The penultimate episode of Ozark felt like it inherently had to feature at least one character death, right? There’s no way everyone is getting out of this show alive. And yet the first body to fall is a bit unexpected. It appears for a few scenes like it might be Rachel or (gasp) Ruth, but it ends up being Nelson, the assassin for the Navarro cartel, gunned down by Rachel herself. Now what?
Up until that unexpected final scene, “Mud” is mostly about Wendy’s mental breakdown. After losing her kids to her awful father last episode, Wendy has snapped. Midway through the episode, “Twilight Zone” by Golden Earring plays, and a lyric speaks to Wendy’s situation here: “Where am I to go now that I’ve gone too far?” Wendy has exercised every option to save her family, and now she’s got nowhere left to go.
Where does she go first? The Central Ozarks Behavioral Health Center. She’s muttering to herself and knows she needs some serious psychological help. She has the cash and needs to be committed for the night, but it turns out that she can’t buy her way into the facility because they’re already overcapacity. Privileged Wendy Byrde thinks she can get service immediately, but she just gets a list of therapists.
Meanwhile, Ruth gets her Elon Musk on with a hostile takeover of the Missouri Belle, shocking Marty with another unexpected move. She inherited Darlene’s shares and got her name on the license. Ruth is in peacock mode, showing off to Marty, with Rachel serving as her hype man. But Marty knows how dangerous this all is. The Navarros could have them all killed for messing with their business. Ruth doesn’t seem to care. Will this be her downfall? Underestimating the danger that Marty has really kept her from all this time?
Marty has to go to prison and tell Omar and Camila what’s up with his kids and cash flow. Omar insists they use the Belle to launder money, but Marty knows they can’t know. He tells Omar it won’t be a problem. (It will be.)
Jim calls with good news for Wendy: They got Mary Schuler, CEO of AFL-CIO, on their side. Wendy gets this news while marching through a cemetery to collect one of their stash bags of cash. She goes and pounds on Nathan’s door, dropping the bag on the bed. It’s $2 million. He doesn’t seem persuaded. Then she spots his shoebox of booze, and Linney perfectly captures that moment when a shark like Wendy smells blood in the water. Shes goes in on him for falling off the wagon, being a cheater, not being a real Christian. She implores him to take the life-changing money and run, but he doesn’t budge. And then Wendy drops her final card: “I will kill you before I let you take my kids.” Nathan should believe her. After all, she had Ben killed, and she loved him a great deal more than Nathan.
Marty begs Ruth and his children in subsequent scenes. First, he tries to convince Ruth to give up the Belle play. Ruth attests that she needs to keep her clean record and doesn’t give in. The Byrdes are facing opponents who are no longer convinced by their arguments, and Marty can no longer put out the fires the bridges Wendy has burned. Wendy won’t make the smart move and let Marty use her foundation fundraiser to launder the money — her clean record matters more than anything. And so she insists they can “smurf” the money through the Belle with bad gamblers, even though Marty says it’s too much. Wendy is in danger mode. She’s operating in the red zone and is making mistakes that will likely get someone killed. Part of the problem is everyone is done with her shit. Even Rachel says, “I got no use for you.” A rogue Wendy is a dangerous Wendy.
And that danger comes to life when Nelson puts a gun to Rachel’s head. He threatens her and insists they run the money through the Belle. (Rachel probably wishes she was still in Miami.) She confronts Marty the next day. He swears he didn’t know but begs again to do this one last laundering operation. It will be the last time he asks anything of Ruth and Rachel. He tries to call Wendy, but she’s not answering. She tries to call Jonah, but he’s not answering. The Byrdes are all disconnected now. Wendy goes back to the hospital but doesn’t go in. She has another crazy idea.
Is this Wendy’s final play? She fights with Marty about the Belle vs. the Foundation and reveals her plan. Give it all to Camila. Tell her everything. Turn her into the new FBI patsy. Make her an offer to maintain power, kill her brother, and keep it all. It’s an incredibly risky move that relies on Camila not just turning around and killing them on the spot. While Camila thinks Omar had Javi killed, what if she’s uncertain about that?
Marty lets it unfold. They let Camila in on everything, and she looks unsure about what to do next. “What makes you think I won’t kill you?” she asks. The Byrdes offer her power and a license from the government to keep it and the ability to stay behind the scenes. “Everything and nothing at once.” It’s a good offer, and Camila appears to take it, but she wants to see Omar one last time. That could be a problem. Alone with her brother, they share memories of their youth. He swears he didn’t have Javi killed, and she looks at him long and hard. She asks who told Omar about Javi, and it was Wendy, of course. Omar is convinced Wendy knows more than she’s letting on, and he’s determined to look into it. Things are getting scary. If Camila doesn’t believe that Omar killed her son, then she won’t be able to have Omar taken out. Isn’t there another option here that Marty and Wendy could take? Tell Camila who actually killed Javi. She wouldn’t agree to Omar’s murder, but he could stay behind bars, and she could run the operation with the FBI. Of course, that gets Ruth killed …
Father Benitez comes to talk to Wendy. Omar wants to see her, but first, a little chat. He speaks of violence in youth and how his father hit him and his mother. “I’ve forgiven him, of course,” he says. Can Wendy forgive her father and the violent people around her? Can she forgive herself? Benitez says, “There was a time when it was either kill the man or join the church.” This gives Wendy an idea: She goes back to the hospital and insists that she will kill her father if they don’t commit her. It works. She tells Marty that she won’t leave until she gets her kids back.
In the episode’s climax, Ruth is driving late at night in the rain when a car follows her. It’s Nelson. Parking at the police station, she marches toward the killer and flips him off in the rain. She goes into the station and tells Wycoff everything she knows about Javi’s murder, including that she killed Javi and that Javi killed Wyatt and Darlene. If Wycoff tells anyone, who would believe him? But it should get the innocent guy out of jail, right? When she goes outside, Nelson is gone, but this worries Ruth even more. She calls panics and calls Rachel, who is busy watching Duck Dynasty. She finally gets a hold of her BFF, warns her that Nelson is coming, and talks her through getting on the roof with a rifle and shooting Nelson as he gets out of his car. The first shot wounds him, the second appears to kill him. Now what? Will they send another Nelson? Rachel and Ruth will find out soon.
• The little touches in the sound design of Ozark are underrated. When Benitez is knocking on Wendy’s door, there’s the sound of thunder rumbling in the distance, which both adds to a foreboding sense that a storm is coming for these characters and forecasts the downpour in the final scenes.
• “I do too have a sense of humor,” says Wendy, perhaps the least humorous character in television history.
• Wendy says they’re going to “smurf” the money through the Belle. It’s a real term.
• Who makes it out of Ozark alive? Rachel has long felt like an expendable character, but the writers turned that around this week. The Byrdes all likely survive. Is anyone else worried about Ruth? I sure am.