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Terry Manning

Fans wanted ‘Ozark’ finale that was never promised 

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I was a little surprised at the negative reaction so many fans had to the final episode of the Netflix TV series “Ozark.” 

For those who have never seen it, the show stars Jason Bateman as Marty Byrde, a financial whiz who gets in over his head with a Mexican drug cartel and moves his family to the Lake of the Ozarks. There he is forced to come up with ways to launder $500 million to protect his wife, daughter and son from the cartel’s bloodthirsty kingpin. 

Laura Linney stars as Marty’s wife, Wendy, and if you remember the TV show “Breaking Bad,” Wendy is everything fans ever complained about in Walt’s wife, Skyler, except multiplied by 100. I won’t call Wendy a shrew — she has a sharp bite, but there’s nothing small or mousey about her. She is a bitter wind come to life, and it is impressive to watch Linney embrace such an unlikeable character. 

The show chronicles the Byrdes’ adjustments living in rural Missouri after thriving in a bustling Chicago. They meet a cast of characters any Southerner would expect to see depicted in a show or movie pitting big-city know-it-alls versus local yokels. 

First up are the Langmores, a family of ne’er-do-wells whose sole female member seen onscreen, Ruth, robs the Byrdes’ hotel room in her first encounter with them. A handful of Langmore brothers and their sons come across as menacing goofballs, but not Ruth. 

Portrayed by actress Julia Garner as a mirror-universe gender-swapped Justin Timberlake, Ruth’s tongue is as sharp and cold as a razor blade hewn from a glacier. She establishes herself as the one Langmore who can play the long game, especially in her dealings with the Byrdes. 

The Byrdes then butt heads with local crime bosses Jacob and Darlene Snell. The Snells carry a chip on their shoulders as big as any mountain over slights real and perceived, whether by the federal government or anyone else who would challenge their sovereignty over land their families occupied for decades. Their ancestors might have been noble hill folk, but the Snells reign over a heroin empire. 

A big-city financial adviser who comes into their territory throwing money around naturally draws their attention, and they present Marty’s first real challenge in making his money laundering plans work. 

There are other characters, like Rachel, the manager of the lakeside resort Marty buys a piece of; Buddy, the owner of the house the Byrdes move into; an assortment of FBI agents following drug money into Ozark; the Kansas City Mob; and, of course, the various movers and shakers of the cartel. 

It’s a rich tapestry of characters, and watching them lie, cheat, steal and rationale their lying, cheating, and stealing is engaging. Oh, I forgot murder. A lot of people die on this show. I mean, a lot. 

So I’m not sure what viewers expected from the show’s finale. Characters died. Characters lived. Some things that happened were predictable, some were completely unexpected. 

The finale was everything the show had been up to that point, but many viewers were upset. Why? 

(This is a spoiler space. If you want to know what happened, keep reading. Otherwise, jump to the third paragraph after this one.) 

Most were upset Ruth died. Why? She got trigger-happy as the show progressed and became increasingly reckless with her targets. Her fate was foretold by Darlene’s arc on the show. 

If you didn’t think there was foreshadowing when Ruth sat around talking to the ghosts of her dead relatives, I don’t know what to tell you about how fiction works. And the white dress she wore to the big fundraiser? Might as well have been a bullseye. 

Others seemed upset Wendy didn’t die. And again, I wonder why. Throughout the show the Byrdes managed to escape ruin at every turn. How? Money. No one on the show cared how ruthless (no pun intended) they had to be. They bought their survival. 

(End spoiler) 

I think fans forget TV shows and movies owe us nothing except to finish the stories they ask us to start with them. “Ozark” did that. 

This fictional world packed with compromised characters was never going to deliver more justice than we see in our own. 

Terry E. Manning lives and works in Savannah, Ga. He is a Clemson graduate and worked for 20 years as a journalist. He can be reached at teemanning@gmail.com. 

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