So long, “Ozark”; audience-dividing finale aside, it’s been good to host you

Jason Bateman (left) and Laura Linney (right) star in "Ozark"  (STEVE DIETL/Netflix/TNS)

Credit: TNS

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Jason Bateman (left) and Laura Linney (right) star in "Ozark" (STEVE DIETL/Netflix/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Netflix dropped the final seven episodes of its hit series “Ozark” last Friday and by the end of the weekend, many viewers had binged the show’s last hours and savored the concluding moments with the Byrde family, Ruth Langmore and the rest of the regular ensemble members. Heck, some had gobbled it up by late afternoon April 29 and were already debating its divisive finale online.

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Over the years, the story of Chicago-based financial advisor Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman) — who moves with his wife Wendy (Laura Linney) and children Jonah (Skylar Gaertner) and Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz) to Missouri’s Ozarks to launder money — became a commercial and critical success for the streaming service, nabbing 32 Emmy Award nominations so far. In a sea of memorable supporting characters, no one stood out more than Ruth (two-time Emmy winner Julia Garner), part of a local family involved with crime activities. Ruth’s salty language, as well as her ability to go toe to toe with the Byrdes (and others), made her a fan favorite.

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“Ozark” was a coup for the Georgia film industry, a watercooler hit that soared due largely to word of mouth. Unlike “The Walking Dead,” another series shot in the area that has lost a lot of its audience over the years and is wrapping up as well, “Ozark” seemed to gain momentum. Showrunner Chris Mundy could have stretched out his series, which debuted in 2017, over several more seasons but wisely decided to end it after four, the first half of which began airing in January.

“The impact of hosting a series like ‘Ozark’ in Georgia cannot be overstated,” says Lee Thomas, director of the Georgia Film Office. “In season four alone, this production had a direct spend of more than $57 million on 1,385 Georgia crew members, more than $1 million on off-duty police and $5.4 million in location fees and permit fees to local communities.

“But, in addition to the dollars spent here, Georgia gets the promotional value and associated tourism of being home to one of the most critically acclaimed and highest-rated shows of all time,” Thomas continues, “That is something Georgia, and only Georgia, will own in perpetuity.”

Filmed largely around Canton and Woodstock, with Lake Allatoona and Lake Lanier standing in for the Lake of the Ozarks, the series also shot a major encounter between some of its characters at North DeKalb Mall. The fourth season showcases recognizable downtown and Midtown Atlanta sites.

The series also provided roles to several Atlanta performers. Bethany Anne Lind (Grace Young), Madison Thompson (Erin Pierce) and Sharon Blackwood (Eugenia Dermody), among others, appeared throughout the run, and David de Vries and Deadra Moore can be seen in the second half of the final season. Most prominent of them all, though, was Tess Malis Kincaid, who appeared most frequently in season four as Special Agent in Charge Hannah Clay. Her character also became a meme when her photo with Clay’s memorable line, “Do better than you’ve been doing” became a GIF.

“Ozark” went to some dark places — and stayed there. It reached its creative peak in its third season. The drama was known for moments of shocking violence, especially its blood-soaked finales, where many characters met their end. Yet it also had moments where the devastation was emotional. As Wendy was becoming more of a willing accomplice to Marty, her bipolar brother Ben (Tom Pelphrey) entered the picture, living with the Byrdes for a while, and got a little too involved. That led to a heartbreaking ending and a defining moment for Wendy. That season secured Emmys for Garner as Best Supporting Actress in a Drama and for Bateman as a director. For my money, Linney and the show itself were just as worthy.

The first half of the fourth season, which premiered in January, was almost on a par with Breaking Bad, a show to which it has been compared in its intensity, and logged 4 billion viewing minutes alone for the week beginning January 24.

That’s what makes the last seven episodes so disappointing. One cliffhanger is resolved way too quickly; another cliffhanger turns out not to be not much of one at all; and “Ozark” comes to a standstill when Marty heads to Mexico to assure the Navarro cartel family, headed up by imprisoned Omar (Felix Solis), that he is still capable of running the family business.

Some moments do retain the white-knuckle tension for which the series has become known, and one new character makes a splash. Omar’s sister Camila, wonderfully played by Veronica Falcón, is reminiscent of Wendy in her devotion to her family and her ruthlessness.

Ruth’s drive to abandon her past and lead a clean life also is richly developed, but if there is a series MVP, it’s Linney. No other character has gone through the kind of transition Wendy Byrde has. She was never a true villain but was oftentimes the scariest character around. Forget the Navarros, Wendy could shred a character in her own inimitable manner. For most of the last season, after Ben’s death, she could be almost unendurable and cold, but a run-in with her father and a bout with her own mental illness humanizes her some.

Yet the “Sopranos”-like ambiguous final scene is likely to divide viewers, and I must say, I hated it with a passion. As in, I-almost-hurled-a-remote-control-at-the-television hated. It was both commendable and true to the series that it didn’t attempt a tidy ending. That it dripped with pure cynicism was harder to digest. For what it’s worth, though, others have applauded it and pointed out that the ending does feel very today, where power, greed and bad behavior win out. As in life, people who deserve happy endings don’t always get them, and others who deserve far more severe consequences for their actions hopscotch through life.

Had the second half of the season had the same ferociousness of the first, it might have been a favorite for this year’s Emmy Award for Drama Series. HBO’s “Succession” remains the current favorite, even if its viewers considered it an off-season, but the category has no shoo-in winner.

Maybe, as Ruth stated so memorably, I don’t know s*** about f***, but for a series that got so much right over the years, I think “Ozark’s” final half-season makes a few too many narrative mistakes. Yet all in all, it didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for the show as a whole. It did Atlanta and the state proud.


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