As the final series of Ozark premieres on Netflix today, the true strength of the popular show lies with the strong women at the centre of it, according to one Stylist writer.
Warning: this article contains minor spoilers for Ozark.
It’s Ozark day. Ask any fan of the hit series, and we’ll tell you we’ve been waiting for this day for a long time. Nearly two whole years, to be precise.
Having recently rewatched the previous three seasons (to brush up on my Ozark memory and just to revel in the excellence of the series), one thing struck out to me in a more glaring fashion than ever before.
The series, created by Bill Dubuque and Mark Williams, follows the Byrde family and their extraordinary turn from mundane suburban life to running a dangerous criminal enterprise. Using the picturesque Ozarks in Missouri as its backdrop, the series explores capitalism, relatable family dynamics and how the Byrdes manage to survive in their new (money laundering) surroundings.
For me, Ruth Langmore (played by Julia Garner) and Wendy Byrde (Laura Linney) are not only the crux of why you should watch Ozark, but are also the reason that you’ll continue to lap up each hour-long episode with the excitement that only truly excellent TV warrants.
What I love the most about these two individual characters is the fact that, as a viewer, we go on such a rollercoaster of a journey through them both.
If you were to ask me what I thought of Wendy Byrde in the first season of Ozark, I’d tell you simply that I had no patience for her. Not only did she cheat on innocent-appearing Marty (Jason Bateman), she was prepared to steal his money, run away with her lover and then proceed to blame Marty for the Mexican cartel-related mess they found themselves in.
Fast forward to season two, though, and Wendy becomes the quick-thinking genius and hands-on conspirator that really taught all viewers to not judge a book by its cover.
As well as a traumatic back story of miscarriage, family upheaval and an unreliable brother, Wendy also embodies the fact that stay-at-home mothers should never be underestimated. Being politically minded and finally being able to put her past career to current use, her decision-making is cut-throat, she’s nearly always two steps ahead of whoever they encounter (or Marty) and her character arc from being distrusted to series heroine is one to be admired.
The same can be said of Ruth. When we meet her, she’s stolen Marty’s (badly hidden) stash of pre-laundered money and is conspiring with her uncles on how to hide it. She wages a personal war with Marty, forging a plan to kill him and upend his operation.
Instead, though, she finds solace in the Byrdes – a far cry away from her raucous family of conmen. Ruth is undoubtedly my favourite character in the series, not least because she’s always been unashamed in vocalising her opinion, but also because of her genuine good nature at just wanting the best for her small family.
Her loyalty – which was once questioned at the very beginning – is undeniable also. On top of being a teenage manager of a strip club, she also survived being waterboarded by the cartel and even killed her uncles so they wouldn’t kill Marty.
While the new series sees Ruth switch allegiances, I can’t help but wonder that at the heart of her actions is always a desire to understand and appreciate the Byrdes.
Of course, in season four, this ideal could all go up in smoke but something tells me that while Ruth is a tough, no-nonsense person, she also loves to hate Wendy and Marty in only the way that a close family member could.
Both Ruth and Wendy’s arcs as characters contribute to the wider message of Ozark: you can’t make snap assumptions about people because you truly never know what will happen next.
While TV is doing a better job of showcasing female characters in all their facets, Ozark is superbly leading the way. Ruth and Wendy aren’t perfect, nor do they strive to be.
They live, learn and love in the way that women the world over do, but also show that running businesses, leading negotiations and refusing to take a backseat in the male-dominated, Republican world of Missouri is what they do best.
The clichés that follow dramas around are those of wives dependent on husbands to rescue them or young women too fearful of taking matters into their own hands. It would have been easy for Ruth and Wendy to have fallen into those tropes but they’ve never been close to being damsels in distress.
In Ozark, women take the lead in the most commendable of ways and while we’re yet to see what’s in store for Ruth and Wendy, we can guarantee that they’ll do everything but fall by the wayside.
Ozark season four: part one is available to stream on Netflix now.