“Ozark” is following a similar logic for its final season—at least, for the first seven episodes coming to Netflix on January 21st. Sprinkled throughout these episodes are pivotal flares of emotion. FBI Agent Maya Miller’s (Jessica Frances Dukes) stern face is shattered by the shock of realizing the difference between what she thinks her job is, and what the FBI thinks her job is. Pharmaceutical CEO Clare Shaw (an unsteady, miscast Katrina Lenk), a sort of Mercer/Sackler stand-in, albeit a repentant one, is perfectly pleasant as Wendy and Marty Byrde (Laura Linney and Jason Bateman, respectively) pitch her on donating to their foundation, but when she realizes they’re suggesting she buy opium from the cartel, her polite smile and the room temperature drop simultaneously. Given cartel lawyer Helen Pierce’s (Janet McTeer) murder, Wendy seeks to hire Jim Rattlesdorf (a deeply underrated Damian Young), whom we first met in season two as Charles Wilkes’ (Darren Goldstein) right-hand man. Exercising her brand new attorney-client privilege, Wendy informs Jim that she and her husband launder cartel money. The smashed-egg-on-my-forehead expression on Young’s face is Emmy-worthy.
Season four is at its best when it deftly manages constantly shifting alliances and character developments within those emotional flares. This includes Ruth’s new, and considerably more difficult, life. At the end of season three, Ruth Langmore (the ever-terrific Julia Garner) quit working for the Byrdes, devastated by Wendy sending her own brother, and Ruth’s boyfriend, Ben (Tom Pelphrey) to his death. We last saw her admiring the poppy farm with cousin Wyatt (Charlie Tahan), who is in the world’s most disturbing live-in romantic relationship with trigger-happy Darlene Snell (Lisa Emery). Ruth is now preparing to launder the proceeds of the heroin operation, but she and Darlene frequently clash, each trying to prioritize their instincts. (Darlene’s continued unhinged nature, it must be said, makes me long for Helen, who disposed of pesky people with no muss, no fuss efficiency. Mrs. Snell, on the other hand, continues to dispatch anyone who finds themselves on the business end of her shotgun.) Cartel boss Omar Navarro (Felix Solis) is tussling for control of the drug empire with his brash, American-educated nephew Javi (Alfonso Herrera), whose impulsive decisions frequently imperil almost everyone on the show. United in both their grief over Ben’s death and hatred for Wendy, Jonah (Skylar Gaertner) starts to launder money for Ruth, despite living at home and continuing to witness his family’s litany of felonies.
Speaking of Wendy: move over, Heisenberg, there’s a new monster in town. Laura Linney is firing on all cylinders this season, sliding in nanoseconds from honey-sweet do-gooder businesswoman to hemlock-lethal crime boss. Wendy begins this season with a startling two-pronged act. In unguarded moments, genuine guilt over what she did to Ben flashes across her face. But the rest of the time, she is selling her dead brother, in press conferences for the rehab centers the Byrde Foundation is building, as “missing, due to his lifetime of struggling with opioid addiction.” All of this is horse shit, of course, and fools no one who knows her, including Ruth, whose few moments of happiness were spent in Ben’s arms; Marty, who is appalled that Wendy would use her dead brother as PR fodder; and Jonah, fast becoming the smartest Byrde. Wendy fails to convince Jonah of her grief every time, and her white-hot rage grows by an order of magnitude every time her familial instincts fail her.