Ozark boss breaks down season 3's bloody ending, teases season 4
Warning: This article contains spoilers for Ozark season 3.
"And away we go."
You have no idea, Helen! Ozark returned for its third season, and many believe the Emmy-winning Netflix drama has never been better. If you ask us, the busy, bloody finale should only bolster those claims. The action truly picks up when Wendy (Laura Linney) comes home from her parking lot bender, the result of handing her brother Ben (Tom Pelphrey) over to be killed. Unbeknownst to Wendy and Marty (Jason Bateman), Helen (Janet McTeer) is making a move against them, which includes going out on her own to get a deal for Marty to testify against their boss, Navarro (Felix Solis). Thankfully, Marty devises his own plan and gives Maya (Jessica Francis Dukes) enough information to take down Navarro's rival. With Helen, Wendy, and Marty all set to fly to Mexico to meet with the kingpin, Marty gets a warning from Maya that word is he's turning on Navarro. He still gets on the plane, and when they arrive at the compound in Mexico, Navarro welcomes them as Helen is shot in the head, spilling blood on a shocked Wendy and Marty. "Today is a beginning," Navarro declares as he hugs his new power couple.
Stepping back before that season-ending shocker, let's recap where we leave the rest of the Ozarks citizens: Ruth (Julia Garner), who had fallen for Ben, is done with the Byrdes (despite Wendy's assertion, you apparently can quit a drug cartel) and now aligned with Darlene (Lisa Emery) and Wyatt (Charlie Tahan); Darlene is also partnering up with Frank Cosgrove Sr. (John Bedford Lloyd); Jonah (Skylar Gaertner) is not handling the loss of his uncle well; and Sam (Kevin L. Johnson) has been arrested for helping launder money through the casino.
To break down the season and learn what's next, EW hopped on the phone with Ozark showrunner Chris Mundy, who dished on that bloody final scene, the status of Wendy and Marty's relationship, and the Byrdes' deal with the devil.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: That was quite the scene to end a season on! Why did that feel like the perfect final moment?
CHRIS MUNDY: We thought of the first third of the season as Marty vs. Wendy, and Wendy kind of wins that battle, and then it transitions to this tentative alliance between Wendy and Helen, and by extension Wendy and Marty vs. Helen. By the time it came to the end, we really wanted to hold that tension of these two things cannot cohabitate, somebody's got to win this battle, because Navarro isn't going to put up with anything unstable and he was going to have to pick a side. The whole last episode starts in a very tentative way because there's fallout from things that happened in episode 9, and once it clicks into gear we didn't want it to stop until the very last possible second.
For you, if we're in Navarro's mindset, why Wendy and Marty over Helen?
As good as Helen is, there's other lawyers in the world. But Wendy and Marty have now pulled off two impossibilities for him. One is getting a casino to launder through in the first place, which is sort of the holy grail of money laundering. And the second is that, at least in Navarro's mind, their claim that they have the FBI on their side and can swing the power of the U.S. government in the intervention in the drug war against their rivals, that's something virtually no one else can do, and that essentially tipped the scales for Marty and Wendy.
The show played the slow burn with Navarro, finally bringing him fully into the fold in season 3. What made this the time to add him to the mix in more than just name?
We wanted him to be a real person, and I mean that not just as a character, but we wanted him to feel like a real person when we met him. As we were breaking season 3, we originally thought we would use him less, and then we just really loved what the actor, Felix, did, and we loved grounding it as much as we could. Every year we like to think that our world just keeps getting bigger — but hopefully naturally so. If there's always been this pressure that's been exerted on us from the cartel and Mexico, it just felt like a natural extension to actually see it and be there. We want the world to grow in the same way that our characters are growing.
Maybe even more chilling than Helen's death was Navarro hugging Wendy and Marty while they're covered in blood and saying, "Today is a beginning." Beginning of what? What will this blood partnership mean moving forward?
Marty kind of said it in the speech that he gives to try and get Wendy out of bed, which is that we have to burrow all the way into the center of this thing. To us, it's that. It's, you're a vital part of this enterprise now and you're completely on his radar, to the point where he's commingling his or someone else's blood with yours, you're sharing in that. And so, for better or worse, you're completely in this game, and now it's yours to see if you have another play left in you.
Laura Linney really continues to rise to new levels with her performance. While Wendy now seems even more all in than Marty, this season was a real test for her, culminating with the decision to serve Ben up. What's it been like plotting out the evolution of that character, and then just getting to watch Laura kill it?
We all sit around in the editing room and go, "Oh my God, we're so lucky that Laura Linney is in our show, I can't even believe it." Honestly, anything you give her to do, she just makes it twice as good as it even deserves to be. So some of it is just recognizing good fortune. Laura said early on that she thought a lot of the characters on our show — and maybe this is a good thing — didn't really know who they were yet. And we talk about that a lot in the writers' room. Wendy is becoming the person that she already was, she's now using the part that grew up in Boone, N.C., the part that went to Chicago and had this power-broker life. And the Ozarks fused those two places together, and she and this situation heightened all her instincts, so it's almost like she's coming home to herself a little bit. While Marty and some of the others are trying to figure out who they are, she's just settling into what's always been in there. Laura, especially with her theater background, loves to know the long, arching path of things so she can really build it. She's building things in her performance in season 1 that she knows are tiny little things that will be in there and you'll feel them when she makes the turn in season 2 or season 3.
By season's end, Marty and Wendy are showing true affection and seem like real partners, despite all the bumps in the road between them. Are Marty and Wendy somehow even closer than ever now?
I think in some ways. Part of what they've come to understand in season 3 is that they've each tried to do it completely on their own and the whole thing doesn't work unless they're actually doing it together. They're both smart and capable and willing to do some things, but it's not enough until there's the two of them. The end of season 3 brought that into sharp relief, so that's where they are, and I think they both feel it — and not just as an intellectual thing, it's finally sort of an emotional realization.
What did you want to explore with Ruth this season? And why did you like the idea of splitting her from the Byrdes by season's end?
Ruth's arc is that she thought she wanted to be Byrde and realized that not only is it okay to be a Langmore, she actually prefers to be a Langmore. We've always played with this idea of locals vs. outsiders, and now the Byrdes are kind of both, in a way. Since season 1 we've talked about them as a sort of invasive species on this region and all the things that would have been different if they had never landed there. But there's a real allure there for Ruth and there's a real emotion in the Marty relationship. He's the first person who ever recognized how smart and competent she was, and he's been like a surrogate father in a way, but at the same time sometimes you've got to grow past that, and that's what she's coming to realize.
Speaking of Ruth, that blowup between her and Wendy in the finale was one of the best scenes of the season. Obviously, the Ruth and Marty relationship has been explored much more than Ruth and Wendy, so why make this separation come down to them?
Again, it's one of those times where Julia and Laura just made it better than I ever could have imagined; they're both just so good, and it's just so raw for both of them, so I'm really glad it plays. I think the interesting thing about those two really going at it is that in a way, they're mirrors of each other. Ruth's not that far removed from what Wendy would have been if she had stayed in Boone and then had this fall into her lap. Wendy went off and got a level of sophistication in Chicago, and the Byrdes kind of pulled Ruth into a level of sophistication. They're both at their core very similar people and recognize that in each other, so letting him go at it for four pages was really super-fun.
Darlene looks so happy watching Wyatt and Ruth standing together in her field. What is her motivation here? Is this her finding the family she's been looking for?
Everything is about legacy with her. It's why she wanted a son, it's why she figured out how to get Zeke, and it's what her fights with Jacob were about. Getting Ruth means it's more likely she keeps Wyatt close, and the two of them can be together, and Darlene can glimpse her own future and then the future once she's gone and Zeke is getting older. For the first time there's something that is local-grown that she can see is going forward and will have power there. In that moment, it's satisfaction that she was right all along.
Between Wendy, Helen, Darlene, and Ruth, it was quite a season for the women of Ozark. Was that coincidental, or did you really want to put an emphasis on diving deep with these female characters?
Even in season 2 I felt like all our female characters ran the show in a lot of ways. We want to tell the best story we can with the most interesting people we can, whoever they are. Obviously Ruth's character from the beginning was something that we were really interested in, like how can this young, almost feral girl in this world of overly macho men not only survive, but thrive? She's so strong, and we love that strength. So if you follow that character, then you're just going to keep growing and growing. And Wendy's growth we talked about. So some of it is just pretty natural. I don't think we're trying to send a message, we're just trying to highlight really interesting people.
While he show hasn't officially been renewed, a fourth season seems extremely likely. I'm sure it's so early in the process, but what should we expect from a season 4?
Well, if we're lucky enough to get a season 4, I think it will be about whether or not Ruth really can create something of her own that she wants and is sustainable, or if she wants something else. And I think it will be about if the Byrdes can they turn the biggest mistake of their lives into this huge advantage, and how much will karma catch up with them if they do?