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

After four gripping seasons, Ozark, one of the best shows on Netflix, has finally come to an end. Every main character had a heart-wrenching, emotional arc that took fans on a twisted journey, making them see the world through their unique eyes. Like on similar shows, the Byrdes were an average, everyday family that got reluctantly caught up in the criminal underworld they naively thought would be easy to exit.

As they were forced to dive deeper and deeper into the illegal drug trade, they became ruthless, sometimes cruel, players in the game — if for no reason than a necessity to spare their own lives. Financial whiz Marty, played by Jason Bateman, appeared to be the only one desperate to get out. He maintained his moral compass and sense of empathy through to the end. Laura Linney’s Wendy, however, was a different story.

Note: Spoilers ahead for the season finale.

Wendy and her unhappy beginnings

Wendy standing with her hands in her pockets looking at a despondent Marty in a scene from Ozark.
Tina Rowden / Netflix

At the onset, Wendy was visibly dissatisfied with her life. She resented her husband, and to some degree, her children, for keeping her from pursuing her career. This anger was later intensified when she discovered the danger her husband put them in with his illegal extra-curricular activities.

Ozark seemed initially like Breaking Bad meets Narcos, except Marty, the assumed protagonist, became more like the knowledgeable and quick-thinking Saul Goodman, who was called upon to get nefarious wrongdoers out of a jam, and Wendy was the female Walter White who saw opportunity beyond just doing what they were told.

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

She quickly embraced her newfound leadership role, relishing in the power she possessed, even if she had to look over her shoulder at every turn. She thrived at making decisions to benefit her personal interests, regardless of if they hurt anybody else. She convinced herself, and others, that it was just about win-win scenarios. If they have to do this, why not benefit from it in the best possible way, even if it meant hanging around a little longer?

Most troubling is that Wendy did this with a sense of unsettling ease. Whether the decision directly put Marty in harm’s way, threatened Ruth’s life, or stabbed a former partner in the back, she showed little fear with her smug, menacing smile.

Wendy and Jonah standing outside in a scene from Ozark.
Tina Rowden / Netflix

Wendy’s reign of terror affected everyone around her, including her children, who grew to deeply dislike their mother. It’s easy to believe that her dramatic theatrics when begging her father not to take them were simply to keep up appearances for the sake 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 part self-serving and part fear of her father’s tyrannical influence turning her kids against her.

A beautifully convincing performance

Wendy with a cut on her forehead staring into space in a scene from Ozark.

It’s a testament to Laura Linney’s performance that she could bring to life a character that fans so deeply despised with more and more intensity each season. Marty was no angel, but it appeared that, by the end, he was just going along with her decisions out of fear. He didn’t dare challenge her, in part because of her unstable nature but also due to his guilt for getting them into the mess in the first place. It’s a point Wendy always made sure to throw back at him.

Wendy was a breakout character on Ozark, with a slow-burning arc that fans didn’t see coming, despite the subtle hint that there was something darker brewing beneath her. Wendy used her knowledge, influence, and skills to manipulate situations, and the more recognition or doubt she got, 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 dealings in the very beginning, or was she jealous that he found the extra excitement in his life that she so craved?

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

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

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