It's likely Ozark will be remembered as more of a clever thrill ride than a series with a coherent message.



The series finale of the hit crime drama "Ozark" debuts on Netflix today. NPR's TV critic Eric Deggans says the show's last episodes bring a disappointing and rushed end to a fiercely propulsive series.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: As the final seven episodes of "Ozark" begin, Jason Bateman's Marty Byrde is having an argument with his wife, Wendy, played by Laura Linney. Their problem - the leader of a Mexican drug cartel who's an important business partner killed the cousin of their former assistant, Ruth. Now Ruth wants revenge. Wendy and Marty argue over whether to warn the cartel leader.


JASON BATEMAN: (As Marty Byrde) I won't get her killed, Wendy, OK?

LAURA LINNEY: (As Wendy Byrde) She'd be getting herself killed.

BATEMAN: (As Marty Byrde) Wow.

LINNEY: (As Wendy Byrde) You might not believe it, but I care about her, too. She's just - she's not thinking about what might happen to us.

BATEMAN: (As Marty Byrde) Well, she's distracted. Her cousin just got murdered.

DEGGANS: This is how plots unfold on "Ozark," where the Byrde family has faced a series of increasingly dangerous challenges ever since the show debuted in 2017. Back then, Marty Byrde was a financial planner who was secretly laundering money for a powerful Mexican drug cartel. Even his family didn't know his true job. He was driven by an affinity for making money, as he explained in the first episode.


BATEMAN: (As Marty Byrde) You see, I think most people just have a fundamentally flawed view of money. You see, the hard reality is how much money we accumulate in life is not a function of who's president or the economy or bubbles bursting or bad breaks or bosses. Patience, frugality, sacrifice - those are choices. Money is that measure of a man's choices.

DEGGANS: Marty soon wound up making some tough choices of his own. Forced to move his family to the Ozarks after his employer discovered Marty's business partner was skimming profits and killed him, Marty's new mission - launder $500 million in five years. Now at the end of the show's fourth season, the Byrdes are in a very different place. Marty's wife and two kids know the score, which involves getting out of their partnership with the cartel and setting up a charitable foundation which will establish the family as legitimate philanthropists. One fly in the ointment is Ruth, played with brave abandon by Emmy winner Julia Garner, who is determined to kill the cartel leader who killed her cousin. Ruth finds the Byrdes with another potential business partner and delivers a warning about how the family has destroyed her life.


JULIA GARNER: (As Ruth Langmore) They will tear everything you have to the ground and somehow will make you feel like next time it'll all be different because you want to believe. They've stolen people's businesses. They dragged their kids into every part of the drug business. They've had people killed.

DEGGANS: There are too many plotlines coming together in these final episodes to cram into one review. But trying to resolve so many of them in seven episodes is like trying to slam the brakes on a revving race car. It's rushed and clumsy. "Ozark" saw its popularity surge in 2020 during the pandemic, when new episodes hit Netflix just as COVID lockdowns were taking hold. But that season, where Wendy engineered the death of her brother Ben to keep him from exposing their work with the cartel, felt more measured than this one, which finds the Byrdes careening from one unrealistic crisis to another. Still, as a longtime fan, I found myself interested in what would happen to these characters right down to the final scene, which feels like a bit of a callback to "The Sopranos" finale. It's why I'll miss the series despite a disappointing ending, for its skill in making a family's descent into ruthlessness compelling and telling all at once.

I'm Eric Deggans.