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Five questions that need answers in the final 'Ozark' season

Jason Bateman and Laura Linney as Marty and Wendy Byrde in Netflix's <em>Ozark</em>.
Jason Bateman and Laura Linney as Marty and Wendy Byrde in Netflix's Ozark.

There's something that's just right about the final season of Ozark being presented by Netflix in two parts, given that Breaking Bad did the same thing. Breaking Bad has always been Ozark's most obvious influence, along with Justified and perhaps the second season of Fargo. The seven episodes that make up the first half of the fourth and last season (yes, that is convoluted math) will arrive on the morning of January 21, so let's take a look at some of the things that still need resolution. (Other than: Why so many blue filters, and why is it so dark all the time?)

Please note: Even posing these questions presupposes that you have seen the first three seasons, so if you are still making your way through the series, please stop reading!

What about the criminal enterprise?

At the end of Season 3, drug kingpin Omar Navarro's (Felix Solis) hitman ... well, there's no nice way to say this, but he splattered bits of cartel attorney Helen (Janet McTeer) all over Marty (Jason Bateman) and Wendy (Laura Linney) Byrde. Omar went on embrace them, brain matter in their hair and everything, and say, "Today is our beginning." Marty's relationship with Navarro has included everything from tense cooperation to being thrown in a dungeon. But with Helen out of the picture, what does Omar intend for the Byrdes?

Navarro has always seemed to have a certain fondness for Wendy; he has admitted to admiring her determination to get everything she wants. Where does he see Marty and Wendy in the organization, and does he really envision both of them remaining there at all? (The fact that nobody has killed Marty yet is, by the way, probably the show's most implausible aspect.)

Julia Garner and Laura Linney, as Ruth and Wendy, are the MVPs of <em>Ozark</em>, let's face it.
/ Netflix
Julia Garner and Laura Linney, as Ruth and Wendy, are the MVPs of Ozark, let's face it.

What is Ruth going to do with Darlene?

Finding out that Wendy was responsible for Ben's death alienated Ruth (Julia Garner) from the Byrdes, particularly when combined with the fact that Wendy also arranged for the death of Ruth's father, which Ruth continues to have deeply conflicted feelings about. For her part, Wendy blames Ruth for failing to understand the dangers of breaking Ben out of the hospital.

At the same time that this estrangement was intensifying, Darlene took it upon herself to pick up a gun and colorfully avenge Ruth's assault at the hands of Frank Jr., giving Ruth something she's rarely had in her life: someone who acts to, in a sense, protect her. So it's perhaps not surprising that Ruth has seemingly been persuaded to join up with Darlene and Wyatt (Charlie Tahan) in their revived heroin operation.

Skylar Gaertner as Jonah, who has had to grow up just a bit too fast.
Steve Dietl / Netflix
Skylar Gaertner as Jonah, who has had to grow up just a bit too fast.

What does the future hold for Jonah and Charlotte?

One of the creative decisions that separate Ozark from some other family crime dramas like The Americans is that the parents decided to tell the kids what was going on, pretty much right away. So Jonah (Skylar Gaertner) and Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz) have long known that their parents were deeply involved in crimes up to and including killing people. Charlotte seems to have almost adjusted to it, slipping into a certain acceptance of the lives she and her parents live.

Jonah, on the other hand, is understandably devastated by Helen's revelation (at gunpoint) that it was Wendy who allowed the cartel to kill Ben (her own brother). Jonah has also always had an independent streak and the ability to work with or without help. Other shows have been willing to acknowledge that family and crime may not be able to coexist forever as kids grow up and assert their own desires. Charlotte does not seem to be pulling away from her parents at this point — but what about her brother?

Charlie Tahan as Wyatt, who has a lot to think about.
/ Netflix
Charlie Tahan as Wyatt, who has a lot to think about.

What about everybody else?

There is a whole secondary and tertiary set of characters, including Wyatt and Three, Maya, Sheriff Nix, the Franks Sr. and Jr., and Helen's daughter Erin. And they are still out there just ... involved. Not on current clear paths, but involved. Something is going to become of all of them. Heck, even Rachel is presumably still out there somewhere following her trip to rehab on Marty's dime, and while there's no reason to believe we'll see her again, fans certainly have agitated for it.

It remains to be seen how all of these people will fit into the final act, and — let's not sugarcoat it — how many of them will survive a show that knocks people off as regularly as this one does. I mean, let's see: Ash, Jacob, Del, Petty, Helen, Cade, Bobby, Mason, Grace, Ben, Sue, Russ, Boyd, Silverberg, and the entire Season 1 Episode 1 massacre ... that's something like one killing every other episode. It's hard to believe there are not more to come.

Jason Bateman and Laura Linney as Marty and Wendy Byrde.
/ Netflix
Jason Bateman and Laura Linney as Marty and Wendy Byrde.

What is the Byrde marriage, in the end?

The very first conflict introduced in Ozark's complicated history — ever — was Marty's discovery that Wendy was cheating on him. Since then, the marriage has seemed at times to be merely an arrangement (they've as much as said so) and has seemed at other times to contain genuine affection. But how much either of these people would risk for each other, if the choice to do so were presented straightforwardly, is not clear. Would Marty let Wendy die? Would Wendy let Marty die? She did, after all, essentially have her own brother killed, and she loved him.

It often feels like Ozark must all be building to some massive test of their true feelings for each other — whether they will join together or turn on each other if the purely pragmatic "trust" between them shatters. Perhaps with Ruth as the fulcrum: Would Marty let Wendy have Ruth killed, given that he feels largely responsible for dragging Ruth into all this? Would Wendy let Marty have Ruth killed, given the guilt she already feels and her apparent belief that Marty is the cause of everybody's problems in the first place?

These seven episodes will presumably start to answer all these questions. Seven more — which don't have a release date yet — will reveal what the writers of the show have in mind, and how cunning they are relative to the world of criminals they've created.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Linda Holmes
Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.