vulture investigates

How Much Time Has Passed on Ozark?

Marty and Wendy Byrde, pondering the nature of time. Photo: COURTESY OF NETFLIX

Ozark is a series that raises a lot of questions. Questions like: Will the Byrde family ever shake its connection to the Navarro cartel and start a new life? And: Will Marty and Wendy Byrde, played by Jason Bateman and Laura Linney, ever fully confront their responsibility for committing numerous heinous crimes? Also: What does the upper-level loft in the Byrdes’ house look like, and why don’t they ever show it on the show? Yes, people are murdered left and right on Ozark, but this inconsequential detail is what keeps me up at night!

Oh, here’s another important question: How much time has actually passed within the framework of this Netflix drama?

That one sounds like it should be simple to answer, but so much happens in each episode of Ozark that it’s easy to lose track of whether a day or a week has elapsed. When I threw this question out into the Twitterverse recently, Dan Fienberg of The Hollywood Reporter surmised that the Byrde family, who moved to Lake of the Ozarks from Chicago at the beginning of season one, have been there for less than a year. “But Jonah and Three have aged a decade,” he added, referring to the Byrdes’ son and the cousin of Julia Garner’s Ruth, who have indeed gone from roughly age 13 to 20. (Actors get older, what can you do?) As further evidence to support his timeline read, Fienberg pointed out that Baby Zeke, who was born near the end of season one, is still a non-walking baby in season four. That’s when my mind got blown. Has this show really transpired within the span of less than 12 months? Because I could have sworn the Byrdes had been in the Ozarks for at least two summers.

Pretty quickly, it became clear that this matter required a [portentous music swells] Vulture Investigation. So I put on my private-investigator hat, gathered my business cards, and started repeatedly knocking on doors to ask about Helen Pierce’s whereabouts like that paperboy in Better Off Dead who won’t go away until he gets his $2.

Just kidding, I’m no Mel Sattem. What I actually did was skim every episode of Ozark in search of markers for how much chronological time has passed. As a mere citizen detective (I see you, Misty Quigley!) and someone who did not have the bandwidth to rewatch every episode in full, it’s possible I missed some clues here and there. If any of this sounds incorrect, I welcome your feedback. But based on my analysis, this is the general timeline of the series Ozark, from season one through season four, part one.

Season One

Summer clothes! Photo: Netflix

Timeline: June 2017 to September 2017

Evidence: Since season one dropped in 2017 and is set in the present day, I am making the reasonable assumption that it’s 2017 when our story begins. This is also in line with a Reddit thread that notes Ruth saying in season one that she is 19 and was born in 1998, making it 2017.

As the Byrdes depart Chicago, everyone is dressed in warm-weather clothes, which suggests it is early June, an observation supported by the fact that the Fourth of July is celebrated in episode five, after the Byrdes have seemingly been in the Ozarks a few weeks. In episode seven, the Byrde children, Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz) and Jonah (Skylar Gaertner), head to their first day at Lakeside High School, so it’s probably mid-to-late August at that point or, at the very latest, just after Labor Day.

Marty also promises to wash $8 million in three months (so more or less between June and September), and in episode seven, Wendy specifically tells Garcia, a rep for the cartel, that they still have some time to clean the $8 million because the off-season doesn’t start until September 21. Which tells you that by episode seven, it’s … a few weeks before September 21.

In episode nine, Marty celebrates that the initial $8 million has been washed by the September deadline. What transpires in episode ten, the season-one finale, seems to occur within a matter of days after that, leading me to conclude that it’s still September 2017 when season one ends.

Season Two

It’s hunting season. Photo: Netflix/Jessica Miglio/Netflix

Timeline: Fall 2017 to spring 2018

Evidence: One thing that makes it challenging to lay out a specific Ozark timeline is that the show acknowledges time mostly via micro-deadlines, as in “We have to wash this money in three months” or “We have 48 hours until the FBI meeting.” Time writ large is treated with less clarity.

The passing of seasons is hinted at mostly via the weather, and holidays are only occasionally acknowledged. A portion of season two must take place over the holiday season, for example, but Christmas or New Year’s never really enters into things. There’s one scene at the Blue Cat Lodge in episode four where white Christmas lights are strung at the bar, but no other holiday decorations appear in the background. The time of year in Ozark is always just a sort of melancholy cobalt, the show’s favorite hue.

Season two begins with the cremation of Dell, who was killed by Darlene in the season-one finale — a.k.a. things basically pick up exactly where they left off, which is September 2017-ish. Baby Zeke, who was born in the season-one finale before the Snells got rid of Grace, the wife of Pastor Mason, still appears to be tiny.

The next notable marker of time comes in episode three, when Jacob Snell notes it’s the first day of hunting season, then insists Marty and Jonah join him to shoot some deer. According to the Missouri Department of Conservation’s hunting-season dates for 2017, that sets the date for this expedition at November 11.

All the heavy coats and visible exhalations in the next few episodes confirm we’re in the coldest portion of winter. In episode eight, the absolutely useless Sheriff Nix comes to the Byrdes’ household to ask if they’ve seen or heard from Mason, who has been missing. Wendy says they haven’t in months, which is a lie. After Mason kidnapped Wendy in the previous episode, Marty killed him and they cremated his remains at their funeral home. However, from a timeline perspective, I think Wendy is being accurate, at least enough to sound credible from Nix’s point of view. She last saw him preaching on the street in the second episode of season two, so in the September–to–early-October range, which is why I presume that by episode eight, it’s at least January 2018.

Time seems to shift into a slightly faster gear at the end of this season because, by episode nine, Wyatt gets admitted to Mizzou. Assuming the acceptance letter went out in the general time frame as most college acceptance letters, that puts us in March 2018. My best guesstimate is that episode ten, the finale, ends in late March or early April, mainly because of Jonah’s hair. In the beginning of the finale, Darlene kidnaps Jonah and shaves his head. But by the end of that episode, when the Byrdes are holding their opening ceremony for the Missouri Belle Casino — the quickness with which that business gets up and running completely defies time, by the way — Jonah’s hair seems to have started growing back, enough that maybe a couple of weeks have passed since the shaving.

Season Three

Zeke at 7 months–ish. Photo: Netflix/Courtesy of Netflix

Timeline: April or May 2018 to August 2018

Evidence:  Things get a little more vague on the timeline in season three. As it begins, the Missouri Belle is up and running, with, again, a remarkable swiftness since it appears to be only late April or early May. I base this on the fact that, in episode one, Wendy is talking to Jonah about getting a summer job, and episode two explicitly unfolds during the runup to Memorial Day.

Also in episode one, while attending a Mommy and Me–type of class with Zeke, Darlene mentions that her husband has been dead for six months. This seems like a deliberate lie since (a) Darlene killed Jacob and (b) she killed him in season two when it would have been March-ish by my calculations, thus much more recently. As for Zeke, who was born in September, he should be around 7 months old or so by now, so that part actually tracks with it being April or May too.

The rest of the season clearly takes place over the summer, though after the acknowledgment of Memorial Day in episode two, pinpointing exactly when during the summer is a bit of a challenge. In the season finale, following Ben’s extremely untimely death, Wendy tells Ruth that she (wrongly) thinks she knows Ben better than Wendy does “after two fucking months.” Ruth and Ben didn’t become romantically involved until after Memorial Day, so assuming that Wendy’s use of two months is in the right ballpark, that means season three ends with the assassination of Helen Pierce in August 2018.

Season Four, Part One

Either Skylar Gaertner grew a lot between seasons or Jonah is a time traveler. Photo: Netflix/STEVE DIETL/NETFLIX

Timeline: August 2018 to August 2018

Leaving aside the cold-open car wreck in episode one — which takes place at an undetermined time in the future — this is the most condensed batch of Ozark episodes so far.

The action resumes minutes after Omar Navarro (Felix Solis) murders Helen (Janet McTeer) in Mexico City, which means it is still August 2018. Some may say this first half of season four unspools during late summer or early fall. Personally, I refer to this period as Javi season, for reasons that should be obvious to anyone who has watched season four, part one, of Ozark.

Zeke should be close to a year old at this point, but we have not seen him crawl or attempt to walk. As a matter of fact, we don’t see much of Zeke at all this season; he’s either hidden in his car seat, swaddled in blankets, or in a high chair that’s strategically turned away from the camera so we can’t determine how big he’s gotten. Using Zeke as a marker of time: useless.

Three and Jonah are noticeably older, though this is more of an issue for Jonah because he plays a major role in season four and, in the span of what is supposed to be a few days, has shot up several feet and matured by two or three years. Compared with what he looked like in season one — which, again, started only a little more than a year ago in Ozark time, when Jonah was 13 — the only logical conclusion one can reach is that Jonah became a time traveler, jumped forward to 2021, then came back to 2018 with his 2021 body still intact. I mean, sure, the real explanation is that Gaertner grew a lot and COVID delays in production increased how much older he would look. But since no one can outright say that, everyone on the show treats Jonah’s inexplicable sudden maturity the same way Wendy treats her role in her brother’s death: They pretend it didn’t happen.

Anyway, a couple of timeline signifiers do prove helpful. In episode five, Charlotte leaves in the middle of taking her SATs. Assuming she was taking them according to the 2018 SAT schedule, that would have been on August 25, 2018. In episode six, when Marty talks about taking a trip to Chicago with Charlotte so she can help scout offices for their intended move back home, he suggests that maybe they could catch a Cubs playoff game “if they make it.” That season, the Cubs did make it into the postseason, but later lost a wild-card game to the Colorado Rockies. The Cubs’ clinching of the wild card wasn’t confirmed until September 26. Because of that, I am taking a reasonable leap and saying it is still late August or early September when Marty says this.

Since episode six takes place in a single day and episode seven seems to occur during only a couple of days, I must conclude that part one of season four — including, possibly, the car wreck from the first scene — begins and ends in August 2018, give or take a few days.

Final conclusion: The events on Ozark have so far, not counting flashbacks, taken place over the course of one year and three months. The less you think about the details that contradict this timeline, the saner you will be. Trust me.

How Much Time Has Passed on Ozark?