Warning: contains major spoilers for Ozark season 3.
Wendy Byrde may sound like the name of a cutesy cartoon character, but don’t let that fool you. Inside Laura Linney’s Ozark character beats the heart of an ambitious schemer with a taste for chaos. In seasons one and two, Marty’s wife Wendy was a reluctant passenger on the Byrde family journey into money laundering for a Mexican drug cartel, but in season three, she took the wheel.
It was always in her. The arrival of Wendy’s troubled younger brother Ben (Tom Pelphrey) in season three opened a window into her past. Wendy Davis had been a tough, wayward teen from a poor background who got her kicks breaking into empty houses and messing with rich people’s things. On a return trip to Chicago in the season three opener, she broke into the Byrdes’ former home and pulled her old tricks. Respectable Wendy was over, went the message, the scratching wildcat was back. That much was decided in the season two finale, when Wendy nixed Marty’s plans to run away to the Australian gold coast, and ordered the murder of Ruth Langmore’s father Cade. She’d decided that it was always better to be the person holding the gun than the person running from the gunman.
It wasn’t just about survival and protection; Wendy got a thrill from the situation Marty had landed them in as money launderers for the Navarro cartel. Life as a PR advisor on political campaigns didn’t offer the same excitement. As Wendy told Ben before she reluctantly had him killed for the risk he posed to her and her kids, “fighting for your life makes every other thing you ever did before seem extremely dull.”
Wendy’s ascent in the Navarro operation didn’t come without a fight, but her chief adversary wasn’t Julia Garner’s Ruth, Lisa Emery’s Darlene Snell or even Janet McTeer’s cartel lawyer Helen Pierce; it was her own husband Marty (Jason Bateman). When Marty preached caution, Wendy pushed for expansion. Where he saw danger, she saw opportunity. Learning that the bloody war between rivals the Navarro and Lagunas cartels was drawing FBI heat, Wendy pitched for Omar Navarro (Felix Solis) to move into legitimate business to provide his kids – and hers – with a safety net should he be killed or the agency seize his illegal assets. She wanted a chain of casinos and hotels in the Navarro operation, while Marty only wanted out. And so began the season of Byrde vs. Byrde.
Wendy vs. Marty
After Wendy’s season one affair and Marty’s secret foray into crime, trust had never been high between the Byrdes, but in season three, it was at an all-time low. When Helen Pierce forced the couple into counselling for the good of the operation, first Marty paid off their therapist Sue to lead Wendy around to his way of thinking, and then Wendy tried to do the same. (The therapist was doomed after she spent the Byrdes’ cash on an attention-drawing car, and became a liability who knew too much. Helen had her murdered and her flashy car pushed into the lake.)
Marty spied on Wendy’s secret phone calls to Omar Navarro, who was relying more and more on her insight, and attempted to sabotage her purchase of a second river boat casino – the Big Muddy – behind her back. He paid Frank Jr, son of the Kansas City mob boss, to burn down a rival casino, thus inflating the profits of the Big Muddy and making the owners reluctant to sell. In the end, Wendy got her way and bought the new casino after she and Ruth bankrupted the business and forced the sale by fixing the Big Muddy slot machines to continually pay out.
Darlene and Wyatt’s affair
Not all of Wendy’s plans came through in season three – she failed to regain custody of baby Zeke (the child of Pastor Mason, cut by Darlene from his mother’s belly after Mason refused to continue the Snell heroin-in-prayer-books operation). In season three, Darlene paid Wyatt Langmore’s bail after he was arrested for staying in empty vacation properties. She took him in, gave him a job and despite their age difference, the two became lovers. Darlene confessed to having poisoned her husband Jacob, and Wyatt told her that Ruth had electrocuted his father and their uncle, which is why he’d left the family home.
Wendy’s feud with Darlene Snell had terrible consequences in season three’s penultimate episode. Ben had fallen in love with Ruth Langmore, and gone off his bipolar medication so that they could have a sexual relationship. This made his behaviour increasingly erratic and he escalated the feud between Ruth and Frank Jr after Frank had Ruth locked in the back of a delivery truck as payment for her throwing him over the edge of the Missouri Belle. When Navarro rivals the Lagunas gunned down Frank Jr’s men during a cash delivery to Ruth (from which she escaped because Ben and his nephew Jonah were tracking it by drone so could warn her), Frank Jr assumed Ruth had ordered the attack, and savagely beat her.
Frank Jr’s attack on Ruth led to Marty severing ties with Frank Sr and the Kansas City mob, and Ben becoming seriously unwell. Having learned of the Byrde family’s money laundering, Ben crashed the launch of Wendy’s charitable foundation and publicly accused Marty of being a criminal. Wendy and Marty then had Ben committed to an institution. Ruth wanted to help Ben, and Darlene Snell wanted to hurt Wendy, so Darlene arranged for Ben to be released from the hospital by blackmailing a local cop. That left Ben on the loose, unpredictable, and with a lot of dangerous knowledge. He went to Helen’s house and told her teenage daughter Erin about her role in the cartel, which Helen denied until Erin got confirmation from Charlotte Byrde, then left to live with her father. Furious, Helen ordered Ben’s murder, but Wendy took him on the run.
On Wendy and Ben’s road trip, he repeatedly drew attention to himself, once calling the police to hand himself in, and then calling Helen to apologise. Wendy painfully realised that he was too great a liability and would put her and her children at risk if allowed to stay alive, so she turned him over to Helen’s assassin. RIP, Ben, who ended up as a pile of ashes cremated at the Byrde funeral home.
Blaming Helen for his uncle Ben’s death, Jonah Byrde confronted her with a shotgun and was told that Wendy was the one who turned Ben in. 14-year-old Jonah had taken to criminality easily, and in season two used the fake ID Wendy and the kids almost escaped with previously to open bank accounts under false identities and start his own online ‘gold’ farming and money laundering racket. Charlotte on the other hand, wanted out of her family and tried to sue for emancipation before realising that there was no safe way out.
Marty’s ersatz daughter Ruth also moved away from him in season three. After being hospitalised by Frank Jr, she was frustrated by Marty’s lack of response, and his disinterest in her all season. When Darlene Snell shot Frank Jr in the genitals as retribution for the attack, Ruth quit Marty’s business and went to work for Darlene’s newly resurrected poppy-growing heroin business. The season ended with Ruth, Wyatt and Three all working for Darlene (despite Wyatt having got into college by writing a killer application essay about his family’s ‘curse’). Darlene also mopped up another ex-Byrde associate by joining forces in the heroin trade with Frank Sr, to make amends for mutilating his son.
Agent Miller and the FBI audit
As well as trying to out-manoeuvre Wendy, Marty spent season three with the FBI breathing down his neck. Agent Maya Miller set up shop at the Missouri Belle casino to conduct a full audit of Marty’s businesses, knowing that he was laundering cartel money but requiring proof. Miller tried to turn Marty, offering him a deal to come and work with the FBI after serving an 18-month prison sentence. Marty at first accepts, but ultimately turns her down after he’s kidnapped by Navarro and held in his compound. Then Marty tries to bribe Miller with career-making intel on other major financial fraud. His plan was to then use that to blackmail Miller into acting in Navarro’s interests in the cartel war. Miller didn’t take the bait.
After Ben outed Helen Pierce’s criminality to her daughter, she wanted to cut the Byrdes out of the whole operation. She told Navarro they were a liability and she wanted to take over their businesses, told the Byrdes that Navarro wanted her made a co-signatory on their businesses, and then lied to the FBI, telling Trevor that Marty wanted to confess in exchange for witness protection. She planned to show Marty’s false confession to Navarro and have him kill them.
The Byrdes’ plan was better. Marty used Jonah’s drone footage of the Laguna cartel’s attack on the Kansas City mob and told her how to trace it back to the Navarro rivals. Taking the Laguna cartel out of the picture, especially after they gunned down his family at the baptism of his new son, was more valuable to Navarro than anything Helen offered. He also liked Wendy’s futureproofing move into legitimate investments and the protection it offered his surviving family. Helen’s daughter knowing about her work was also an unnecessary risk, especially when she was unlikely to sacrifice Erin as Wendy Byrde had sacrificed Ben. So when the Byrdes and Helen arrived in Mexico for the rescheduled baptism, Navarro had Helen shot in front of them and welcomed them to a new era. The Byrdes were left with Helen’s considerable brains splattered all over their face, and a new role as the Navarro cartel’s primary US fixers.
Ozark Season 4 arrives on Netflix on Friday January 21st.