[Major spoilers for the final episode of Netflix's Ozark follow. You've been warned!]
There's simply no denying it. Ozark couldn't have ended in any other way. Maybe you thought Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman) would do what Jacob Snell (Peter Mullan) tried to do to his dangerous wife Darlene (Lisa Emery) and kill Wendy (Laura Linney) off before her overt confidence ruined them for good. You may have guessed that even if one or both of them lived, they would have at least ended their marriage, as everything pointed toward. And you wouldn't be alone if you wished Ruth (the great Julia Garner) freed herself from the Langmore curse of poverty and criminality and went legit, liberated from the Byrdes' hold and their malign influence for good.
But that was never going to happen. Anyone who's been watching Netflix's Breaking Bad-influenced crime drama from the beginning knows that in Marty and Wendy Byrde's case, actions don't have consequences — at least not ones that they suffer. Because, to quote another great TV antihero, "money wins."
Ozark, which dropped Part 2 of its fourth and final season on April 29 (Netflix requested discussion of spoilers be held until people had a chance to watch over the weekend), ended with Ruth Langmore dead and the Byrdes free. Their obligations to the cartel and the FBI are satisfied, and they're ready to move back to Chicago to run their philanthropic foundation, which is stocked with cash from legit donors after a successful fundraising gala at the Missouri Belle. And private investigator Mel Sattem (Adam Rothenberg), the last remaining person with the knowledge or inclination to expose them for their crimes, is presumably dead too, shot by Jonah Byrde (Skylar Gaertner) in the moment between the fade out and the credits rolling for the last time. Jonah's parents always worried that he was going to kill someone, and when he finally did it, he did it in front of them, as they watched approvingly.
But before that last act of violence, the Byrdes sacrificed Ruth to ensure their own safety. At the gala, new cartel boss Camila Elizonndro (Veronica Falcón), who worked with the Byrdes to eliminate her inconvenient brother Omar Navarro (Felix Solis) and take over the drug business, threatened overmatched pharmaceutical CEO Clare Shaw (Katrina Lenk) into revealing that Ruth had killed Camila's son, cartel lieutenant Javi (Alfonso Herrera), in retaliation for murdering her cousin Wyatt (Charlie Tahan).
Since the gala was happening on the Missouri Belle, the riverboat casino Ruth managed, Ruth was present, and Camila threatened the Byrdes and their children with death if they tipped off Ruth about her imminent demise. So they didn't. They let it happen. Camila followed Ruth home and shot her. Ruth went out like Stringer Bell, demanding that Camila hurry up and get it over with.
In retrospect, Ruth's fate was inevitable. Everyone who got involved with the Byrdes ended up worse off for having done so, and no one was more involved than Marty's surrogate daughter. Wendy and Marty were willing to sacrifice anyone outside their nuclear family to preserve themselves, as Wendy's brother Ben (Tom Pelphrey) found out, and Ruth was one more piece of collateral damage.
Ruth was always going to be the one who paid the ultimate price for Wendy and Marty's freedom. This is America.
Ruth thought she was living the American Dream, where someone born with nothing can get rich through hard work, ingenuity, and a little bit of luck. But it turned out she was living a different kind of American story, the one where the rich get what they want and the poor suffer the consequences. The shot of the Byrdes through their kitchen window after allowing Ruth to die reminded me of Tom and Daisy Buchanan sitting at their table eating cold fried chicken in The Great Gatsby. Even after extramarital affairs, cruelty, and vehicular manslaughter, they stayed together, because the golden boy and girl were made for each other. Marty and Wendy Byrde are the same — two selfish peas in a gilded pod. Maintaining their wealth and regaining their status is the most important thing to them. They get to leave the backwoods of the Ozarks and head back to the Gold Coast of Chicago and live comfortable lives like nothing ever happened. Meanwhile, Ruth died in the clearing where she lived her whole life because she believed the Byrdes would bring her up the ladder with them.
The Byrdes were never going to divorce, and they were always going to get away with it, because they had the money. That's just how the world works, like Wendy said to Mel Sattem when he incorrectly asserted that bad people like them don't get to win — "Since when?" It's a cynical ending, but one that's true to Ozark, where the determining factor in who lived and who died was who had the power behind the money.
The final season of Ozark is now streaming on Netflix.