“Ozark” has always been an “almost” for me — extremely watchable and dotted with compelling performances (by Laura Linney, Julia Garner, and Lisa Emery as Darlene) but not deep or emotionally engaging. The Netflix series, in which the Byrde family moves from Chicago to Missouri to launder money for the mob, approaches excellence at times but never quite achieves it, instead falling back on big, juicy plot twists and grim atmospherics.
For me, the closest it has come to meeting its potential as a kind of backwoods “Breaking Bad” was last season, season three, which was held solidly together by the presence of the cartel lawyer, Janet McTeer’s Helen, and Wendy Byrde’s brother, Tom Pelphrey’s Ben, whose plot was genuinely harrowing.
The first seven episodes of the final season arrive on Friday (the second seven will be available later in the year), and they are easy to breeze through. But I’m still frustrated with the show. The story line, always on the fringes of believability, becomes utterly absurd in the new episodes, with the Byrdes now on a chit-chatty basis with the head of the cartel and with son Jonah now doing … well, I won’t spoil anything here. But the kids are fully committed criminals at this point.
Linney’s sardonic Wendy continues to manage the Byrde’s illegal activities while trying to gain political legitimacy. She pretends she wants to give back, but she and her husband, Jason Bateman’s Marty, are too far gone morally to have any good intentions left. Do Wendy and Marty in fact enjoy playing with fire? I’m not sure what the answer to that question is, which is one of the show’s shortcomings. We never get inside their heads as a plethora of life-or-death incidents continually swirl around them.