A Clean Break?
Tripwire’s senior editor Andrew Colman casts his eye over the final episodes of Netflix’s Ozark, available to watch now…
Creators: Bill Dubuque, Mark Williams
Stars: Jason Bateman, Laura Linney, Skylar Gaertner, Julia Gartner
So it’s the final outing for the middle class Chicagoans turned boondock cartel money launderers the Byrde clan. After three seasons of narrowly avoiding death through trickery, deception and grandmaster-level chess chicanery, the scene is set for the family’s endgame. What started as a fish out of water scenario spliced with bleak survivalism has morphed into a more straightforward, monolithic affair – gone are the picaresque elements of the show, while the lakeside setting barely gets a look in. What is left is the harrowing tale of familial disintegration coupled with Jason Bateman’s perennially understated, slightly agitated gait. The man could never be accused of overacting.
With rival show Better Call Saul currently on the same platform, it’s interesting to see how much more attention that series has garnered across social media. Both programs have high production values, but it’s BCS that uses cinematic devices to the better, more polished and subtler effect. While Ozark’s pace is often ponderous, BCS’s storytelling seems edgier, despite being no quicker to resolve plotlines. Plus, it’s fair to say that the characterization in Ozark is suffused with venality and misanthropy, while BCS is never short of nuance and ambiguity. In short, Ozark feels trapped in genre, while BCS has effortlessly managed to transcend it.
Not that Ozark is a distant second to BCS, it’s just that it doesn’t have the components to turn it into an obsessional fan favourite – there are few if any Easter Eggs here, nor are there many genuinely quotable lines. However, what it does have is uncertainty of outcome, and considerable suspense, which for a modern psychological thriller is no mean feat. As mentioned in an earlier review, the brinkmanship, especially in this series when all seems lost and extinction imminent, is palpable. What is problematic is that plot does take precedence over character development, especially in part one of the series – while the Byrdes are scrambling to stay afloat, the showrunners spend most of the first seven episodes adding fresh antagonists, such as cartel overlord Omar Navarro (Felix Solis)’s even more deranged nephew Javi (Alfonso Herrera) along with Adam Rothenberg’s seedy private eye Mel Sattem (an excellent and underused turn).
And then there’s the arrival of Nathan Davis (Richard Thomas), Wendy Byrde’s estranged father, a study in eccentric low-key sanctimony and hostility. It is his presence that leads Wendy (the reliably excellent Laura Linney) to go off the rails as he attempts to take her children away from her. Linney’s turn is perhaps the best of the ensemble, her domineering Lady Macbeth one of the truly compulsive screen monsters – her performance, from coquettish smiles at donors, dignitaries and cartel chiefs, to unabashed ruthlessness, to despairing vulnerability, is the emotional barometer of the show. Yet her meltdown (and subsequent recovery) seem a wee bit forced.
Where Ozark is at its strongest this season has been the little details that have often been overlooked – not just the corrupting influence of power, but the moral relativism, as the Byrdes repeatedly deny what they’ve become in order to advance to their goal, which almost drives them to madness. Their constant shifting of allegiances and alliances are very entertaining if absurdly contrived. The religious elements of the show, absent for some time, make inroads with the arrival of Wendy’s devout dad – there are moments of subtle satire and subversion here, but they are more or less a sideshow.
Ultimately the finale packs a punch or several, as the producers do well to replicate the tension of Tony and Carmela’s last meal. Considering all the plot developments and machinations, it doesn’t exceed expectation, yet it is still an assured bit of work to end the series. As with Walter White, you’re still pulling for the Byrdes right to the end, regardless of the fact that they have been so toxic to anyone who gets within their orbit. The fact that we can believe that such characters could adapt so seamlessly to the relentless, alien skulduggery (on two fronts, natch) throughout the four series is pretty remarkable, and that all rests on Bateman’s slim shoulders. Whatever the impossibility of his predicament, a mere terse, withdrawn shrug somehow carries enough stoicism and credibility for the viewer, although at least in this series we do get to see him emote somewhat. Despite any qualms, it’s certainly worth sticking to the end for.
Ozark season four is available to watch now on Netflix. Here’s a trailer for it
A Clean Break? Tripwire’s senior editor Andrew Colman casts his eye over the final episodes of Netflix’s Ozark, available to watch now… Ozark Creators: Bill Dubuque, Mark Williams Stars: Jason Bateman, Laura Linney, Skylar Gaertner, Julia Gartner So it’s the final outing for the middle class Chicagoans turned boondock cartel money launderers the Byrde clan.
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