As the brilliant first season of Netflix’s Ozark builds to its brutal final episodes, the writers use this chapter to really clarify how much trouble the Byrdes have caused in this little corner of the country by being there in the summer of 2017. They are the invasive species that Jonah Byrde learns about online, the outsiders who come in and completely disrupt ordinary lives, like those of Sam Dermody, Russ Langmore, and Mason Young. Marty and Wendy would tell themselves that their part of the criminal operation doesn’t have direct victims or consequences, but this episode makes it clear how much their quest to protect their own family has destroyed others.
“Nest Box” is one of the few episodes of Ozark that picks up directly from the previous one, with the same scene/lines overlapping: “They put up a cross.” Of course, they refers to Mason and Grace Young, so Marty races to their house to protect them from the wrath of Darlene and Jacob Snell. One of the most unsettling scenes in the show’s history follows on the Youngs’ lawn. Marty arrives at the same time as Jacob and Darlene, and what if he didn’t? What were Jacob and Darlene willing to do at that moment? What would they have revealed or threatened to do? Marty insists he’s going to keep the Youngs on the water, and Mason and Grace don’t really know the bullet they’ve dodged or how creepy it is that Darlene keeps touching Grace’s belly. Marty pays for Mason and Grace’s safety, but it costs him everything — all $724,000 the Byrdes have in cash. As Jacob says, “All you got sounds about right.”
After Marty unloads his entire cash portfolio, Jonah learns about the European starling, a species that caused such absolute chaos that it basically destroyed the Eastern bluebird and downed a few airplanes. Jonah, who is increasingly obsessed with death, wants to hunt them, but Wendy pushes him and Charlotte off to school, a place rarely seen on Ozark. There’s little time for the Byrde kids to be, you know, normal kids.
Speaking of abnormal kids, Ruth Langmore is going to talk to her awful father, Cade, and Russ is concerned that the shiner he gave Ruth could become a problem. Russ has a more immediate concern in Petty pushing him to make sure Marty stays alive long enough for the G-man to arrest him. Russ doesn’t know that yet — and the fact that Petty is using him, which feels more tragic with each passing scene. There’s a moving moment, played perfectly by Marc Menchaca, when Petty says, “You’re better than you think you are.” It feels like no one has ever said something like that to Russ Langmore. It’s heartbreaking given how much Petty might not mean even a word of it, though some of his affection for Russ does feel increasingly legitimate. It’s a balance between using him and maybe starting to care about him, too.
Marty has to scramble to replace the money he had to use to save the lake preacher’s life, and he is trying to get anyone he can to invest, but most of the people on his client list are looking for Bruce. It’s a reminder that Marty was the brains of the operation, but Bruce was the sweet talker, the guy who landed the clients on golf courses and in country clubs. Meanwhile, Wendy discovers that Del is getting impatient in a terrifying way when a man who claims to be looking for real estate reveals himself to be the muscle coming to town to make sure the Byrdes make it across the laundering finish line.
Wendy has an idea, and its name is Sam Dermody. After all, she has made Dermody Realty the best in the region, and Wendy knows that Eugenia Dermody, Sam’s mother, has money to invest. In fact, Eugenia has close to a million dollars, which is plenty for the Byrdes; it could also produce a nice return for the Dermody clan. Wendy sells the idea to Sam so well, and we learn that Sam wants to be a motivational speaker, which is so amazing, especially given where he will end up.
None of this may matter because Mason is still fighting to take down the cross on his in-construction church. He’s so unhappy that Marty is forced to drop the truth bomb on him. The Snells are drug dealers, and they use Mason’s flock to move product. They will kill Mason and Grace if they come off the lake. The naïve dummy later insists to Grace that they fight back against the Snells, pointing out that he survived that bullet in the robbery in St. Louis, giving Grace one of the episode’s best lines: “God wasn’t protecting you — the kid had shitty aim.”
The episode intensifies when Marty and Wendy discover that Charlotte and Wyatt skipped school. They race to the Langmore compound and discover that Wyatt helped Charlotte try to get back to Chicago. She will have to transfer in St. Louis. Maybe they can catch her. Wendy and Ruth race off to the city while Marty borrows “the Beast” to go woo Eugenia Dermody. It’s the first scene, really, wherein Ruth feels almost like a member of the Byrde family. It’s a family that will alternately welcome her and betray her in the future.
Mason Young comes to talk to the Snells. Uh-oh. And he does so during a big drug-dealer pig-roast party happening on their estate. And then Mason insists that the Snells stop using his flock to traffic. Jacob asks why and argues that everyone should be considered equal in God’s and Mason’s eyes. Don’t the dealers deserve a little religion, too? Who is it hurting? And Jacob, who loves to monologue, points out that he runs one of the biggest poppy farms in the country, a place that cherishes, feeds, and provides for families. He further points out how Marty isn’t exactly the “safe” option, and Mason learns that he’s basically caught between two massive drug operations. He’s the Eastern bluebird, about to be destroyed by the invading species.
After Wendy and Ruth find Charlotte about to board a bus to Chicago, they go to the clink to see Cade, who gets grosser with each appearance. He doesn’t care about his daughter’s black eye as much as the amount of makeup she’s wearing — and that Marty is still alive. Speaking of Marty, he convinces Eugenia to invest, in a scene that reminds the viewer how good Marty can be at selling his product. Marty will steal the money from Eugenia under the guise of investing, presuming he can then pay it back.
Eugenia and Sam are fighting over that hideous painting. She’s clearly an awful person who has held her son back whenever she can. He has had enough and reveals that her new financial guru is married to Wendy, a woman whom Eugenia despises. She goes off, insisting that they get the money back, and Sam fires her. As they’re fighting over where to put the sign, the woman puts her fingers in her ears, walks backward into the street, and gets nailed by a garbage truck. She should have put it on the lakeside.
As Mason burns his church and Darlene itches to kill Marty before someone else does, a fight brews. Wendy thinks the kids should maybe go back to Chicago on their own and stay with friends. It gets heated. “Any of us run, we’re dead,” says Marty, but Wendy already feels dead. The fight builds as the scene cuts to Charlotte struggling during a night swim. As Marty and Wendy exorcise marital demons, it looks as though their daughter might drown. And Jason Bateman gets one of his most vulnerable lines when he says, “Oh, you broke my heart, Wendy.” Charlotte goes under, her feet touching the lake floor.
She pushes up, breaks the surface, and gasps for air.
• “All day, I’ve seen versions of how I could end up, and I hate them all,” says Charlotte, referring to the locals at school, Wyatt, and Ruth, who is visiting her dad in prison. Is it foreshadowing? Will the series end with Charlotte Byrde visiting her father behind bars?
• Lisa Emery’s little rub of Grace’s belly twice in the prologue is one of the most disturbing things in the entire run of Ozark. It almost looks as if she wants to commit violence.
• Fact-check one: The belief that the phrase stick your neck out comes from how chickens would literally do that as they were being killed isn’t 100 percent confirmed but still widely believed. Read more about it here.
• Fact-check two: Jonah’s assertion that the drug trade basically saved the country from complete economic collapse in 2008? Yep. It’s fascinating, and you can read about it here.