Warning: This article includes spoilers for Ozark season 4.
Ruth, we're with you: F—!!!!
Netflix released the first half of the fourth and final season of Ozark on Friday, and we're about to break it all down with showrunner Chris Mundy, so this is your last warning that a spoiler extravaganza is about to get underway.
If you're still with us, let's not-so-briefly recap the seven new episodes of Ozark, before Mundy answers our burning questions. The season premiere opens with the Byrdes in their van, on the brink of exiting their life in the Ozarks and returning to Chicago, only for Marty (Jason Bateman) needing to suddenly swerve, which causes the vehicle to flip over repeatedly. The family's fate is left unanswered, with the season's events still not yet catching up to the sequence. After the accident, we pick up in the aftermath of Helen's death in the season 3 finale. The Byrdes are introduced to Navarro's (Felix Solis) dangerous nephew Javi (Alfonso Herrera), and then the cartel leader conveys his wish that Marty and Wendy (Laura Linney) use Maya (Jessica Frances Duke) and the FBI to negotiate his transition to legitimacy.
Wow, that's only the first 10 minutes of the premiere and there's a lot left. Let's just speed through the major points for our heavy hitters. Maya, frustrated with the FBI changing course on their plan for Navarro, betrays him and the agency by having him arrested, which paves the way for Javi to take his place. This causes problems for Marty and Wendy, who aren't Javi's favorite people. Meanwhile, Wendy hasn't exactly been holding up in the wake of serving her brother Ben (Tom Pelphrey) up to be killed last season. Not only has she reframed him as a missing drug addict as part of promotion for the Byrdes' new foundation, but she's virtually at war with her son Jonah (Skylar Gaertner), who, at only 14, has begun laundering money for Ruth (Julia Garner). Speaking of, Ruth's partnership with Wyatt (Charlie Tahan) and Darlene (Lisa Emery) isn't exactly working out like she'd expected. The women repeatedly butt heads, and Darlene's murder of Frank Sr. (John Bedford Lloyd) has the Langmore cousins ready to skip town forever. Instead, Wyatt decides to make Darlene his wife and Zeke his son.
Unfortunately, Javi, knowing he can't yet kill Marty and Wendy, opts to take care of the first business he ever brought up to them: Handle Darlene. Fresh off of their wedding, newlyweds Darlene and Wyatt return home to find Javi waiting for them. He says they told her stop selling heroin and she didn't listen, for which she apologizes. Too little too late, as Javi shoots her dead. He then apologizes to Wyatt, as baby Zeke cries in the distance: "Sorry…whoever you are." Javi kills him as well. When Ruth discovers what has happened to Wyatt, she takes Zeke and speeds over to the Byrde house, barging in with a shotgun and demanding to know the name of the man who did this. Threats of violence don't work on Marty and Wendy, but Jonah is happy to share Javi's identity. "Do not hurt this man," warns Marty, to which Ruth responds, very passionately, "Or what, your whole f—ing family will be murdered?! If you want to stop me, you're gonna have to f—ing kill meeeeeee!" She storms out, and the final shot of the finale is Ruth broken's face as she screams "F—" at the top of her lungs.
You get all that? To recap the new seven episodes and prepare for the series' final seven later this year, EW chatted with Ozark showrunner Chris Mundy about, well, everything. For more spoilers, read our postmortem conversation with Javi actor, Alfonso Herrera.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: We last talked way back in March 2020 — how innocent we were then — and the show hadn't officially been renewed. Now here we are with an extended, split, fourth and final season. What went into that decision? Because, obviously, the popularity is to where you could keep milking this cow for years and years, if you really wanted to.
CHRIS MUNDY: Jason has talked since the beginning about making sure we didn't overstay our welcome. And because we're so serialized, we needed to stay emotionally true and not feel like we're just putting them in the same old situation again. So somewhere in the five season range felt right. If we went on anymore after that, we'd be vamping. But we also needed plenty of room to tell the story in a way that did it justice. So this was kind of the perfect middle ground; we had enough room to really do what we wanted and we had to be compact in our storytelling.
With seven episodes to go, we're not there yet, but how much of the endgame did you already know at that point?
I knew where I wanted them to land, sort of big picture and emotionally, and I knew some of the mechanics around it but not a lot of them. So it was a matter of, "How can we build on everything we've got?" And we take a look at what's still lingering in the aftermath of season 3 that we have to address, that these people would have to address in their lives, and that the people who watch the show were going to want answers to. So that's an important thing, as part of the build, and then also, "What moves us forward and feels like it's got propulsion? And what storylines do we need? What characters do we need?"
Like the character of Javi, we didn't go into the break before season 4 knowing that Javi was going to be in there. That just came out of discussions in the room at the very beginning. Instantly we all liked it and started to try to build him, both the character and his role in the world. Same thing with the character of Mel (Adam Rothenberg), the private detective. That was really a product of me saying, "It's kind of like the Tell-Tale Heart. This thing is ticking, he just keeps coming back." And Helen's out there. The Byrdes know what happened to Helen, but no one else does. There's got to be some answer for that. And we thought we could have fun with both of those things. So a lot of it is just that. We sort of knew where we wanted to end up but we tried to figure out the most fun way to get there.
Before picking up in the almost immediate bloody aftermath of the season 3 finale, you open season 4 with this sequence of the Byrdes in their van. Everything seems mostly good, other than the little hints of tension to come between Wendy and Jonah, and then all of a sudden, boom, Marty is forced to swerve and they rollover, many times. While we still haven't reached that part of the timeline, why did you want to start there?
Yeah, obviously, we'll catch up to that. What I wanted is that by the time we reach up to it, people will almost kind of be going, "That's right, there is that!" But, as just a cold open, I liked this notion that there is no normal in this family and how things turn on a dime in so many ways, for the Byrdes and for everyone. And so I wanted it to feel normal but slightly disorienting for people, because they're trying to catch up to the conversation, and right when they do, I wanted it to be turned upside-down, and left with this feeling of like, "Oh yeah, you're always in this state of a little bit of unease on this show."
Once we pickup where we left off, Navarro shares his plan with Byrdes, telling them to essentially negotiate his transition to a life of freedom and legitimacy. What intrigued you about going in that direction with Navarro, and him needing the Byrdes to be his middlemen?
This idea of legitimacy is really interesting. I mean, the Byrdes have the face of legitimacy, but they're just as guilty. He obviously has the face of illegitimacy, but he wants the same things as them. And then there's Shaw Medical, who sort of has the face of legitimacy, but has been disgraced. Like, everyone from every angle kind of wants the same thing, which is just, "I want the world to respect me, and me to be free, but I also want to do whatever I want, whatever I please." And so I liked the idea that everyone wanted the same thing but some seemed impossible and ludicrous, and the others seemed doable, and where to sort of raise some class intersect on that, and who's the bigger hypocrite in all this? So it just felt like all those things were kind of swimming around the same thing, and as Wendy is trying to build the foundation, how can she laugh at Navarro, saying that it's impossible, when she's trying to do the exact same thing?
We last see him in prison, with Javi having taken his position, both as cartel leader and chief antagonist, so what does the future hold for Navarro?
For Navarro, he's a survivor. And so I think, at a point in the next season, he's going to figure out if there's still a play to be made from prison. He certainly won't trust the Byrdes, but they're a necessary evil in his life. So we obviously wanted him to be as pinned down as he possibly could be, but you haven't seen the last of him, for sure.
I mentioned Javi, played so charismatically by Alfonso. I love that one of the first things out of Javi's mouth when he's introduced to us and the Byrdes is, essentially, "What are you going to do about Darlene Snell?" And you almost forget about it, until he suddenly handles it in the finale, having lost his chance to eliminate the Byrdes. He kills Darlene and then Wyatt, who we thought for maybe a second would be spared. These two characters have been with the show from the start, so it probably wasn't an easy decision to make. Why did this feel like the best route for the show in propelling you into the final seven?
The thing about Alfonso that's so good is it's clear that he, the actor, but also Javi, the character, is just having so much fun. Even when he does all this stuff, there was a real joy that Alfonso played Javi with. So it wasn't just tough guy, or a crazy guy, there was a playfulness to it at the same time that he was scary. I'm just so impressed by him. But with the Darlene and Wyatt, in every season we've kind of had a scene or two that lays out what the season is going to be but you don't know it in retrospect. We almost state it in code and then you see it. So we wanted there to be an inevitability to Darlene's death, but, like you said, you almost forget about it. But it was right there from the beginning, he said it, he was going to do it. And so we just wanted to make good on that, and in Javi's character.
It wasn't something that was immediately planned, but a lot of it too had to do with Ruth and trying to get her to the most raw place we could get her. Obviously, that character has been through a lot in our four seasons on the show. But Wyatt was the thing she cared most about in the world and we really wanted to leave her going into the final little bit deciding, what's he best path forward? Is it, "Am I looking at revenge, which might ruin my life, and Marty and Wendy's life? Or am I looking at not getting revenge, which I might not be able to live with?" We wanted to bring her to the most emotional place she could get, and the only way to do that was through Wyatt. And so, Wyatt was kind of collateral damage, to Darlene, but also story-wise. It was the only thing that could possibly lay Ruth that low. And then Julia delivered on that emotion, so much at that end.
I just assumed this was the only way you could stop Darlene's killing spree she's been on this season. The show itself was actually right there with her, between Darlene, Wyatt, Frank Sr., Sheriff Nix.
[Laughs] Yeah, we actually worried about it a little bit, too. We were like, "Jesus Christ, are there just too many bodies?" I mean, they each served a real story purpose, and some of them…like, the limo driver, it's not funny, but it's kind of funny, in terms of the dark humor of it. Even Frank Sr.'s death, I thought the actual scene was funny, but it needed to be a catalyst that changed things for Wyatt and for Ruth. But we did worry about that a lot, in terms of, we don't want to just be dropping bodies all the time. And we talked about pulling back on one or two of them, but, ultimately, they all felt like in character and within the DNA of our show.
It was cool how you all staged Ruth's discovery of what's happened to Wyatt and her ensuing reaction. We see her knocking on the door, we hear Zeke crying, but then we don't see her or hear her find the bodies, instead cutting to her speeding away and not speaking until she charges into the Byrde household. What inspired you to stage that sequence of events in that way?
We talked a lot about that, and it really felt like, If she walked in and saw those bodies, you're just going to be stuck there emotionally for a long time. And you kind of know what that scene looks and feels like. The second you picture it in your head, you know what it is, it's messy, it's emotional. It's something that you've seen and felt before. So we wanted to try to figure out a way to live with her in the aftermath of it more. And we were all a little bit afraid it was going to be harder to be in that aftermath, or it was going to start to feel protracted, and so we didn't want to overload people, or have them get bored of the grief, almost. We wanted to have her brain going. So it's like when she thinks it's Frank Jr. (Joseph Sikora), and then she has the other realization and goes to Marty and Wendy. You get all the rage, but at the same time the wheels are spinning. And that just felt more interesting than just the pure grief that we would have seen at those bodies. It felt like an either/or; it would just be too long to do both. I love the way the sound goes out, first initially, and then the music as she's taking back off on the road, and then again having everything drop out at the end. It just felt like, in both places, you were so deep in her head and that's where we wanted to live.
The end of episode 7 paves the way for an inevitable Ruth and Javi showdown. Those are two characters who have yet to meet, right?
No, they haven't.
Since we haven't seen them in the same room, how would you set up what's to come there?
That's the path we wanted to set. The first episode of [Part 2] is sort of a different episode for us, in part because of that; there's a singular focus to it, emotionally. Marty and Wendy can't have that happen, Ruth wants it to happen, so a lot of times we're setting up and balancing three or four, and, in terms of urgency, certainly there is just one problem to start the final seven — and we really liked that. We wanted to take our time to live just in that. So it's more like a straight hour of one intense thing rather than multiple intense things.
Tom Pelphrey was so electric in season 3 as Wendy's brother Ben, so much so that I think there were a lot of people hoping you guys were going to pull out the "he actually didn't die" card! Unfortunately that wasn't the case, but his memory hangs over the whole season and almost all of the characters. It's pretty chilling to see Wendy kind of reframe him as this drug addict to fit this narrative of what she's doing with the foundation, and it only furthers her full turn into darkness. How do you view her actions? Is she trying to cope with what she's done, or has she fully lost it?
We didn't want to just move on from Ben because there's just no possible way that those characters would move on from Ben. It was such a big piece of the mythology of our show, so we wanted to lean into it, as much as possible. And so with Wendy, a lot of season 4, it's incremental in the first seven and then it gets more pronounced in the back seven, is really starting to question whether or not she's lost a grip on reality. Through grief and guilt, is she truly kind of losing her mind? Or is she sort of able to teach herself the lie, and rehearse the lie enough, so that suddenly she believes the lie and the world believes the lie? We wanted to really play with that question a lot. Hopefully we do it well.
Episode 7 features Marty thinking back to his pre-Ozark days in Chicago, just as the family is positioning itself to hopefully return there, even though Wendy points out, ""What do you think's waiting there for ya? Our old life? Because that was a big f—ing lie!" What did you want to convey there about Marty and where he's at, and where he hopes to be?
Marty still has this dream of them as a normal family in some way. They're terrible, terrible parents, but I do think they love their kids. He wants to have this idea that they're just one move away from being good parents and clean, in their soul. But it's just a lie. So I think looking back to that moment was really important. It's almost like he wants to blink and reset. And then there's a bunch of things we've done in the final season that are both about the characters and the show itself. That scene where Marty's trimming the tomatoes and talking about the offices and leaves the long message to Bruce, that's the very first thing we filmed on Day 1 of filming the show. First scene up, first day. And it didn't get in because we cut a bunch of stuff from there, just for time, in the front end of the pilot. So there's something that felt really good about that, too.
One of my favorite parts of the season was the evolution of the relationship between Frank Jr. (Joseph Sikora) and Ruth. At no point in season 3 would I have guessed that I'd describe the dynamic between them as "sweet." Like you can tell when she calls him in the finale and accuses him of killing Darlene and Wyatt that he's desperate for her to believe him because he doesn't want her mad at him. What did you love about getting to flip that character completely from where he was last season?
Precisely what you said. It's really nice. He was such a bull in the china shop all the time, and obviously he's gone through something traumatic, that's a better way to say it. There's a world in which he and Ruth should really respect each other. They're both brash, they both have an ego, they both are kind of funny. And so we just thought it was interesting that they both put each other through so much stuff, it just felt so unlikely and at the same time it kind of made sense. If he had taken some stock after having everything that happened to him and said, "You know what, this happened to me because I beat the s— out of this woman. There's justice in that and I need to take a look at myself." And we just thought it was interesting. He basically says, "It must have really chapped you that they didn't kill me." And so this understanding of, "I understand you wanted to kill me," and her saying, "I understand why you did what you did." Like I said, It felt unlikely, and yet, if you really drilled down on it, there was truth in it. And that's a good place for us to be on the show, when those two things come together.
You've given a lot, in terms of what to expect from the last seven episodes, but what's your final tease for fans?
The final tease really comes down to Marty and Wendy. We usually frame everything through the marriage, as much as Ruth is this gigantic part of the show, obviously. For the Byrdes, at a certain point the final seven to me are about, at what time is it healthy to stay in, and at what time is it healthy to get out, in terms of that partnership? And so, to me, I really think the back seven is pretty intensely about marriage and family. And Ruth is an extension of that family.
For more on Ozark and its final season, pick up Entertainment Weekly's Ultimate Guide to Ozark, available online and wherever magazines are sold.