‘Ozark’ Boss, Jason Bateman and Laura Linney on Avoiding a “Junk Food” Ending and the “Choicefulness” of Final Episodes

When deciding how to end Ozark, showrunner, writer and EP Chris Mundy said he wanted to honor the critically acclaimed Netflix series’ past seasons by only throwing the kinds of dramatic curveballs the show has been known for.

“I think the main thing was, we really wanted to be true to the story we were telling,” Mundy told The Hollywood Reporter at the Ozark finale premiere in New York about what to expect during the show’s final seven episodes, which drop this weekend. “We were always pretty brutal throughout the seasons, so we didn’t want to chicken out at the last second. At the same time, you want to be surprised and do things all the way up to the very end. Up until that last second or so, we wanted to stay ourselves.”

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“So there are things that will be surprising,” he added on the carpet outside the Paris Theater. “But they’ll be surprising in a way that, hopefully, we’re surprising sometimes.”

Executive producer and director Jason Bateman said that when it came to his role in wrapping four seasons of the streaming crime drama, he mostly tried to be a “good listener” and thus “good partner” to Mundy as the showrunner worked out an ending that attempts to answer some pivotal questions. That includes whether the Byrdes should pay a bill or get away with it.

“We talked in the writers room about building a myth but then creating a curse,” Murphy explained. “We wanted them to build a myth that perhaps creates their own curse, and then see what happened to them because of that curse when it all rolls out in that final 30 minutes.”

Chris Mundy - Credit: Jamie McCarthy/WireImage

Chris Mundy – Credit: Jamie McCarthy/WireImage

Jamie McCarthy/WireImage

Ultimately, Bateman said, the final set of episodes had to consider the kind of definitive statement the show wanted to make and, specifically, what message Mundy wished to send. “He had a bunch of choices that he could have made,” Bateman said. “I think he made an incredible choice to not take the junk food sort of ending of, like, a big huge crescendo, guns blazing. It is something pretty measured, consistent with his taste and what he’d been doing for episodes beforehand. It sort of ends in a way that is, I think, no more hysterical than any other ending of any other episode. It just elegantly comes to the close of symptomatic stuff, story stuff and character stuff. It just stuck it, I thought.”

That close was guided by a creative approach, Mundy told THR, that the show has always taken, which sees the writers propose the biggest questions the season will answer early on and circle back around to by the end. With how Mundy and the writers carefully plotted the show, viewers have already been pointed toward the big stakes Ozark wants to address in its finale.

“We always kind of put a stake in the ground early in the season and declare what we’re doing, and then people forget about it. And then hopefully at the end, they’re like, ‘Oh, yeah. They declared that’” Mundy said of the show’s narrative style. “Early in the first seven [of season four] when Wendy says to Jonah, ‘You need to grow up. This is America. People don’t care where your fortune came from’ — there’s things like that where we stake our claim and then say, ‘OK, we’re riding toward that.’”

The ending was also shaped by a desire to explore particular themes in the show’s final breaths. “For us, we were talking about love and family through the end — and choicefulness,” the writer and EP said. “If it’s smart to love unconditionally or if you should actually put conditions on things. Can you choose whether or not you stay in a family? How much is blood, and how much is what you decide for yourself as you grow up? Those were some things that we were cycling through a lot, emotionally, for everybody.”

The result is that, much like the seasons before it, the final seven episodes are shaped by choices. But when it comes to the Byrdes and other characters, the most crucial decision that leads to their finale fate may have been made long before the last season.

For Bateman, it was trusting that the ends justify the means, but more so “getting out of the driver’s seat and letting Wendy go do her thing.”

“Marty was pretty guilt-laden that he had gotten them all into this mess and thought maybe she’s going to get them out of that,” the Ozark star said. “So, to just kind of pull it over, let somebody else drive home for the last two seasons — it was a really interesting thing that Chris did. That power dynamic of the relationship in the family was super smart.”

For actress and star Laura Linney, the choice for her character, Wendy, a person “who represents the people who can justify very bad behavior for themselves and think they’re doing something positive,” actually happened much earlier in the series. “I think it’s the very first decision that they make that you see in the flashback in season one, where they’re at a spa and they decide to enter into a gray zone,” she told THR.

As for whether the ending will leave the door open for more Ozark in another form, there’s a “universe” that might be ripe for expansion alongside the original series, which will continue to live on, says MRC president of TV Elise Henderson. (MRC is a co-owner of The Hollywood Reporter through a joint venture with Penske Media titled PMRC.)

From left: Peter Friedlander, Elise Henderson, Ted Sarandos, Sofia Hublitz, Jason Bateman, Laura Linney, Skylar Gaertner and Chris Mundy - Credit: Jamie McCarthy/WireImage

From left: Peter Friedlander, Elise Henderson, Ted Sarandos, Sofia Hublitz, Jason Bateman, Laura Linney, Skylar Gaertner and Chris Mundy – Credit: Jamie McCarthy/WireImage

Jamie McCarthy/WireImage

“I think Ozark itself is going to live forever. I think it’s going to be one of those shows that will live in the canon of great TV from start to finish,” she told THR. “And I think that one of the coolest things about Ozark is that I would call it a world-building show. I think we built a world. There’s a universe that’s been created.”

Though, how much that universe is explored going forward is up to Mundy.

“I’ve thought about it a little bit,” he said. “If there were an organic way, I would never be closed to it.”

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