Ozark: Did Wendy Byrde Deserve To Be Punished?

Wendy Byrde (Laura Linney) is Ozark's most ruthless and efficient character. Did she need to properly pay for her sins in the final season?

Wendy Byrde (Laura Linney) in Ozark season 4
Photo: Netflix

This article contains spoilers for all of Ozark.

There are a lot of evil people on Ozark. The Navarro cartel was filled with your stereotypical drug villains. Morally corrupt federal agent Roy Petty (Jason Butler Harner) served as a hateable antagonist in the first couple of seasons. Darlene Snell (Lisa Emery) was the type of old hag you love to despise. Helen Pierce (Janet McTeer) showed the result of what the Byrdes would eventually become. But no person in the show was more frequently loathsome than Wendy Byrde (Laura Linney).

Wendy made decisions for four seasons that put her family and others in grave danger, even giving the go-ahead to the cartel to murder her own brother at the end of the third season. She was always ready to sacrifice anybody and everybody in the name of “getting out” and “saving her family”. Sounds a bit familiar, right? Wendy seemed to be the one in the Byrde family who was always willing to play a little dirty, falling back on her days as a politician before moving to the Ozarks. 

She didn’t really play by any rules, even those of the cartel, and this made her the ultimate loose cannon in the series. For this reason and many others, it feels like Wendy Byrde deserved to be punished for her actions. She needed to be made accountable for her horrible decisions, that you can’t do everything your way, get tons of people killed, and then walk out unscathed. 

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Well, she did. As we know after watching the series finale, Marty and Wendy are going to go back to their home in Chicago with all of their opposition in the grave. The final frame shows Wendy smiling as her son puts a bullet through Mel the private investigator (Adam Rothenberg). In many ways, Wendy is the one who manipulated her kids until they became just like her: ruthless, immoral, and willing to do anything to protect the four people within the Byrde walls. 

The fact that the writers let her walk without retribution is something that mirrors real life all too well. So many mass murderers, rapists, and atrocious felons go free every day, passed up by the U.S. justice system for other smaller criminals. Ozark could be making a statement in this way to pull open the curtain on the types of people who may walk among us without even knowing it. The fact that Wendy is a politician and the way she goes about her business is an even greater indictment on who has power in our world. 

Wendy never kills a single person in the series with her own two hands. She’s the ventriloquist, the puppet master who pulls the strings and sees the chaos ensue. This fits her professional background to an eerie tee. Presidents, congressmen, and world leaders all over the planet give orders that get people killed and ruin the lives of those who are still living. 

Wendy loves to be in that comfort zone where she’s hobnobbing with the local lawmakers, bribing lawyers to do what she wants, and threatening those who don’t do as she says. She often likes to put the onus on the other person, listing what they will be missing out on if they don’t do as she wants, never recognizing the damage she will cause. 

She’s the master manipulator and is willing to use any tactic to contort someone to her desired outcome. Wendy pretends to be mentally unwell in the final episodes to convince her children to stay with her instead of her father, a strategy that undermines the importance of mental healthcare and takes advantage of her children’s feelings for her. She likes to prey on those she deems weaker than her. Wendy views the drug game as the means for her to reach the potential she always thought she had in life. 

Is the show encouraging others to take this path of feeding their egos just because they didn’t punish her? Almost certainly not. Rather they were likely trying to demonstrate that the Byrdes are so conniving that they were destined to find a way out. And Marty shouldn’t be left off the hook just because his intentions seemed more measured. There is no good reason to launder money for a drug cartel. Yes, Marty always takes the more calculated approach to leaving the criminal life behind, but he never gets in the way of Wendy’s methods. 

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In fact, as the series came to a close, Marty was closer to Wendy than, as all of their trials and tribulations brought them together. We know how much friction there was in the Byrde marriage at the beginning (the first episode sees Wendy’s side piece falling out of a skyscraper for crying out loud), but that was because the two didn’t find anything appealing about the other at this point.

After four seasons, it appears that all of that murder and deceit that was accomplished together was what it took to appeal to both Marty and Wendy’s true beings. Not only is Wendy not punished for what she has done, but her actions made her family stronger  in the end. They’re changed people, but only because this is the type of journey Wendy wanted for her life all along. She deserved to be punished, but it makes sense that she wasn’t. Her having to go back to a non-criminal life after all of this is discipline enough. Without committing crimes, Wendy Byrde is an empty, sad human being.