Often compared to breaking bad—another story about ostensibly ordinary Americans turning to lives of crime—Netflix’s Ozarks always appeared headed for a similarly dire conclusion, with at least some of its principals meeting a fatal end. Still, predicting the precise nature of that outcome was thwarted by the cagey plotting of its fourth and final season, whose last episode upended expectations by letting its bad guys get away—and, in the process, cemented the show’s portrait of capitalist enterprise as a war winnable only by those willing to fully embrace their ruthless amorality, and able to control their wilder impulses.
“Everything’s bearable,” says Wendy (laura linney) to Ruth (Julia Garner) when the latter visits the former at the health care facility that she’s made her new home. Ruth doesn’t think so; the murder of her cousin Wyatt (Charlie Tahan) was an act so intolerable that it could only be answered with a bullet. Javi’s (Alfonso Herrera) death continues to be a thorn in Ruth’s side of her, since even after gaining control of the Missouri Belle casino, Marty (Jason Bateman) uses her guilt as a means of blackmailing her into helping get Jonah (Skylar Gaertner) and Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz) away from their toxic grandfather Nathan (Richard Thomas). Ruth complies, and hardly blushes at scaring Nathan away, given that he reveals himself to be a poisonous misogynist who cares about his grandchildren solely as tools to injure Wendy.
Marty’s plan works. Now aware of Nathan’s wretched treatment of their mom, Jonah and Charlotte visit Wendy, who admits—about Ben, her controlling behavior, and the fracturing of their clan—“It’s my fault. All of it.” Owning up to her failings de ella with a naked honesty that she’s rarely shown over the past few seasons, Wendy repairs the Byrdes’ familial bond, as does her generous statement that she wo n’t make the kids stay if they do n’t want to. They do, though, which leads directly to the car crash that opened Season 4—a calamity from which they all miraculously walk away. Omar’s priest (Bruno Bichir) tells Wendy that this is a warning from God about the wrong path they’re on, but she rightfully sees it as an indication that, while danger may be lurking around every corner, they’re capable of surviving it so long as they’re united.
In the aftermath of this near-death experience, Marty convinces Ruth to meet with the feds, who’ll allow her to legally use the Missouri Belle for Navarro money laundering (thanks to their own deals with the cartel). Her blissful dream of reunion with all her deceased relatives of her, however, is an ominous portent. Omar, meanwhile, has figured out that Camila was behind his assassination attempt on her, and decides to dispatch her on her. Yet those designs don’t come to fruition because Camila is as ambitious as Wendy. Per her scheme de ella with the Byrdes and the feds—all of which is settled at a meeting at Marty and Wendy’s funeral parlor, with Ruth and Rachel (Jordana Spiro) in attendance—she has Omar killed during a prison transfer. As is so frequently the case in Ozarks, the women rule the roost, exhibiting a cold-bloodedness that’s unclouded by compassion, and far more fearsome than that displayed by their male counterparts. This is most viscerally felt in Wendy’s farewell to her dad de ella, during which she promises him a perpetual financial stipend and explains that he’s gotten everything he wants—except the chance to hurt her, which is all he really coveted.
Things seem settled by the time the Byrdes arrive at their black-tie fundraiser aboard the Missouri Belle, as Wendy’s right-hand man Jim (Damian Young) declares it “a goddamn coronation” of the couple as the region’s newest political power players—a position now so solidified by fresh donations that Wendy tells Randall Schafer (Bruce Davison) to take his rigged voting machines and shove them. Dreams, however, do not come true without a cost. At the moment of victory, Camila pressures Big Pharma CEO Claire Shaw (Katrina Lenk) into telling her the truth about the night her son de ella Javi vanished. Claire cracks, admitting that Ruth vengefully killed him. Wendy and Marty frantically strive to come up with a way to save Ruth from Camila, but the ball has rolled too far down the proverbial hill at this point. “What if this is too much to bear?” Wendy asks her husband de ella, visibly shaken by what’s about to take place. “It won’t be,” he replies.
Ozarks thus comes to its final tragedy: the death of Ruth Langmore, who faces her end with her usual take-no-shit grit and defiance, spitting at her executioner Camila, “I’m not sorry. Your son was a murdering bitch. And now I know where I got it from.” As arguably the most beloved character on the show, Ruth’s fate is heartbreaking, if ultimately inevitable—the byproduct of her unwise decision to be led by her heart (by murdering Javi for revenge) rather than her head (by letting it go and living to fight another day). That may not make it fair—Javi, after all, deserved what he got—but it is in keeping with the series’ overarching view of the world as a place ruled by those who always act in their own best interests.
There’s a bleak cynicism to that perspective on ambition, on 21st-century America, and on life, and it’s one that carries through to the show’s closing scene. Firmly ensconced as elite movers and shakers who are free from the cartel’s grasp, the Byrdes return home to find a visitor: private investigator Mel Sattem (Adam Rothenberg), whose conscience prevented him from enjoying his cushy gig back on the Chicago police force, and who’s figured out that Ben’s ashes are in the goat cookie jar, thereby giving him the evidence necessary to solve the case and put Marty and Wendy behind bars. Caught dead to rights, they try to bribe Mel, and he lets them know that he’s not for sale, and that no matter the royalty they think they’ve become, “You don’t get to win…the world doesn’t work like that.”
“Since when?” asks Wendy, and her sentiment de ella is validated when Jonah—now 100 percent back in the fold—appears with a shotgun and aims it straight at Mel, echoing the season one finale, and bringing a proud smile to both Wendy and Marty’s lips. The shotgun blast that rings out over a black screen, spelling Mel’s doom and ensuring the Byrdes’ triumph, reiterates what Ozarks has been saying from the start: The family that stays (and slays together), succeeds together.