Sunday, December 3, 2023

Wendy Byrde was the real villain in Ozark, and here’s why

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After four tense seasons, Ozark, one of the best shows on Netflix, it’s finally over. Each main character had a heartbreaking, emotional arc that carried fans on a twisted journey, making them see the world with their unique eyes. As in similar shows, the Byrdes were an average everyday family who reluctantly got caught up in the criminal underworld, which they naively thought would be easy to get out of.

As they were forced to dive deeper and deeper into the illegal drug trade, they became ruthless, sometimes cruel, gamblers in the game – if for no reason other than the need to save their own lives. Financial wizard Marty, played by Jason Bateman, seemed to be the only one desperate to get out. He kept his moral compass and a sense of empathy to the end. Laura Linney’s Wendy, on the other hand, was a different story.

Note: Spoilers forward for the season finale.

Wendy and her unfortunate beginnings

Tina Rowden / Netflix

At first, Wendy was visibly unhappy with her life. She resented her husband, and to some extent, her children, to keep her from pursuing her career. That anger was later reinforced when she discovered the danger her husband had put them in with his illegal extracurricular activities.

Ozark seemed at first like Breaking Bad meet Narcissists, besides Marty, the supposed protagonist, became more like the experienced and quick-thinking Saul Goodman, who was called upon to bring out disgusting delinquents out of jam, and Wendy was the female Walter White who saw an opportunity beyond just doing what they were told.

Wendy talking to Omar in prison at a scene in Ozark.

She quickly embraced her newly found leadership role, enjoying the power she possessed, even if she had to look over her shoulder at every turn. She prospered in making decisions to benefit her personal interests, regardless of whether they hurt anyone else. She convinced herself and others that it was just a matter of winning scenarios. If they have to do that, why not take advantage of it in the best possible way, even if it means hanging out a little longer?

Most annoying is that Wendy did this with a sense of critical ease. Whether the decision directly harmed Marty, threatened Ruth’s life, or stabbed a former partner in the back, she showed little fear with her contented, threatening smile.

Wendy and Jonah standing outside in Ozark's scene.
Tina Rowden / Netflix

Wendy’s terrible dominance affected everyone around her, including her children, who grew up to deeply dislike her mother. It’s easy to believe that her dramatic theater begging her father not to take them was simply to preserve aspects because of her foundation. How could she be trusted by the public if she wasn’t a loving wife and mother, after all? Her motives were partly self-serving and partly fear of her father’s tyrannical influence turning her children against her.

Pretty compelling action

Wendy with a cut on her forehead staring into space at Ozark's scene.

There is evidence of Laura Linney’s performance that she could bring to life a character that fans have so deeply despised with more and more intensity each season. Marty was not an angel, but it seemed that, before the end, he only accompanied her decisions out of fear. He did not dare to challenge her, partly because of her unstable nature but also because of her guilt for getting them into the chaos in the first place. It’s a point that Wendy has always made sure to reject him.

Wendy was an extraordinary character Ozark, with a slowly burning bow that fans did not see coming, despite the subtle suggestion that there was something darker brewing beneath her. Wendy used her knowledge, influence, and skills to handle situations, and the more recognition or doubt she received, the more ruthless she became. She had something to prove, and it was finally her time to prove it.

Wendy and Marty sitting in a meeting in Ozark.
Tina Rowden / Netflix

It makes one wonder: Was Wendy really upset about Marty’s illegal business in the very beginning, or was she jealous that he had found the extra excitement in her life that she so coveted?

Perhaps it was a harbinger when, in an earlier season, Jacob Snell said to Marty about his wife Darlene: “What are you doing, Martin, when the bride who took your breath away becomes the wife who makes you hold your breath in terror?” Wendy may not have been as cruel and murderous as Darlene, but she was certainly as cunning and ruthless.

Ozark had its share of antagonists during its four seasons, but looking back, Wendy posed more of a threat to her family than anyone else. She just masked her wickedness with a cold smile.

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