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The ending of Ozark season 3 explained

To quote Ron Burgundy, "Well, that escalated quickly."

Since Ozark debuted on Netflix back in 2017, it's begged comparisons to another crime drama about a family man drifting to the dark side. In the beginning, those comparisons were pretty apt. Both Breaking Bad and Ozark concerned white collar guys who step out of their comfort zones to make a little extra cash in the drug game, but as they find themselves more and more entangled in a seedy criminal underworld of mobsters, cartels and money laundering, they find that they're starting to actually enjoy the power and respect that the lifestyle affords them.

For a while, both male protagonists seemed like they were following similar arcs, but that all changed on the season 3 finale. As a result, season 3 will likely be remembered as the moment when Ozark stepped out from the shadow of Breaking Bad and became its own thing. Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman) was always a bit of a knock-off version of Bryan Cranston's Walter White. Whereas Cranston turned Walt into a compelling anti-hero — someone the audience couldn't help but root for — Bateman's Byrde has always seemed more like a slimeball narcissist doing his best Icarus routine out in rural Missouri. We're all just waiting for Byrde's wings to melt.

Fortunately, there seems to be a reason for the Byrde family's hard pivot toward unlikability. What the ending of season 3 showed us is that — unlike Walter White — Marty Byrde is actually willing to bring his whole family into the drug business for a shot to stay on top. He's finally broken bad in a way that Walt never did, and it's set him on a collision course with the series' real hero: Ruth Langmore (the Emmy-winning Julia Garner).

So what exactly transpired on the season's final hour, and what does it mean for Ozark going forward?

The season 3 finale of Ozark dragged the whole Byrde family into the Navarro Cartel

Season 3 gave audiences the closest look yet at Omar Navarro (Felix Solis), the cartel kingpin, and boy, was it worth the wait. He spent much of the season courting Marty's estranged wife Wendy (Laura Linney), and drawing her deeper into his criminal enterprise. Wendy took the opportunity to fully embrace the outlaw lifestyle, and ultimately proved her loyalty to Navarro by ordering the death of her brother, Ben (Tom Pelphrey), to protect the cartel's business interests. This display of commitment earns Wendy a reciprocal gesture from Navarro himself. The drug lord tosses his lot in with the Byrde family, cutting ties with his longtime attorney, Helen Pierce (Janet McTeer).

Why kill Pierce and double down on the duplicitous Byrdes? Well, Pierce's season-long effort to foil the Byrdes likely caused too much trouble for Navarro. Rather than try to untangle the animosity built up between Pierce and his new proteges, Navarro just picked a side. The fact that Wendy had already proven her loyalty in a pretty dramatic fashion likely sealed the deal.

So Wendy's gone outlaw, and Marty's already a lost cause, but what about the kids? Well, they both appear to be following in their parents' footsteps. Jonah Byrde (Skylar Gaertner) leveled a loaded shotgun at Helen Pierce, and Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz) proved she's just as adept as her mother when it comes to shaking people down. Come season 4, it looks we're going to see the entire Byrde family all in on the criminal action.

The season 3 finale of Ozark was a major turning point for the series

On the final episode of season 3, entitled "All In," Helen Pierce decided to take the Byrdes out once and for all after spending the entire season attempting to fight them by non-lethal means. Her plan didn't exactly go off without a hitch.

Navarro invited Marty, Helen, and Wendy to board his private plane to attend his son's second baptism. This wasn't some kind of obscure religious ritual — it was just a redo, since the first baptism resulted in mass murder. At this point, Helen put herself into position to take over the Byrdes' riverboat casino after they're out of the picture. She added her name to the gaming license and told Navarro that everything was ready for her to assume control. Navarro, though, turned the tables on his long-standing consigliere. By sending the FBI after Navarro's rival cartel, and offing Ben (who was threatening to expose the whole Missouri enterprise), Marty and Wendy won Navarro's trust. In the final scene of the season, one of Navarro's thugs shot Pierce, and Navarro offered an embrace to the newly-anointed Byrdes — a kind of baptism in blood. "This is a beginning," he told them.

Showrunner Chris Mundy explained the significance of this ending in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, saying, "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."

What happened to Ruth Langmore on the Ozark season 3 finale?

If you've been watching closely, you already know that Ruth Langmore has been the heart of Ozark since the beginning. Watching her break free from her abusive family and nuzzle up under the dark wings of Marty Byrde has been equal parts fascinating and heartbreaking. Season 3 wasn't just a turning point for the Byrdes' relationship with the Navarro Cartel; it was also a turning point for Ruth's relationship with the Byrdes, and that shift may turn out to be even more significant.

Through much of season 3, we saw Ruth begin to question her allegiance to the Byrdes, but it's the death of Ben that finally pushed her over the edge. The fact that Wendy was willing to order the death of her mentally ill sibling just to protect her criminal enterprise revealed the true ugliness of the Byrde clan, and it was too much for Ruth to take. Who would have thought that Ruth Langmore would turn out to be the only character on Ozark with a functioning moral compass?

While Ozark season 4 hasn't officially been ordered yet by Netflix, Mundy and his creative team have set up an epic grudge match between the carpetbagging Byrdes and the local criminal resistance led by Ruth. That'll be something worth seeing.