We're nearing the end of an era, as we enter the fourth and final season of "Ozark." The Byrdes have come a long way since their humble money-laundering beginnings: season after season, their family has fractured, lives have been lost and everyone in their circle has been thoroughly transformed. And this rollercoaster ride of the past three seasons is littered with hints for what's to come. How have Marty (Jason Bateman) and Wendy (Laura Linney) handled each step along the way? How have they changed since the action first started? It would be quite an undertaking to get these answers the long way around — though the tense writing and impeccable performances would make it worth your time. But if you don't have time for all 30 episodes of their bad decision-making, just revisit these nine! The following episodes are essential reading for fans to get ready for the beginning of the end, when season 4 Part 1 drops on January 21, 2022.
Sugarwood (Season 1, Episode 1)
"Money is, at its essence, that measure of a man's choices."
A lifetime ago, Marty Byrde was a Chicago-based financial advisor at a small up-and-coming firm. He spent his days crunching the numbers beside his business partner Bruce Liddell (Josh Randall) and spent uneventful nights at home with his two kids and loving wife, Wendy… He also happened to be laundering money for a Mexican drug cartel and was haunted by his wife's longtime infidelity, but that's just how life goes! In comparison to his season 4 reality, this was nothing — it was normal and low-stakes. Or so he deluded himself into believing.
"Sugarwood" is the beginning of the end for Marty, who's been crashing down ever since. Here, he ends up in serious danger when their cartel contact discovers Bruce has skimmed $8 million. Bruce is killed before Marty can fully process his world imploding, but he still manages to do what Marty Byrde does best: fight for his life. This is the first of many times we'll watch Marty talk himself out of being murdered. When he presents an Ozark-based laundering scheme to Camino "Del" Del Rio (Esai Morales), this is the straw-grasping start of him just barely holding things together. As Del debates whether or not to kill him, Marty seems to finally confront the weight of what he's gotten himself into. He's flustered, desperate, and terrified — a far cry from the even-toned, bottled-up man we've become accustomed to. And it's important to remember Marty like this; because however great he is at squashing emotions and keeping the chaos dam from breaking, he's one loaded gun away from panic.
Kaleidoscope (Season 1, Episode 8)
Speaking of heading back to the start, you might want to head further into the past for this all-too-important flashback episode. How did the Byrdes get wrapped up in this money laundering nonsense anyway? It starts with a car crash. Now if you've seen the trailer for Part 1 of season 4, you're already wary of Marty's driving abilities and this certainly won't help: "Kaleidoscope" begins with a flashback to 2007, with Wendy and Marty discussing plans in light of Wendy's new pregnancy. Unbeknownst to them, a distracted driver is speeding their way and the resulting collision will alter their lives forever.
"Ozark" is obsessed with domino effects — how one decision butterflies into a flurry of tragedies — and this is where the first piece is tipped. After her miscarriage, Wendy spirals into an extended period of depression, and Marty does his best to hold them up. Months later he's approached by Del to launder cartel money and his first move is to decline. Del urges him to reconsider with exceedingly relevant advice: "You think your life is going one way, and then you look over here and it's different. Like that, in the blink of an eye, it changes. Grab what you can while you can."
Caution holds Marty back, partially because he doesn't believe Wendy would support such a risk. To his surprise, she approves. They have an easy conversation about it, laying on a couch and thinking about a future free of worries. It's nothing like the vicious arguments they'll wage in the future. This is a stark reminder of where they came from, to highlight where they'll end up. Plus, it's an early peek at Wendy's restlessness — at her hunger for more and her tendency towards danger.
The Toll (Season 1, Episode 10)
There are two important takeaways from "The Toll": the Byrdes are determined to stay a family and Darlene Snell (Lisa Emery) is a f***ing wackjob.
Okay, fine, there are some other memorable points to keep in mind too — for one, it turns out Marty can't actually talk his way out of everything. He tries and fails more than once throughout the episode. By this point in time, he's spent a season trying to keep up with various messes — like laundering $8 million for the cartel whilst keeping the heroin-producing Snells from blowing his brains out. Convincing Mason Young (Michael Mosley) to keep preaching on the water was meant to take care of the latter, but Mason is determined to be righteous and wants nothing to do with the heroin business. So despite the Snells threatening his pregnant wife, he storms off in the middle of Sunday service. Being the literal demons that they are, the Snells murder his wife and leave poor Mason to find his newborn baby crying on the floor.
In an effort to solve all his problems at once, Marty talks his way into a new everybody-wins scenario: the Navarro's and the Snells team up on a casino, which he can use to launder massive amounts for them both. It almost works, too — but never underestimate the unhinged nature of Darlene Snell. She says some racist things, then Del says some racist things back and her not-so-proportional response is to shoot him in the head. Yes, Darlene murders a high-ranking lieutenant of Navarro's cartel.
Marty plans to somehow smooth things over, but first sends his family away to safety. Armed with fake passports, cash, and a foreign destination, Wendy and the kids should be flying to safety when the credits roll… but they don't. Urged by Charlotte and Jonah to return — and doubting the escape herself — Wendy reunites the family in the Ozarks. It's a touching reunion, but quickly turns bittersweet when you keep in mind the splintering off that begins next season. The Byrde unity is destined to shatter.
Game Day (Season 2, Episode 5)
Believe me, I take no pleasure in revisiting any episode where Ruth Langmore (Julia Garner) suffers, but avoiding those would pretty much eliminate the entire show. And unfortunately, the episode where she's tortured by the cartel is on the required reading list.
Ruth was a force to be reckoned with and an experienced criminal long before Marty Byrde entered her life. She's always been a survivor, but her strength has never been without her vulnerabilities. Over time, Marty has become one of her weak spots — he reluctantly made her his protégé, unable to deny her whip-smart talents. And in their father-daughter relationship, she's taken some comfort. But it all comes crashing down thanks to some cruel tampering from Agent Petty (Jason Butler Harner). Staging a moment for the cartel spies, he makes her a target of suspicion. Making matters worse, when questioned about his trust in her, Marty hesitates; having discovered Ruth's season 1 plan to murder him, he ponders the question for just a moment too long. That's more than enough time for Helen (Janet McTeer) to form her doubts. And so the cartel "associates" interrogate Ruth via waterboarding.
This grants us an A+ performance from Julia Garner, at the cost of Ruth's well-being but it also doubles as an important lesson — one that took way too long to sink into Ruth's brain. There's only so much Marty is willing to do to protect her. This comes up again, when she makes an enemy of the Kansas City mob, and it will surely haunt her until this show comes to a merciful end. Despite the fact that he consistently fails her, Ruth leans on their connection much more than she should.
One Way Out (Season 2, Episode 7)
"One Way Out" gets its name from Wendy Byrde, the queen of bulls*** who finally offers up some genuine truth. Her honesty comes when she's kidnapped by Mason Young, grief-stricken after the loss of his wife, and spiraling out when CPS takes his infant. Blaming the Byrdes — a reasonable response — he abducts Wendy and tries to set up a trade. While Marty deals with the impossible task of quickly retrieving a baby in protective custody, Wendy tries to talk Mason down. She reveals a bit of her past, including a complicated relationship with her drunkard father and a period in her life where she turned to the church for acceptance. When she was met with judgment for her teenage mistakes, she ran away from home and abandoned the church with it.
Her truths are somewhat calming and even begin to gain Mason's trust — at the very least, he sees the insanity of contemplating her murder. Wendy even understands his drastic response to all that's gone wrong and puts it into words: "Evil comes when the righteous path is so hidden, it just looks like there's only one way out." This is a concept that she'll become much more accustomed to in the future (just ask Ben). Later in the episode, Marty commits his first murder! The handoff goes poorly and Zeke's crying causes Mason to lose his cool. When he threatens to kill Wendy and puts a blade to her throat, Marty panics and pulls the trigger. The episode is full of the Byrdes wrecking the lives of those around them: Mason doesn't survive, Zeke ends up an orphan, Ruth is still suffering from PTSD, and even Wyatt (Charlie Tahan) is giving up on his future.
The Badger (Season 2, Episode 9)
The courtship of Darlene and Jacob Snell is a tale of epic love. It would probably be a lot more romantic if it didn't end with her murdering him … or maybe that makes it even better? Either way, this is a crucial turning point in Darlene's life.
By the end of season 3, Ruth ends up joining forces with the heroin-producing matriarch, leaving the Byrdes in the lurch. Watching that season finale, I actually felt pretty joyous: Ruth was finally free of the Byrde's grasp. But in revisiting old episodes, I've jogged my memory of just how bats**t insane Darlene Snell can be. The Byrdes have a long list of flaws, but they might be a safer bet than Darlene, who stunned us all in season 2 by murdering her own husband. Jacob didn't see her vision, and pushed back against her crazy. Though he didn't stop loving her for a single moment, that wasn't enough to save his life. Even upon realizing she poisoned him, his final words were a laugh: "I never could keep up with you Darlene." Something tells me that Ruth would be considerably less amused, should Darlene be the death of her.
Before his death, Jacob Snell mentions being afraid of his wife in a conversation that Marty Byrde should probably take to heart. Wendy isn't quite the impulsive brand of crazy that Darlene is, but the two are equally vicious. Wendy spends the episode contemplating a plan to deal with Charlotte's lawyer when the distressed teen makes moves to emancipate from her cartel-entangled parents. She even outright threatens the woman, just adding fuel to Charlotte's enraged flames. Elsewhere, Wyatt gets into his dream college but turns it down, still haunted by his feather's death. Ultimately, this sets him on a path towards Darlene. Anyone else see the DANGER DANGER signs flashing, or is it just me?
Boss Fight (Season 3, Episode 4)
Over time, Marty Byrde has become a mystery. That's all fine and good for us as the viewers of the show — it's fun to have a protagonist who leaves you wondering! But not everyone is a fan of how Marty so deftly compartmentalizes. Not everyone is in awe of his quick-thinking, his uncanny ability to maneuver out of bad situations nor his capacity to hide his thoughts and desires. I'm talking, of course, about the boss man himself. Omar Navarro (Felix Solis) kidnaps Marty and brings him to Mexico to figure out what he truly wants. We finally come to understand the mystery man as he fights through this situation and flashes back to a childhood memory: a young Matin Byrde obsessively trying to win a video game while his father lies in his hospital death bed.
Back at the Missouri Belle, Ruth works on laundering in Marty's absence. She's caught in a complicated bind: if she can pull everything off, she'll prove her worth. But if things go smoothly without Marty, his life is at risk when Navarro realizes he can be replaced. Wendy shares in her fears but ultimately, matters are taken out of their hands. FBI agent Maya Miller (Jessica Frances) flags an account, creating an issue only Marty can fix. By solving it and finally unleashing some honesty on his boss, he earns his way home. The only problem? He has to find a way to turn an FBI agent and get her in Navarro's pocket. This is where the complicated case of Agent Miller truly begins — just how far can her righteousness be bent?
Fire Pink (Season 3, Episode 9)
Is "Pink Fire" one of the saddest episodes in "Ozark" history? You betcha. But should you give it another whirl? Most definitely.
Wendy Byrde is becoming a controversial figure. Just like Marty, she makes dangerous moves to protect the family, always in the name of survival. But at some undetermined point, she started taking real pleasure in their messy, danger-plagued lives. As she tells her brother, "fighting for your life makes every other thing you ever did before seem extremely dull." But whatever joy Wendy found is lost in this episode, when reality crashes down and she bears the weight of being one misstep away from a drug cartel killing her family. Her brother, Ben Davis (Tom Pelphrey) is one of the series' many tragedies. Upon visiting his sister, he wandered into an impossible situation that was too much fo him to handle.
"There's no room for mental illness in a criminal empire." Helen warned Wendy — but it's too late to send Ben home. Her brother stayed the season and discovered the truth about the Byrdes. That knowledge would be overwhelming for anyone, let alone a man who's struggled with mental illness his entire life and abruptly decided to quit taking his meds. After making a mistake he can't come back from, and revealing the truth to Helen's daughter, Erin, he's forced on the run with Wendy. She's desperate to keep her baby brother alive and away form the threats but at every turn, Ben thwarts her.
Where can she leave him, so he won't run back into the line of fire? She turns her back on him for all of five minutes and he calls Helen to apologize, nearly revealing their location. She falls asleep, and he alerts the cops to her operation. If that's what he does under her watchful eye, what will he do on his own? What can she possible do with him? She decides on the unthinkable: seeing no way out, Wendy lets the cartel know her location and leaves Ben to be killed. Forced to swallow the weight of her decision, Wendy calls Marty and through her sobs, asks her husband, "What are we doing?"
All In (Season 3, Episode 10)
Of course you should revisit "All In," it's the best way to remember where everyone stands before the final season! So here are the pieces as the finale leaves them: coming off of the world's saddest road trip, Wendy is devastated and ends up in a depressive cycle comparable to what followed her season 1 miscarriage. After discovering that Wendy had a hand in Ben's murder, Ruth abandons the Byrdes in favor of working with Wyatt and (unfortunately) Darlene Snell. The Kansas City mob is caught between two possibilities: working distribution with Darlene or going to war with her. Why? Because Darlene decided to win Ruth over by shooting mafia-heir Frank Cosgrove Jr in a very delicate area. As for the Byrde children, they've basically swapped places. Thanks to Ben's death, Jonah's opinion of his mother is forever altered. But Charlotte, who previously wanted to leave the family, pushes for unity: "None of this works if we don't stick together."
The tragedy of Ben will weigh over the rest of the series: beyond just haunting Wendy, it's especially painful for Ruth and Jonah, who grew close to him. But before dealing with all that wavering trust, Marty and Wendy must survive a christening. They end the season in Mexico, visiting their good friend Omar Navarro and learning that they are the new chosen ones. He officially tosses his chips in with them via a very dead Helen Pierce. Navarro's trust is high praise if you ignore the fact that the last person who earned this accolade is now a body to be burned. But hey, they're probably safe, right?
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