The season premiere of the first half of the final season of Netflix’s hit Ozark strikes a solemn, foreboding tone. It’s like watching people sink into quicksand as the downfall of the Byrde family feels inevitable with each passing episode. The opening flash-forward shows a seemingly happy Byrde family driving before they swerve to avoid an oncoming truck and go flipping off the highway, setting the stage for the rest of the season — what or who will be that truck in the life of the Byrdes? And will their downfall come from within?
“The Beginning of the End” is really about four potential problems in the form of two new characters and two familiar ones. Ruth Langmore (Julia Garner) is one of the latter, a strong, confident young woman who wants to carve out her own empire in a way that’s likely to be a problem for the Byrde family. The other is right on the family tree as Jonah Byrde (Skylar Gaertner) has been nursing a building rage toward his mother since the murder of his uncle Ben (Tom Pelphrey). As for the new faces, Javi Elizondro (Alfonso Herrera), the nephew of crime lord Omar Navarro (Felix Solis), looks like serious trouble, and it feels like the private investigator digging into the whereabouts of Helen Pierce (Janet McTeer) can only unearth skeletons.
Speaking of Helen, the episode truly opens with Wendy (Laura Linney) and Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman) wiping her brain matter out of their hair. It picks up shortly after the murder of Helen, as Marty and Wendy are given matching blue outfits to join the party at the Navarro compound. They’re a team now. They may have been at odds at points in the first three seasons, but they can’t be now. Omar tells them that his competition has been raided and they meet Javi, who might as well wear a flashing sign around his neck that says “Trouble.” It turns out that Helen had told them about Darlene Snell (Lisa Emery) rebuilding her empire, and now Marty has been tasked with making her stop.
Omar says, “My nephew is impatient.” That could be a problem. He also says, “Your greatest threat will always come from the inside, Marty. Never forget that.” He’s talking about Javi sensing weakness in his uncle’s place on the throne, but it could just as easily be a warning about Jonah Byrde. Omar wants Marty’s help getting a parachute out of the confines of the criminal underworld. He wants to move freely and could make concessions to the FBI to do so. Basically, he wants the Byrdes to launder him.
Meanwhile, Ruth has returned to the Lazy-O motel where she used to be a maid until she was fired for ripping off the guests. Ruth wants to buy it outright for $450k and has the loan to do so. Does she really want to “own a piece of this town” and have her voice represented in the community? Nah. A follow-up scene with Darlene and Wyatt (Charlie Tahan) quickly reveals that they need a business through which to launder money and the motel will do. She offers a cut to Darlene wherein she and Wyatt will take 25 percent of the profits and that Darlene’s cut will be 50 percent, but Darlene affirms that Wyatt’s cut will be equal to her own. It’s an interesting play in that Darlene is making clear that Wyatt is on her level, and they’re both above Ruth in this operation.
Jonah comes to see Ruth and gives her Ben’s ashes, revealing that he knows that Wendy had him killed. The anger and loss about Ben will connect Jonah and Ruth in a way that’s sure to be dangerous for everyone involved. If it comes to Jonah having to betray Ruth to save his family, he likely won’t because of the shared affection they have for Ben. It’s also interesting that this beat is followed by Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz) kicking Ruth out of the office at the casino. There are two very different dynamics with Ruth and the Byrde kids.
Wendy and Marty make it home to find their windows destroyed, which Jonah did at the end of last season in his anger over Ben’s death. It worsens when Wendy reveals Helen is dead, and Jonah realizes that there was no real reason to kill Ben (although that’s arguably not entirely true). A guy named Mel (Adam Rothenberg), a P.I. from Chicago, shows up looking for Helen. He claims that her husband wants to expedite the divorce, but he seems shady and not just because he uses the word “squirrelly” and has a cat named Loretta Lynn. After he leaves, Wendy makes no apologies to her son, telling him to clean up his mess. Wendy’s stark lack of empathy could come back to haunt her.
As the Byrdes discuss turning Omar into a pillar of society and convincing Darlene to shut down her heroin operation, the show returns to Maya Miller (Jessica Frances Dukes), the very pregnant FBI agent who has become entangled in the Ozark criminal underworld. She had the intel that led to the raid on Omar’s competitor, and it turns out she’s not returning to her desk job but headed back into the field. Later, the Byrdes talk about needing Maya to help launder Omar. It feels like this plan will either get them out of this world forever or end their family.
In a meeting at the Belle, Wendy and Marty discover that Ruth is laundering money for the Snell-pire, and they warn everyone involved to shut it down. That’s not going to happen. But the bigger problem, for now, could be Mel, who sneaks into Helen’s house after a frustrating meeting with Sheriff Nix (Robert C. Treveiler). He finds footage of Jonah holding a shotgun on Helen and takes it to the Byrdes. After he leaves, Wendy loses it. She’s still trying to be an angry mother to Jonah, which is rich at this point. The traditional roles of motherhood no longer apply! Jonah goes to Ruth and offers her the software he built from his father’s, further tying them together. She offers him a job laundering money from her, which can only end poorly. He declines at first but later rides his bike to the Lazy-O like a true criminal and agrees to the job.
Javi makes a surprise appearance at the Belle before ending up at the Byrdes’ house and revealing that he voted to kill Wendy and Marty instead of Helen. Yikes. He’s told that Darlene has the local cops in her pocket, and so when he meets Nix at Helen’s house later, he does what any sociopath would do and shoots him in the chest and head. He drives the dead cop to the Byrdes in the trunk of the cop car. And Jonah sees them unloading the body. Uh-oh.
• Does anyone else miss Ben? All the talk of him this episode was a reminder of what a presence he had in season three and how his influence feels like it will play a factor in this show’s endgame.
• There’s an interesting scene with Maya in the parking garage where she says that she believes that motivation doesn’t matter, only action. It feels like that worldview will play a role in her final arc.
• I’d like a GIF of Ruth goofily bobbing her head to A Tribe Called Quest now, please.
• Jonah speaks of the Echo Wall in Beijing when mocking Wendy for her latest dumb scheme. Here are some cool pics of that unique location.
• Jason Bateman often directs the season premiere himself, but he handed the duties for this one off to Andrew Bernstein, who had helmed three other episodes and a ton of prestige TV, including The Outsider, The Americans, Mad Men, and The West Wing.