The second episode of every season of Ozark is typically a transitional one. The creators have always been smart about hooking viewers with the premiere and then segueing into the meat of the season, and that feels like the case here. It’s another solid television episode with some powerful character beats by Julia Garner, but it ultimately won’t be anyone’s favorite chapter by the end of the run.
“No man can serve two masters,” says Darlene to Jonah, amplifying further the sense that Jonah will someday have to choose between Ruth and his family. It’s only one of many tense moments in “Let the Great World Spin,” an accumulation of judgments and careful considerations. It’s almost like the characters in this world know this is the last season. Everything feels weighted and heavier than the first three seasons.
After an emotional prologue with Ruth, the main narrative of the episode really kicks in when Marty goes to see Maya in Jefferson City, passing a billboard of the missing Sheriff Nix on the way. It has to be weird to drive past missing posters for bodies you cremated, especially to bring a baby gift to someone who has tried to put you in jail. He asks Maya what it would take to launder Omar, to have him be safe in the eyes of the FBI. It’s going to be huge — names, product, time behind bars. It’s probably more than he’s willing to give. How can Marty bridge that gap between what Omar will concede and what Maya needs to make him clean?
Back at home, Wendy finally notices that the box of Ben’s ashes is gone. Jonah tells her what he did — he’s wonderfully blunt with his mother this season — and Wendy goes off to talk to Ruth, flames shooting out of her ears. She demands they be returned, and Garner sells Ruth’s anger and grief beautifully. Wendy gets mean. “He would have been done with you in a month,” she tells Ruth. Much will be written about who will survive Ozark throughout this final season, but Wendy Byrde is becoming so increasingly unlikable that one has to wonder if the writers are setting it up so her demise will be less painful. (Ruth, of course, gets the perfect comeback in, “If you hadn’t killed him first.”)
Omar Navarro is ready to meet with Maya and the FBI, but he’s got family drama that’s even more tempestuous than the Byrdes. He even has to punch his nephew, pointing out that killing Sheriff Nix was a horrible decision. It could bring more pressure down on them just as they’re trying to pull off the impossible move of cleaning a criminal empire.
However, that decision looks likely to impact Darlene’s empire first. Cosgrove cuts off his deal with Darlene because she no longer has Nix’s support. Naturally, they’re all going to know that Nix was killed as a signal to them. They’re not dummies. So Javi’s warning to the competition appears to have worked, at least for now.
In the Ozarks, Nix’s replacement, a sheriff named Guerrero (CC Castillo), has to dig through the muck in this corner of the country. She finds the business card from Mel that says, “Do your fucking job.” Is Mel going to be pinned for Nix’s death or just help pull at the right threads to unravel everything? Darlene comes in next and tries to sweet-talk Guerrero, but she knows about the deal between Snell and Nix and asks Darlene to save the bribery charge for the next guy.
Wendy’s attempts to elevate her standing in society continue as she meets with Jim Rattelsdorf (Damian Young) about how to grab power in a way that can be used to clean Omar Navarro. She wants elections to run through her. He suggests five key players in five states on the board (Missouri, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Ohio — five states that have played major roles in recent elections). Wendy is back in political shark mode, trying to be a kingmaker. One of the more interesting dynamics in Ozark is that Marty Byrde is an introvert who is married to an extrovert. His instinct is to stay behind the scenes and shelter in place when it gets stormy — hers is to be out front, leading the charge into battle.
To that end, she’s off to Chicago to talk to a businesswoman named Claire Shaw (Katrina Lenk), the head of Shaw Medical Solutions. Wendy wants Claire’s family company (an opioid manufacturer) to fund the building of three brand-new state-of-the-art medical health and rehab centers. Claire is interested in the positive PR since her brother was previously ousted as CEO for publicly blaming “drug users for creating the opioid crisis.” But Claire is also hesitant, mentioning the disaster at the fundraiser last season, and Wendy explains that Ben had bipolar disorder and lies that he also had addiction issues — that’s why these rehabs are so important to Wendy. Wendy has an amazing ability to selectively choose truths and make up stories that fit her needs. Yes, Ben had issues, and it feels like Wendy would have sympathy for those in need because of that connection, but she’s also a criminal power broker who betrayed him and will now say whatever she wants about him to get her way.
Before Wendy went to Chicago, Jonah told mom and dad about laundering money for Ruth, leading Marty to intercede. It doesn’t work, but Ruth does head off to Chicago to try and build the Snell distribution line through a chef named Kerry Stone (Eric Ladin). It leads to a scene in which Ruth tries the product to prove it’s good, and the foreboding music here is not a good sign. Will Ruth get hooked on her own supply? It may not matter because Darlene selfishly kills the deal anyway. Why? Is it just control? Darlene embarrasses Ruth and makes clear that she’s above her in the power structure. It’s her farm and her product. And it’s also clear that Wyatt is going to side with Darlene. Did Ruth trade one couple who didn’t appreciate her in the Byrdes for another in Darlene and Wyatt?
Wendy and Marty meet with Claire Shaw, and the tone is a lot different than Wendy’s emotional ploys in Chicago. Marty pulls out the numbers, revealing that the Shaw opioid division is about to go bankrupt. They need raw materials for their product, and the Byrdes can provide that at a much more affordable rate, leading to a 65 percent cost reduction. They could save $300 million and then donate half of that to the Byrdes’ foundation. It’s highly illegal, but it benefits everyone, a form of laundering that takes the drug from illegal supply routes into pharmacies worldwide.
Tense sequences close the episode. The first is at Helen’s house, where Javi forces Marty to clean up the mess left by the murder of Nix. When Sheriff Guerrero shows up, she almost meets the same fate. And Jonah has another confrontation with his mother in which he reveals that he knows they disposed of Nix’s body.
But the episode ends on the lead-up to the meeting between Navarro and Maya. Of course, Mel the P.I. comes sneaking around the house at the wrong time, getting a gun pulled on him by Maya. He’s getting closer, and it’s leading Maya to ask some questions too. Why is there a P.I.? Is Helen dead? Marty mentions Navarro’s nephew being there, and Maya says, “Thank you for being honest with me.” Hmmm. The trust and naivete here feel a little unrealistic, but perhaps Maya’s Spidey Sense is dulled by the stress of the situation? It could also explain why she would agree to acquiesce to Navaro’s last-second meeting demands. Omar is being a tough guy saying that Maya has to come alone and right now. He doesn’t really have the trump cards here — he’s the one who needs something from Maya, not the other way around. And what if Javi loses it and kills her? There could be another baby to take care of in the Ozarks.
• How long did it take for Wendy to notice Ben’s ashes were gone? Enough time that a billboard was put up for Nix. Maybe that happens a day or two after an officer of the law is missing, but it also feels like another case wherein Wendy wasn’t particularly aware of the surroundings in her home.
• This episode is 67 minutes long! That’s almost as long as some feature films. They’re really going to take their time with these final episodes.
• Is this going to be Garner’s best season? She’s imbuing Ruth with such a fascinating blend of determination and grief. I can’t wait to see what she does next.