“I know I’m not easy to love,” Wendy Byrde tells her husband Marty.
“…That’s not true,” he finally says.
But it’s the pause that does the talking here. I do believe Marty still loves Wendy, in that bone-deep way that people who’ve thrown their lot in together do—despite their bitter disagreements, despite their enmeshment in criminal conspiracy after criminal conspiracy, despite their constant life-and-death danger. Or maybe not despite them, but because of them. Hard though Wendy may be to love, I can’t see Marty taking her up on her suggestion that, after it’s all said and done, she’ll understand if he leaves her. They’re simply in too deep together. And in Ozark Season 4 Episode 12 (“Trouble the Water”) may well be where they finally start drowning.
It’s not an external threat from another criminal that’s causing them to take in water this time, even though there’s plenty for them to be worried about on that front. Ruth Langmore, her criminal record freshly expunged thanks to her new ally, political power player Charles Wilkes, is plotting to take control of the Byrdes’ casino. Cartel boss Omar Navarro and his scheming sister Camila Elizondro are insisting that they start laundering more money (hard to do if and when they’ve lost their casino!). Camila is still likely plotting her brother’s assassination. Wendy has overcome her last remaining scruples and agreed to help conservative Senator Schafer rig elections in key swing states with manipulated voting machines in order to spring Navarro from prison on an accelerated schedule, to prevent him and his sister from killing them, most likely.
But the real threat to the Byrdes this time comes in the form of her father, Nathan. While his girlfriend (Jane McNeill) is busy helping their poor schlub Sam Dermody accept Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior (just what they need, a co-conspirator finding Jesus), Nathan acquires key intel from private investigator Mel Sattem indicating that Wendy was likely involved in the disappearance and death of her brother Ben. It’s enough to get Nathan to propose removing Charlotte and Jonah from Wendy and Marty’s custody, where he feels (correctly) they are in danger, so they can come live with him in North Carolina. (There’s a funny line early on where Jonah tells Charlotte he’s been up laundering money and doing his homework, so Nathan is more right than he knows.)
With the help of a crooked-cop connection provided to them by Schafer, Wendy and Marty think they’ve found a workaround for all this: getting Sattem reinstated with the Chicago Police Department, so he can no longer show up to the custodial court date. Despite the warnings of his would-be girlfriend, FBI Agent Maya Miller, to listen to his conscience, Sattem takes the deal.
Not that it winds up mattering. In a twist I didn’t see coming, the judge in the case, wise to the Byrdes’ arrest after that road rage incident last episode and at least some of the additional instability at play in the family dynamic, allows Jonah and Charlotte to choose their home for themselves. And they choose Nathan.
It’s enough to bring Wendy to her knees on the courthouse steps, looking up at her towering father, literally begging him not to take their children away. But he’s having none of it, and the kids don’t listen to their parents when they warn them that Nathan, who abused Wendy, is not a good man. After all their efforts for all this time, the family splinters.
And so does Wendy’s head afterwards, as she slams it into the car window as hard as she can.
There’s fine acting involved in all this: Jason Bateman looking more and more physically and psychically compromised and defeated every time we see him, Laura Linney making Wendy something pathetic and unlovable, Julia Garner letting Ruth’s self-loathing play on her face as she visits the man who’s been wrongfully arrested for the murder of her cousin Wyatt, a charge she’s going to let stand despite knowing better. (Ruth recognizes a fellow dirtbag when she sees one; “You sure as shit did something,” she tells the poor guy as she leaves.) And Richard Thomas is positively frightening as Nathan when he unloads on Wendy on those courthouse steps.
But there’s another bit of dialogue besides Marty’s delayed “that’s not true” that’s sticking with me. It comes when a furious Maya calls Marty to berate him for attempting (successfully, as it turns out) to seduce Mel. “If you succeed, God will still know,” she warns the Byrdes. “There’s no escape.” And, she adds to Marty, “You had a choice.” Isn’t this series of declarations what Ozark is all about? God or no God, is there a price to be paid for repeatedly doing what is expedient instead of what is right, no matter how bad the expedient thing will be? And does Marty’s long-ago choice to launder money damn them all even now?
Sean T. Collins (@theseantcollins) writes about TV for Rolling Stone, Vulture, The New York Times, and anyplace that will have him, really. He and his family live on Long Island.