“Sorry don’t pay my bills. What I need is loyalty.” — Darlene Snell
There’s something in that line that speaks to the constant push and pull of the world of Ozark wherein human connection and practical need don’t always align. So many of the fraught relationships on this show are both personal and professional. It’s a program about people supported by and betrayed by those closest to them, often even by branches on their own family tree. And this very strong fourth and final season has centered on these complex dynamics, which may have an emotional currency that people feel they need but don’t pay the bills.
A great prologue fills in an essential detail about Mel Sattem, the P.I. who has been searching for Helen Pierce. In a flashback, it’s revealed that he was a “cop on the edge” when he’s on the phone with someone trying to get him to attend a meeting for his addictions. He’s suicidal. He slinks his way to the evidence locker at the station where he works and gets caught with the white stuff in his nostrils. Later, it’s revealed that he was a hell of a good cop, even if his addiction derailed his career. That could be a problem for the Byrdes.
The plan to keep the Shaw deal in place even though the Navarro supply halted led Marty to turn to Ruth last episode, and that’s where this chapter picks up. We learn that the Snell plan, which Darlene clearly hasn’t approved, only needs to last a week. Clare and her bruiser meet with Ruth, and he tests the product. He confirms it’s good. Maybe this will actually work?
Frank Cosgrove Jr. (Joseph Sikora) is back in the mix, startled to see Darlene as he limps out of a dive called the Northside Tavern in K.C. In the last episode, she sensed that he didn’t like his daddy pulling out of the deal with her, so she’s going straight to junior. Add this relationship to the many this season in which business and personal needs may not align. Think of Jonah and his parents, Omar and his nephew, Ruth and Wyatt — the theme for this season could be how much crime and family don’t mix. Anyway, Darlene has the nerve to try to work a deal with the man she crippled last season. She gives him some drugs and plays up to his alpha male needs. She knows how to woo macho idiots better than anyone.
Wendy and Marty spot some missing posters for Ben in town. The great lies that Wendy keeps telling about his disappearance have turned up the heat on finding him. It’s almost too dumb a move for someone like Wendy, but Laura Linney has sold a kind of passionate irrationality this season, heightened by the disintegrating relationship with her son. At first, they assume Jonah put up the posters, but he points the finger at Darlene. Wendy suggests maybe it’s not that bad — perhaps it will make them look more sympathetic. And then Charlotte reveals she left in the middle of the SATs and isn’t planning to go to college. Marty is aghast that the empire he’s been trying to disassemble and leave behind is now basically his daughter’s plan for the future. However, Marty does see an urgent need for his daughter and asks her to speak to Wyatt about taking down the Ben posters. Her future can wait.
As Wendy and Marty are plan meetings with Senator Schafer and Ruth, respectively, Mel comes to their door again. He lays it on the table — he thinks Ben killed Helen, so now the Byrdes are protecting him. It makes sense that this would be his theory, given the dual disappearance. One wonders if this won’t plant a seed in Marty and Wendy’s minds. What if they find evidence of Helen’s murder somehow? Could it be pinned on the missing Ben? Heck, any murder could be pinned on the absent Ben at this point. Is Mel giving Wendy and Marty an idea for a future scheme? And how would Jonah respond if the uncle is mother killed is now framed for a crime?
Wendy and Jim meet with the senator, who reveals he needs some help. He has a family situation as loved ones may have been caught up on a wire fraud net. He claims it’s mostly some harmless light insider trading, and he just needs to know if his son is a target of the investigation so he can get out in front of it. It’s another deal with a personal touch, the foundation of this show, but this one turns out to be much more sinister. After getting what he needs from Wendy via Maya, everyone learns that it involves voting machines that can be tampered with, and someone was about to blow the whistle. The ramifications of the actions of the Byrdes in the Ozarks could now influence world elections. The idea that the political and illegal worlds are intertwined has been a theme of this show for years, but this is one of its darkest beats. Laundering a drug lord includes a scheme that could illegally determine the next president. Whoa. Somebody call the My Pillow guy.
On a much lower level in terms of international crime, Ruth comes looking for the brick that Darlene has sold to Frank Jr. It turns out that’s the one that needed to go to Clare Shaw. She shows up at the meeting with Shaw and Marty empty-handed. Someone took their heroin. They will need to repurchase it for double the cost, and Ruth gets $100,000 on top for her trouble.
Even though Wyatt does speak to Charlotte at the farmer’s market, the missing posters for Ben seem to have grown more prevalent the next time Wendy drives through town. She makes another crazy decision and files a missing person report for the man she helped murder. She even produces crocodile tears when asked why she didn’t do it earlier. And then, she thanks Darlene for helping with the search. This leads Darlene to admonish Jonah for snitching on her with the posters, prompting Jonah to tell Darlene that his parents disposed of Nix’s body. The kid can’t lie. It’s kind of impressive.
While Mel is sniffing around the Lazy-O looking for information, the deal is about to go down to retrieve Ruth’s drugs so they can go to Clare. The buyer-turned-seller gets spooked, but Ruth isn’t giving up, demanding the address. After arguing over who is going into this lion’s den, Ruth takes the job herself. Marty is too weak, and Clare’s muscle is too trigger happy. On the phone, it appears Clare will give Ruth five minutes before her terminator goes in guns blazing.
The scene at the house is one of the tensest of the season. Ruth gets abused mentally and a bit physically, with the buyer convinced that this is some sort of trap. It’s a great scene for Garner, a reminder of how present she can be on the show. The writing on Ozark often stretches credulity, but it’s Garner who grounds it by always believably responding to what’s happening around her. And it produces a moment of heroism for Marty! When it looks like Shaw’s dude-bro is ready to get Ruth killed, Marty grabs his gun. It doesn’t last long, but it shows that Marty is willing to put his life in danger for Ruth. That feels important. Ruth shows up with the goods.
Later that night, Mel finally makes it to Ruth’s trailer and learns that Ben didn’t have a drug problem. His case just got more interesting.
While that problem is getting worse, it almost looks like one of Wendy’s problems will solve itself in the episode’s incredible final scene. Darlene comes to the Byrde house in the middle of the night, wanting to talk about Nix. Wendy reveals the Ruth/Shaw deal details and gets even more aggressively in Darlene’s face until Snell has what looks like a heart attack. As she tumbles to the ground, struggling to breathe, she asks Wendy to call 911. Wendy takes out her phone … and pauses. She sits and watches, thinking about what to do. Over the credits, we hear, “911, what’s your emergency?” Did she wait for her to die? Or did she call in time? It’s the kind of thing that would make for a great cliffhanger on a weekly series, but this is Netflix so … next episode!
• If you missed it, the title “Ellie” refers to Mel’s “Likely Explanation” (or “LE”) of the case he’s working on: that Ben killed Helen and then fled town.
• Major Breaking Bad vibes in the final scene. Much as Wendy could let Darlene die, Walter White was handed what he considered a gift when Jane overdosed, and he let it happen.
• Adam Rothenberg is doing great work as Mel this season. He’s got a very Columbo “one more thing” energy. I’d totally watch him in a mystery-of-the-week series. Spinoff!
• Darlene often gets some of the show’s better comic beats with her incredibly dry, pitch-black sense of humor, which comes out this week when she tells Frank Jr. that she tried to find a card at the store to apologize for shooting his dick off.