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Jason Bateman and Laura Linney break down that wild ‘Ozark’ ending

Julia Garner as Ruth Langmore in a scene from "Ozark."
Julia Garner as Ruth Ozark Season 4 Episode 14
(Netflix)
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They got away with it. Master manipulator Wendy Byrde and her accountant husband, Marty (Laura Linney and Jason Bateman), are not dead, and they’re not in jail at the end of Netflix’s “Ozark” fourth and final season. It’s a remarkable feat, given that the couple spent five years in Missouri running a carnage-filled money-laundering operation with help from their kids Jonah and Charlotte (Skylar Gaertner and Sofia Hublitz). In the artfully constructed series finale, featuring Julia Garner as the Byrdes’ F-bomb dropping co-conspirator Ruth Langmore, Wendy and Marty outmaneuver their rivals and celebrate a fresh start as philanthropists in charge of their own “family foundation” initially underwritten by Mexican cartel psychopaths.

But, as with most things “Ozark,” best-laid plans go haywire.

Here, Bateman, Emmy-winning director of the final episode, joins writer-showrunner Chris Mundy and star Laura Linney to deconstruct the “Ozark” finale right through to the bittersweet end. And if it hasn’t been made absolutely clear, major plot elements will be discussed ahead.

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Two women sit facing each other talking in a scene from "Ozark."
Laura Linney, left, as Wendy Byrde and Julia Garner as Ruth Langmore.
(Netflix)

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The mental hospital

Wendy refuses to leave the sanitarium she’s committed herself to unless her estranged children change their minds about going off to North Carolina with alcoholic grandpa Nate (Richard Thomas). Mundy says, “It’s an incredibly manipulative and selfish act by Wendy: ‘I’m going to emotionally blackmail my children.’ But it’s also genuine in that I really don’t think Wendy would have left the sanitarium if the kids hadn’t come back. That’s the edge she’s living on.” When her children visit, Wendy tearfully makes what appears to be a heartfelt plea for forgiveness. Then she abruptly dismisses her mea culpa as “bull—” and tries again. Linney explains, “I think Wendy believes [her apology] as she’s saying it but then realizes ‘I’m repeating a pattern here, and the kids don’t buy it anymore. Unless they hear something that rings the bell of truth, I’m going to lose.’ She’s trying to get what she wants. She’s trying to control her children. She’s trying to make them feel like they’re not being controlled. As an actress, it’s great fun to play Wendy, because she’s not just one thing. She has four things going on in her brain and her being all at the same time, which allows you to pivot very quickly. So much of what this series is about — people can justify their behavior every step of the way.”

A car rests on its hood after a crash in a scene from "Ozark."
The car crash that opened Season 4 of “Ozark” is revisited at its conclusion.
(Netflix)

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The Car Crash

Jonah and Charlotte agree to stick around. The Byrde family drives off together, but on their way home, an oncoming truck causes Marty to flip the car. It’s the car crash that opened “Ozark” without explanation back in January, now being revisited 13½ episodes later. Mundy says, “I just liked the car roll as an opening scene, simple as that.” “We wanted this level of unease to be vibrating throughout the show like a warning or a curse.”

A man and woman dressed in evening wear in "Ozark."
Jason Bateman as Marty Byrde and Laura Linney as Wendy Byrde.
(Netflix)

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The Gala

Marty, Wendy, Jonah and Charlotte crawl out of the wreckage with barely a scratch, take a taxi home, get dressed up and attend a fancy gala celebrating the Byrde Family Foundation. “I wrote that gala sequence to set everyone up for the fall,” Mundy says. “It’s almost like we go around the horn: the kids, Wendy, Marty and Ruth, who’s looking glamorous in a white dress like a ‘40s movie star. We line it up so everybody’s good, but then we needed the reality we’ve created on the show to intrude on the story.” Reality appears in the person of cartel boss Camila (Veronica Falcón), who has spent most of the season trying to find out who killed her vicious son Javier (Alfonso Herrera). Camila squeezes the truth — it was Ruth Langmore — from pharmaceuticals CEO Clare Shaw (Katrina Lenk) by making a threat so vile it can’t be printed in a family newspaper. Mundy explains, “It had to be the nastiest, darkest thing we’ve heard Camila say.”

A woman in a white dress walks alone on a dark, country road in "Ozark."
Julia Garner plays Ruth Langmore, who began the series as a co-conspirator of the Byrdes and ended it as their nemesis.
(Netflix)

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Ruth Langmore’s Death Scene

Unaware that she’s been exposed, Ruth is driving home at night on a remote country road. A car blocks her path. She gets out to see what’s going on. Camila emerges from the forest holding a gun. Bateman says, “In eliminating such a beloved character, you’re dealing with a potentially volatile situation with respect to the audience. The shot, the pacing, the lighting, the score — there are tons of things you have to play with and hope you pick the right balance.” One thing Bateman did not have to play with: Garner’s performance. Describing the actress, who previously won two consecutive Emmy Awards for her work on “Ozark,” Bateman says, “Julia always comes in completely prepared to knock it out of the park. How do we observe the transition from her tough outer shell that she lives with 90% of the time, to recognizing the situation she’s in, to showing fear. How quickly does she get to acceptance, and then literally asking for it, being the pro-active element in her own death?” Garner showed up on set with her own answers to those questions. Bateman says, “You would be foolish to push her off anything she brings, because from that commitment comes this ferocity of communication. My job as a director is to help Julia do what she’s already excited about, as opposed to assuming that your version is going to be better. ‘Cause it ain’t.”

A moment of domestic quiet in "Ozark."
JLaura Linney and Jason Bateman appear to have a quiet moment at home in the finale of “Ozark.”
(Netflix)

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A Brief Respite

At home after the gala, Wendy and Marty quietly unwind as Bateman films the couple inside their glass-walled house. “I wanted to lull the audience into this place of peacefulness by doing it all in one shot,” he says. “We bring Wendy and Marty literally into their nest. They sit down at a measured pace, get some glasses, pour some wine as the camera pulls back to create this tableau. The audience probably thinks, ‘They’ve done the big thing, they killed Ruth, and next we’re going to see the director’s credit.’ But no. The camera keeps pulling back, back, back and reveals this hole in the sliding glass door. Pull back some more, we see a man’s shoulder. We don’t know who it is yet. Wendy and Marty notice the hole and see someone outside. They turn on the exterior light to get a good look at him, and we’re out of that shot.”

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Adam Rothenberg as detective Mel Sattem in "Ozark."
Adam Rothenberg as detective Mel Sattem.
(Netflix)

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The Twist

The man in the shadows turns out to be the Byrdes’ tenacious nemesis, detective Mel Sattem (Adam Rothenberg), cradling a cookie jar filled with cremated ashes belonging to Wendy’s murdered brother.

Mundy and his team carefully choreographed Mel’s surprise return. “We had Mel exit in episode 12 so people wouldn’t be thinking about him anymore. The idea was to clear him off and get him back to Chicago so you’d think he’s gone. We also set this up with two previous scenes where Mel very clearly notices the cookie jar, so it’s almost inevitable that the jar would work its way back into the story. You don’t earn any of these moments unless they happen within the logic of the universe you’ve constructed for the show.

Mel refuses a bribe and tries to shame Wendy and Marty over their ill-gotten gains. Wendy refuses to show contrition. “Don’t come at me with this fairy-tale thing about right and wrong, and that those who cheat get punished,” Linney says, slipping into her Wendy character. “ ‘Are you kidding? Watch the news. What world are you in?’ That [reaction] was not a very big leap, for me.”

Next comes a “click” off-camera followed by quick cuts. “We show Jonah cocking the rifle,” Bateman says. “Mel sees the gun. Jonah looks at Marty and Wendy. They look proud. It’s almost like they’re at their kid’s soccer game watching him score that final goal, you know: ‘Atta boy.’ Then Jonah closes his aiming eye.”

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Cut to black and the sound of gunfire.

Bateman muses, “It’s a bittersweet ending. Their son has killed a law enforcement officer, and the Byrdes are going to continue running, or at a bare minimum, they’ll be carrying this eternal scarlet letter of guilt for the rest of their lives. So did Marty and Wendy really get away with it? Or did they just hand it over to the next generation? We don’t have clear closure but rather an open question: Yes, they got away with it, but at what cost?”

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