We all have our secret vices, and one of mine is watching various less than stellar shows on the streaming services: Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. Pure escapism, the various series usually feature detectives, spies, and likeable criminals trying to stay one step ahead of the law. My most recent addiction, that recently aired its last episode, is Ozark.
I’ve got plenty of company. This week Ozark is the most watched series on Netflix and by estimates, the last week of February had four billion people streaming episodes in just one week!
But I have to admit, several of the episodes gave me nightmares. And I was very disappointed in the way the series ended. So first, I have to explain for anyone who has not watched it, what I think the show is about although I’ll concede every viewer will have their own interpretation.
Set in a resort town in central Missouri on Lake Ozark, the Byrd family has been sucked into an elaborate money laundering scheme for a leading Mexican drug cartel. Seemingly a normal upper middleclass family composed of a mild-mannered husband Marty who happens to be a brilliant accountant (Jason Bateman), a pretty blonde wife Wendy with a previous career in liberal politics and public relations (Laura Lindley), a blonde haired teenage daughter Charlotte who is a competitive swimmer and good student (Sofia Hublitz), and a middle school aged son Jonah(Skylar Gaertner)who is a nerd like his father; their lives are in danger if they don’t produce enough clean cash to satisfy their drug lord.
I mention the hair colors because it underscores the tropes used in the plot line. A respectable family is corrupted by the almighty dollar. Viewers are expected to root for the white Anglo-Saxon Byrd family as they attempt to stay one step ahead of their dark-skinned Hispanic overlords. But wait, complications arise when in order to accomplish their goals they must use everyone else in the community to get what they must have—a way to launder money.
The Byrds, who have moved to Missouri from suburban Chicago consider themselves superior to the locals, but often find themselves outsmarted. As the series evolves, Wendy Byrd reveals herself to be a ruthless sociopath. Capable of easily charming males with her flattery, women are more difficult opponents. Her main foil is Ruth Langmore (Julia Garner), a fourth-generation member of a “white trash” family cursed by a predisposition to violence and crime. Ruth’s desire for a stable family, initially blurs her clarity of vision in evaluating the motivations of Wendy and her husband Marty. Eventually she sees them for what they are, smooth operators, and she attempts to forge her own path. The community, however, is small. It’s hard to elude the Byrds’ influence.
One by one the Byrd children and husband Marty Byrd recognize Wendy’s selfish behavior and lack of moral compass. Repeatedly they attempt to break free from her spell, but they never quite succeed.
The last four episodes could have been a reckoning. (Spoiler alert, do not read further if you don’t want to learn how the series ends.) Both my husband Peter (who was watching the series with me) and I, expected Marty and Wendy Byrd to be killed. Just about everyone else they crossed paths with was killed, including the drug cartel overlord.
Marty had enabled Wendy’s behavior. He helped hide the bodies. They deserved retribution. As one character, the FBI agent Maya Miller ( Jessica Frances Dukes) described them, they were pure evil. But instead, when confronted with one of their many crimes by a private investigator, they attempt to buy him off and when that doesn’t work, their son Noah arrives with his sister Charlotte and a loaded shotgun.
Another murder? Another cover-up? A confirmation of the malevolent nature of an entire family. I suppose there are no happy endings. Just confirmation that we’ve arrived at a place where greed and self-preservation are accepted.
No wonder I can’t sleep. I’m planning to go back to watching one of the predictable Jane Austen style romantic series. At least no one dies.
Follow Nadja Maril on Twitter at SN Maril. Read one of her short stories, You Meet the Strangest People Hitchhiking here.