Season 4 part 1 of ‘Ozark’ charters the path taken by the Byrde family to finally cut off from their cartel connections and the treacherous and bumpy road they have to travel as they approach the final stretch.
The Byrde family have been embroiled with the Navarro cartel for many years but an opportunity has arisen to finally be free as Omar Navarro (Felix Solis) wants to cut a deal with the FBI to step away from the family business himself. Marty (Jason Bateman) and Wendy Byrde (Laura Linney) are trying to facilitate this deal while safeguarding their own future as a family.
Wendy is getting caught up in her lust for power as she aims to make her family one of the most influential families in the midwest but at the same time, her judgment is being questioned by all around her as she comes to loggerheads with her son, Jonah (Skylar Gaetner).
Ruth Langmore (Julia Garner) has split from the Byrdes and wants to make it out on her own which leads to her becoming a partner in Darlene Snell’s (Lisa Emery) operation along with her cousin, Wyatt (Charlie Tahan). Together, they set up her heroin operation and enlist the help of Jonah to launder their money.
Omar Navarro wants to retire in peace but he has to also deal with a headstrong, impulsive nephew, Javier (Alfonso Herrera), who is quite impatient and paranoid regarding the Byrde family’s role in their operation.
Darlene is still operating as a wild card who has managed to get Ruth on her side and plans to deal heroin again with the help of the Kansas City mob, despite being asked not to by the Navarro cartel. She’s stubborn in her ways and the only thing predictable about her is her unpredictability.
Agent Maya Miller (Jessica Dukes) has recently given birth to a baby boy which makes her doubt her business relationship with Marty Byrde but when Omar Navarro offers to flip, it makes her more determined to see the end of the cartel once and for all.
Jason Bateman and Laura Linney work perfectly together as a couple with opposing personalities and approaches who manage to work together well. Bateman is calm, collected and always seems to figure out solutions on the fly while Linney is more reactive and confrontational as she loses herself in her quest to come out on top
Her dynamic with Gaetner’s Jonah translates well even under normal circumstances, with the son not able to understand or accept the full scope of his parents’ actions while the parent doesn’t realize that they’re overcompensating in a bid to protect their own child and in turn pushing them away.
The addition of Alfonso Herrera is a great one as he adds some charm and urgency to the plot with his actions as he showcases his impetuosity in dealing with situations and making everyone feel uneasy in his presence.
Julia Garner and Lisa Emery portray another dichotomy when it comes to a business relationship with Emery set in her bullheaded ways while Garner brings in the composure that her character picked up from the Byrdes. The two of them do not agree on most issues and that comes out on screen perfectly.
Adam Rothenberg, as the nosy Mel Sattern, has a minimal role but fulfils it perfectly as he proves himself an annoying thorn in the side of the Byrde family and a promising ally to Maya going forward with his relentless work ethic.
There are multiple concurrent plotlines and yet none of them feel excessive or seem to overstep their boundaries, which is a credit to the storytelling on display. Each character and their journey is given ample time to breathe and establish itself for the betterment of the series.
Balance is maintained extremely well with nothing feeling rushed or as if it is dragging on. It is quite masterful the way they have explored the different avenues and paths taken along the way.
The sound design is exemplary with the background score hitting the right notes to signify the intensity of several situations. One particular moment involves a chilling rendition of ‘hush little baby’ as Maya heads to a meeting with Navarro as her baby is left behind with the Byrdes is the perfect example of how well it performs.
The hushed tones throughout the series to portray a sombre atmosphere in the Ozarks is done particularly well. Scenes in Chicago have a small touch of enhanced colour to them while the brightest scene of all is the opening sequence in Mexico. It showcases the effective use of a colour palette to signify the overall mood of the series.
The decision to split the season into 2 parts seems peculiar, especially since each episode occupies a mammoth run time of over 60 minutes at the very least. While the pacing isn’t excruciatingly slow, it does require a serious commitment to sit through which cannot be agreeable to many.
Ozark is a journey that is approaching its final destination and is heading in that direction with intensity and grace. Part 1 of this season comes off a brilliant build-up to what should be an exciting and satisfying conclusion to the story of the Byrde family.