Do you think she knew? Do you think Helen Pierce, one of the smartest characters on Ozark, went to Mexico thinking she had won? Could a woman who barely survived a teenage boy pointing a shotgun at her earlier that same day have walked off that plane confidently? Knowing Helen, she probably did think she was the victor and that she was going to watch the execution of Marty and Wendy Byrde. And the writers certainly sell that possibility, especially when Agent Maya Miller reveals to Marty the plan Helen has put in place to make the Byrdes look like they’re entering witness protection — a real no-no in a drug cartel. Both the Byrdes and Helen placed a choice at the feet of drug kingpin Omar Navarro. And he ordered the execution of Helen Pierce, hugging the blood-soaked Byrdes to end the excellent third season of Ozark.
“All In” is mostly a pretty slow, somber episode, especially for a finale. It’s about the Byrde family figuring out how to move on while also setting the stage for season four. Charlotte Byrde says early in the episode, “None of this works if we don’t stick together.” But it’s really an episode about people pulling apart. Helen Pierce doesn’t realize how much the Byrdes mean to Navarro and makes a move against them, trying to take control of the Ozarks empire, which backfires in a deadly way. And, more importantly for next season, Ruth Langmore defects, joining the Darlene Snell empire, which is now clearly going to be the main narrative of season four.
Let’s just cut right to that. The episode sets up Navarro/Byrde on one side and Snell/Langmore/Cosgrove on the other. Helen is the expendable one in that dynamic. What at first seems like an episode about Helen and the Byrdes fighting for control while Darlene just causes trouble ends with the clear implication that the Snell drug trade is going to be a major issue, and there was nothing left for Pierce to do.
After learning that Wendy essentially allowed Ben to be killed, Ruth angrily leaves the Byrde operation, calling Wendy a “fucking bitch wolf” in the process. Darlene Snell, the queen of nursing wounded birds, brings Ruth into the nest. First, she shoots Frank Cosgrove Jr.’s dick off, and then somehow finds a way to partner with Frank Senior, offering him a massive cut of her new operation. With Ruth and Wyatt reunited, Darlene wants to run the Ozarks, and there’s no way that’s going to work within the empire the Byrdes are building for the Mexican drug cartel in that part of the country.
So why does Omar Navarro side with Wendy and Marty? It’s interesting to consider that it’s likely because of what Marty Byrde has preached from the beginning: safety. The writers bookend the season with extreme violence in Mexico — the market in the premiere and the baptism in this one — and the cartel war has put Navarro on edge, fearing for his children even more after the death of his girlfriend. Wendy promises something maternal, even suggests taking care of his kids, and Marty promises business safety, operations that can be controlled and regulated. He has drone footage of Navarro’s enemies! What does Helen promise? She’s really run her course not only for the writers of Ozark but for Omar Navarro. She offers nothing that the Byrdes couldn’t do. And, while he may have blown it off, the fact that Wendy allowed her brother to be killed to keep the Navarro empire safe likely meant something to him. Would Helen have done the same? It’s doubtful.
It’s also interesting to consider how much Wendy and Marty Byrde swapped roles from the end of season two. Last season he wanted to run, but she made them stay. Now he’s the one who knows their window to run has closed. They need to dig in deeper and become essential. The only way to survive this is to make themselves too important to hurt, which it seems the final scene of the season would imply they’ve done.
So what are the other dangling plot threads likely to continue into season four? Well, Sam just got arrested for being an accessory to money laundering. That could lead to something. Maya is basically stuck at the Missouri Belle, unable to let it go for a number of reasons. Wendy is still going to be dealing with trauma after the death of Ben. Even more so, Jonah is going to need some time to get over a few things. The last time we see him, he’s firing a shotgun through a window. Could he be an “unacceptable vulnerability” for the Byrde family next season? And what about Erin Pierce? Will we ever see her again? She sure knows a lot right now, and may ask some questions when her mother never returns from Mexico. Finally, there’s a forged confession and witness protection document in the FBI’s hands that could come back to play a role.
Most of all, next season is in that final line from Omar Navarro: “Today is our beginning.” Season three ends with new beginnings for the Byrdes, Ruth, Darlene, and even Wyatt. It turned out that the variables Marty Byrde was so worried about that needed to be removed were Ben Davis and Helen Pierce. And with them gone, there’s one question in Wendy and Marty’s eyes, with the sound of a gunshot still ringing in their ears: “What now?”
• You have to love a current show ending with a song that dropped just this week, Run the Jewels’ “Ooh La La.” It’s a perfect closing needle drop from a great band.
• Where’s Zeke? It might be kind of funny if they just forgot there was a baby in this narrative and Barb-ed Zeke from the rest of the show.
• Who’s your season three MVP? In terms of performance, it was the strongest year yet for this show, and one of the strongest in Netflix’s history. I’ll be disappointed if it’s not a four-category nominee for acting with Bateman, Linney, Pelphrey, and Garner. Garner has been the scene-stealer for years, but Pelphrey and Linney were just as good this year.