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In the end, bad choices overwhelm ‘Ozark’

Laura Linney and Jason Bateman in "Ozark."Steve Diehl/Netflix

This story contains spoilers.

“Ozark.” I’ve generally been on the fence about the Netflix drama, but, after the series finale, I’m on that fence no longer. The final episodes were — and here’s where I add a second spoiler alert — just awful. Everything that kept me from really bonding with the series about a family breaking bad was on display in those last hours.

“Ozark” always seemed to aspire to be in the same category as “Breaking Bad” and “The Americans,” but it never got there. The story lines were just too crowded with big events to go deep into the characters — something the best of TV does in spades. Instead of bringing us inside Laura Linney’s Wendy Byrde, arguably the show’s most interesting and complex character, the writers spent their time concocting giant new threats to the Byrdes’ criminal success and throwing major twists at her (and us). She ended up as a one-dimensional monster, and not much more.

The reason I liked season 3 best of all was because, unlike previous seasons, it gave us more than just business and busy-ness, most of all in its portrayal of Wendy’s brother, Ben. He was heartbreaking, and he brought out some of the hidden emotions of others, notably Wendy and Ruth. I was hoping season 4 would embrace that approach, since it worked so well, and slow things down enough to show us more of what motivates the Byrdes.


Instead, the writers moved in the opposite direction, giving us what seemed like a murder or calamity every episode or so. By the time Wendy checked herself into a mental hospital — something Wendy would never do, in her quest for power and legitimacy, and certainly not on the eve of her foundation gala — I was squirming in my seat.


I also disliked the way the show made it seem believable that Marty Byrde could actually go and take over the cartel. Sorry, it just made me giggle to see Jason Bateman as Marty giving orders to a table of big-time thugs. I already found it somewhat silly that these hardcore criminals were taking the Byrdes seriously, and that only got worse by the end. I can generally go along with such stretches, but, alas, not this time.

So the Byrdes began as amateur bad guys and evolved into professional bad guys who get away with everything. I suppose the death of Ruth and Jonah becoming a killer are supposed to mean that they will carry some kind of karmic burden into the future, but I don’t think so. Nothing to that point has indicated that they have any conscience. Their world was vividly portrayed, with a persuasive bleakness, and the acting was bold enough to entertain. But the characters remained wanting, merely pieces on a game board.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at matthew.gilbert@globe.com. Follow him @MatthewGilbert.