The dark Netflix series kicks off its final season with a binge-worthy cavalcade of crime and corruption
The first part of the fourth and final season of 'Ozark', the hit Netflix show about a Middle American family that launders money for a murderous drug cartel, is finally here.
'Ozark', much like 'The Sopranos' before it, has split its final season into two parts, and premiered the first seven episodes of its final season on January 21, with the last seven coming out later this year.
When 'Ozark' first appeared back in 2017, I had little faith it would be a worthwhile watch. The premise - a regular guy getting caught up in the drug trade - seemed derivative, and its star, Jason Bateman, while a terrific comedic actor, didn't strike me as having the chops to carry a dark drama.
After watching the first episode of season one, it quickly became apparent that I was fantastically wrong. Yes, 'Ozark' certainly owes a debt to 'Breaking Bad', as it borrows the "regular guy gets into the drug business" blueprint, but it's no cheap 'Breaking Bad' knock-off. It's an original, captivating, stylish series that boasts scintillating performances and searing social commentary.
Just to remind you, the show follows the trials and tribulations of accountant Marty Byrde (Bateman), a middle-aged accountant who happens to be a money launderer extraordinaire.
When Marty gets in too deep with the Navarro drug cartel, he and his wife Wendy, teenage daughter Charlotte and son Jonah, leave Chicago for the backwaters of the Ozarks, where the whole family must navigate their internecine conflicts while also dealing with the perils of drug lords and law enforcement.
The show's cast is tremendous, but it's Jason Bateman as Marty Byrde that is the straw that stirs the drink. Bateman's Marty is a masterwork of skilled, subtle, and intricate acting.
Marty is a problem-solver, and while it's his original sin that sets the story in motion, he's now blessed/cursed to be surrounded by a coterie of combustible women who seem to cause all his problems.
For example, there's Wendy, gloriously played by Laura Linney in full Lady Macbeth mode, who is a ferociously ambitious sort who hides her ruthless nature behind her smiling mom exterior. Wendy's reach often exceeds her grasp, putting the whole family in danger, and it's Marty who has to be the calm, cool voice of reason and the one to clean up her mess.
Then there's spitfire Ruth Langmore, Marty's protege, phenomenally portrayed by two-time Emmy Award winner Julia Garner. Ruth is a firebrand - vicious, volcanic, yet vulnerable. When her deep-seated wound is sufficiently poked and she unleashes her existential fury, she's a diabolical dervish that destroys everything and everyone in her orbit, including Ruth herself.
And then there's the queen of the Redneck Riviera, Darlene Snell, the local drug boss and all-around low-rent lunatic. Darlene (fiercely portrayed by Lisa Emery) could be the inbred sister of the backwater rapists in 'Deliverance', and her relentless, shotgun-toting, mama-bear energy is unnerving.
It's a stroke of cultural/political sub-textural genius that the women of 'Ozark' are, almost universally, the catalysts of the story and also consistently irrational, incorrigible, and violently narcissistic. They are as depraved as any of the men, if not more so. And it always falls to Marty, flaws and all, to put the pieces back together after one of these witches casts a wayward spell.
Too often nowadays, movies and TV shows want to empower women without having them grapple with the insidious shadow that comes with power. 'Ozark' empowers women, but also lets them wallow, flail, and drown in the same deep, dark waters that engulf men when they venture too far from shore, and it's utterly delicious to watch.
Another great thing about the show is that it's a brooding, blood-soaked meta-commentary on life among the ruins of an American empire in steep decline. The stench of desperation and the rot of corruption, both personal and institutional, is absolutely everywhere.
The Byrdes start out trying to do the right thing, but their moral and ethical degradation spreads like a virus, contaminating everyone with whom they come into contact and leaving a trail of broken bodies and broken spirits in its wake.
Also corrupt is every law enforcement agency, both local and federal, every politician, and every corporation that shows its ugly head and bares its teeth in the Byrdes' direction.
Another stroke of creative genius was having the Byrdes get into the riverboat casino business, as 'Ozark' is a running commentary on the absurdity of our casino capitalist system, where the little people are cannon fodder, the rigged shell game is never-ending, the money is conjured out of thin air, and nothing is built on solid ground.
As an artistic endeavor, 'Ozark' is fantastically well crafted. Creators Bill Dubuque and Mark Williams, as well as season four directors Andrew Bernstein (one of the very best in television), Alik Sakharov, and Robin Wright (the famed actress), consistently set the menacing mood with ominous atmospherics, using a stellar score and masterfully executed cinematography.
Ultimately, despite some minor plot missteps, the first part of the season proves 'Ozark' is as good as it gets on television. It's not for the faint of heart, but it's remarkably compelling and thoroughly satisfying. I'll be sad to see the series go, but I'm glad it's here for a little while longer.