the ax blade has been so constantly at the necks of the main characters throughout the shows run that to have it actually swing down would have felt unrealistic, especially given the Byrde’s penchant for impossible and absurd skin-of-the-teeth escapes and plans. “Ozark” has never been a program filled with long drought conflicts and well sculpted arcs. If the Byrde’s were going to die in the finale, it would have been from a problem introduced in the last episode or two, as per usual. To have them get away with everything lets the audience finally exhale and unclench our shoulders after four seasons and is far more in tune with “Ozark’s” brand of grit and pseudo realism. In fact, the Byrde’s infuriatingly escaping the consequences of their crimes is likely the most realistic thing about the entire show. Though their victory certainly isn’t a clean one, as it is made soberingly clear that their children have been tainted by their exposure to the cartel business, their morals degraded to the point where returning to normalcy is a laughable fantasy. Their cycle of corruption and cruelty is doomed to repeat itself in the children they strove to protect, which is a karmic punishment for the Byrdes all on its own.
While there isn’t anything too new under the dreary blue tinted “Ozark” sun, this final season does shake some things up. Resolutions to Wendy and Marty’s tumultuous marriage are explored, Wendy’s moral degeneracy surrounding the death of her brother and the abuse of her father are a centerpiece of this season and Ruth finally gets to shine as a player all on her own. And it goes without saying that the performances are impeccable across the board. However, as is to be expected from “Ozark,” such virtues lose their luster over time. There are only so many times I can see Jason Bateman act his guts out over the same emotions over different seasons before his scenes stop hitting hard. Every season of “Ozark” is like the same great song played on repeat. It never stops being good, only interesting, with nothing ever changing and no fallout ever sticking close to the character’s skin. I’m not disappointed, because, despite my love for the show, I had no expectations, and perhaps the fact that such an objectively good series leaves so little impact, good or bad, on the viewer means it was an unsatisfying ending after all.