Do you remember Netflix? The streaming giant has been on the up and up for over a decade, winning a battle with LoveFilm in the UK on their way to world domination. Things change, and Netflix now have a content war on their hands to maintain their position as a market leader; it’s a shame that probably their best show, Ozark, has just dropped its final episode leaving the shelves fairly bare moving forwards.
Ozark is, or rather was, a super-grim, hyper-tense drama/thriller about a Chicago family which abruptly up sticks and move to the backwaters of America. They’re on a mission to money launder; Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman) realises too late that his business partner has some strong underworld connections, and is lucky to escape the resultant bloodbath with his life. Byrde has also just discovered video evidence of infidelity by his wife Wendy (Laura Linney), and their family unit is in danger of fragmenting. But Marty successfully begs for a chance at survival, moving to the Ozarks and aiming to launder money from a Mexican drug cartel.
With bin-bags crammed with banknotes, this covert operation is no easy task; buying a house, a share in local businesses, strip clubs and funeral parlours is not enough, and by series two, the Byrde family are getting involved in the casino trade and corrupt local politics. Their two children are initially oblivious, but as interactions with the locals grow more extreme, the Byrde family struggle to maintain a normal demeanour as the bodies pile up around them. The Byrdes are normal people, faced with an extraordinary situation; how to get millions into the local economic system without giving themselves away. The same situation could easily be exploited for comedic purposes, as in Bateman’s Arrested Development, but Ozark is deadly serious, even if there are blackly comic twists along the way.
Series 3 takes Ozark and the Byrdes in a different direction; rather than the mules from the opening series, Marty and Wendy somehow find themselves higher up the chain and getting involved as partners with the cartel they previously worked for, and by the finale, Marty even finds himself deputising as the cartel’s leader during a power-vacuum. There have always been lapses into clichés and dead ends; the ridiculously hard-scrabble Snells came over as pantomime villains, and the bogus religious services on riverboats with heroin distributed inside bibles were risible. So the Lord and Lady Macbeth angle got repetitious by series three as the endless line of new characters were introduced only to be rapidly killed off without consequence. And the mental health angle introduced via Wendy’s brother wasn’t a great look for the show; he’s yet another firecracker waiting to unleash violence when off his meds, a rote character in a generally creative series that doesn’t need to fall back on such negative stereotypes.
The final season doubles down on intrigue, but unlike some other shows (Russian Doll, Kimmy Schmitt), Ozark manages to avoid a narrative collapse by returning to brass tacks. There’s a tragic ending, and one that’s right for the story to bow out on; the focus has been less and less on the Byrde’s children, and more on breakout Julia Garner as the opportunistic Ruth Langmore, who takes full advantage of the Byrde’s situation but accidentally exposes the mechanics of their operation. Created by Bill Dubuque and Mark Williams, this was an adult, intense show that aims for a societal fault line where crime and community intersect violently on Main Street. Ozark was a highly watchable show; it’s just a shame that with the also departing Stranger Things, Ozark’s end leaves Netflix with precious little in terms of returnable IP after a remarkable spending splurge.