‘Ozark’ season four part one review: the beginning of the end for the Byrdes

Netflix's most gripping crime drama is back with the first seven of 14 final episodes

For some reason, family relocations rarely end well on screen (see Sinister, Spirited Away). And yet after three seasons of working for the cartel, accountant Marty Byrde’s decision to move his Chicago-based brood cross-country to the picturesque Ozarks appears to have come good. They aren’t dead. They aren’t in prison. If anything, they’re thriving – laundering money for Mexico’s scariest drug boss. But can it last?

Ozark season four picks up where we left off – with Marty and wife/business partner Wendy picking lumps of brain out of their hair. Said brain belonged to gangster lawyer Helen Pierce, who was violently fired in front of (and all over) them. The message rang loud and clear: don’t fuck up – or you’ll get fucked up. These new episodes see the Byrdes trying very hard not to do that, with mixed results.

Part of the problem is that their list of allies has grown very short. Loyal assistant Ruth, a potty-mouthed local with more spunk than a sperm bank, has deserted them for rival heroin dealer Darlene Snell. Similarly, teenage son Jonah, who accuses his mum of killing troubled Uncle Ben, is doing Darlene’s accounts out of spite.

Ozark
Julia Garner as Ruth Langmore. CREDIT: Netflix

Over in Mexico, all is not well either. Maniacal mob leader Omar suspects his nephew Javi of plotting an overthrow – and wants the Byrdes to mastermind an exit agreement with the FBI. The FBI, as you’d expect, aren’t interested in letting one of America’s most-wanted men walk away scot-free. Cue another impossible series of challenges for TV’s most harassed looking parents since gunge time on Get Your Own Back.

It’s all very tense and gripping – thanks, largely, to a set of the best performances you’ll find on TV. Jason Bateman and Laura Linney are faultless once again as Marty and Wendy, who rush about anxiously cutting deals that fall through five minutes later. And it’s always a treat to watch Felix Solis (Omar) crack his knuckles and contemplate which skull he’ll crush next. But as in previous seasons, Julia Garner stands out. Her nuanced portrayal of Ruth, clearly traumatised by past crimes, flicks between deep distress and overpowering rage in the blink of an eye. One particularly disturbing scene sees Ruth lose all restraint and scream wildly at Marty. The effect is akin to a tidal wave of repressed anger washing over the viewer. Don’t be surprised if Garner wins a third Emmy in four years.

There are weaknesses, though. Season three was a highpoint – and its cliffhanger genuinely stunning. Season four part one (another seven episodes arrive later in 2022) keeps up that momentum, but occasionally runs out of ideas. Byrde daughter Charlotte is underused, FBI Agent Miller’s decisions don’t make sense and son Jonah’s storyline is essentially the same as his sister’s from two seasons ago. It’s all about setting up the show’s final fling – which, thanks to a few late twists, looks like a must-watch. Who knows, maybe the Byrdes will survive their relocation after all.

‘Ozark’ season four part one is released on Netflix this Friday (January 21)

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