Ozark spoilers ahead.
Tell me if this image seems familiar: Wendy Byrde (played by an exquisite Laura Linney) clasps her hand, reassuring but firm, over the shoulder of her daughter, Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz). In the Netflix mega-hit Ozark‘s fourth and final season, Charlotte has recanted the rebellion that defined her earlier chapters, when she sought legal estrangement from her criminal parents. Now, she’s running the desk at their riverboat casino, one of several fronts for the family money-laundering business with the Navarro cartel. When Charlotte’s brother, Jonah (Skylar Gaertner), has his chance to spark a revolt this season, Charlotte chides him. Wendy, in other words, has someone on her team.
Certainly, most of us daughters aren’t bonding with our mothers over a life-threatening deal hawking drugs to a maligned pharmaceutical company. Ozark’s questionable parenting operates on another, sometimes fantastical plane. But that doesn’t negate how inevitable it feels to watch Wendy and Charlotte’s mannerisms—and moralities—coalesce. Wendy, sucked into a villainous spiral, justifies every one of her actions (including, but not limited to, killing her brother) because they’re ostensibly about protecting her children. And Charlotte, unable to resist the lure of that argument, adopts it as her own. She reframes her own moral hair-splitting as evolution. Making her mother’s mistakes isn’t a misstep; it’s a necessity of her age.
To poke deeper into the dynamics of this tricky relationship—and the coming dangers of Ozark’s approaching finale—Linney and Hublitz sat down together to discuss mothers, daughters, and Ozark’s paradoxical battle to keep its family whole.
Let’s start with this: Laura, do you feel Wendy thinks she’s parenting Charlotte the way she should? That she’s pulling Charlotte in the right direction?
Linney: Oh, I think she doesn’t. I think Wendy has a lot of self-loathing. And as you learn, as the series goes on, Wendy wasn’t well-parented. Even though she made every intention of being a better parent, that’s questionable. And I think she knows. Wendy’s many things, but she’s not dumb. She’s emotionally immature and she’s reckless and she’s impulsive, but she knows. She’s not happy with the choices she’s made there or how she’s behaved, I think.
[Showrunner] Chris Mundy has said it was a deliberate decision to depict Charlotte becoming more and more like Wendy this season. In your opinion, why is that happening? Why now?
Hublitz: I think it has a lot to do with Charlotte growing into adulthood and maturing. They’re joining forces as adults and colleagues, instead of parent versus a child, similar to a superior versus an inferior. But more than Charlotte becoming like a mini Wendy, it’s about Charlotte coming into her own as an adult and having more adult beliefs than childish assumptions.
One of the biggest pressure points in season 4 is Wendy and Charlotte’s relationships with Jonah. Let’s start with Wendy: Why is she spiraling the way she is? What about his rebellion is throwing her off her game?
Linney: Well, he’s the baby of the family. I think, regardless of how old someone becomes, when you’re the baby of the family, you’re the baby of the family. I think the mother-son bond is extremely close there. Every decision, every action that Wendy takes is with the intention of keeping her family together and safe. So if he rebels against that, it betrays everything and exposes Wendy to the truth that is hard to see. So when the [kids] are out of line, it disrupts her entire map. It throws her compass off. And she can’t justify her behavior.
It was interesting, when we started doing Ozark, my son was two. And I’ve thought a lot about this over the five years since: You never forget when your kid is two. You don’t forget the intimate memories of holding a baby, of bathing and dressing and the day-to-day care-taking that happens with small children. Even if you look at them as adults, you have the residue of that emotional connection to them as an infant. So I tried to really carry that through with me, with both children. When I would have scenes with them, I would flash back to those more intimate moments that you have when your child is an infant, when it’s before their memory. Which makes the fighting a little more intense, the reaction a little more desperate.
On your end, Sofia, do you think Jonah and Charlotte are growing more distanced? Is there a fissure between them as she acts more like Wendy, whom Jonah might never forgive?
Hublitz: We see a confluence, a major confluence, between Wendy and Charlotte’s emotional and professional mindsets; you see them joining forces. Whereas her relationship with Jonah, you see this separation between the two. It makes you think about where their true belief systems lie. Jonah thinks he’s doing the most morally sound thing, whereas he thinks his sister is becoming corrupt and listening to the devil on her shoulder.
They’re coming at it from completely different angles. Jonah wants his sister to be on his side, and Charlotte just wants him to do the safest thing—the thing that does not get the family in trouble. Which, if you’re an audience watching that, you’re more inclined to want to agree with Charlotte. You want the Byrde family to live.
I’m an only child. I never grew up with siblings, so it’s kind of difficult to manufacture the whole sibling love and rivalry thing, because it’s something I have never experienced before and something I didn’t grow up with.
There’s been a lot of debate amongst fans about the validity of Wendy’s decision to try and have Jonah arrested. Is she starting to lose her grip? Is this desperation something that could trip her up in the future?
Linney: Hmmm. [Laughs.] I think she believes she’s doing absolutely the right thing. When you deal with an addict and you let them hit rock bottom—she’s using that as a template. Misguided as that is. I think that’s her thinking: It will scare him straight. I’m not saying that’s the right thing to do, but I think that’s what she’s doing.
Sofia, there’s this incredible scene where you’re hiding in the mausoleum, in which Jonah tells Charlotte, to paraphrase, “You didn’t give me a straight answer about whether or not you’d ever kill me.” What’s your take on this? Could Charlotte ever do the things Wendy has done?
Hublitz: Interesting. Charlotte has not had to deal with the same burdens that her parents are dealing with. She doesn’t have to look death in the eye as often as they do. So her actions are motivated a little bit less by fear and more by wanting to do what is mature.
What makes that scene so special is you see Charlotte break for a moment. It’s like, “Well, of course. But I don’t have to say that I wouldn’t kill you for you to believe it.” Which I think is so powerful that she just repeats his line back to him: “I wouldn’t kill you. Don’t be insane.” There’s something really special about that just being said for what it is, and not turning it into her own words. It shouldn’t have to be said.
Marty and Jonah both have a relationship with Ruth that Charlotte and Wendy don’t share. For Marty, there’s a genuine, almost parent-like affection. For Jonah, there’s respect and mutual grief. But for Wendy, there’s disdain, and for Charlotte distrust. Why is that the case? What fractured for Wendy and Charlotte that didn’t for Marty and Jonah?
Linney: I think Wendy sees a lot of herself at Ruth. Ruth is sort of what Wendy would’ve been if she didn’t get out of the Appalachian Mountains. There’s that. And also she really, in her heart, blames Ruth for Ben’s death. That’s the real turning point for Wendy. I think there’s a door shut. That shattered something for Wendy, really shattered it.
Hublitz: Charlotte and Wendy this year, they’re aligned in their beliefs. I guess another way you could say it is they’re on the same team. Charlotte’s siding with her mom.
Linney: [Laughs.] Yay, Charlotte!
Hublitz: So Ruth is persona non grata in Charlotte’s book. Charlotte knows that Ruth has betrayed the family. “We really let this girl in and she betrayed us and she got Ben out of the mental institution.” And I think she does believe that, yeah, Ruth’s responsible for Ben dying. She holds some palpability there. Charlotte’s not quick to forget that, so she’s keeping a watchful eye on her brother without voicing her opinion on Ruth.
After five years working on this series, what was it like for you to finally wrap?
Linney: Oh, it was really surreal, and I don’t think I’ve quite accepted it yet. I had such a good time, and I loved the entire experience, and it was good, honest, hard work through a pandemic. We were all bonded together for so many different reasons. Because most of us were there on location, away from our families, so you become close that way. But then we also filmed our last season through a pandemic, which was intense.
Really great experiences don’t happen often. They happen. Thank God they happen. And they usually come around just when you need the most. But I was really aware the whole time of just how good we have it. And I know I’ll really miss it. So I’m very proud of it. And I have all these new friends and deep relationships with people.
Hublitz: It’s a different experience for me because it is my first major role. When we wrapped, we wrapped our final scene together as a family—I won’t say what it was, obviously—the scene that we filmed together was a scene as a family. That was my last scene. It was Wendy’s last scene. It was all of our last scenes. And I’ll never forget when Laura gave her wrap speech, she said, “You know, we can look around and be proud and we can always remember where we came from.” And I’m never going to forget that because I will always remember where I came from.
I’ve made some of the best friends I’ve ever had on this show. And I’ve had just an incredible experience, and I’m so grateful because the caliber of people that I worked with is, just—you don’t get that experience. You don’t. It’ll be ingrained in me for the rest of my life. I’m so glad that Ozark was the show that set the precedent for me in terms of how I’m going to move forward as an actor, as a colleague. I’m just incredibly lucky.
When did the two of you learn how the story would end? Did you know, coming into this season, or were you surprised by the scripts?
Linney: I got [the scripts] a little earlier than Sofia. It was such a blur, actually. We didn’t get them at the very beginning of the season, by any means, but I had them fairly early. And also Chris was really good about letting each of us know what our arc was for the season, so that we weren’t going into it blind. So we could make decisions and choices that would help the story unravel in a way that would pay off.
Hublitz: I had had a conversation with Chris over the course of a couple hours, I want to say in May or June, about how the rest of the season and the rest of Charlotte’s storyline was going to play out. And we had shot about half the season by the time I got to know what happened for the ending.
Here’s a leading question, so a simple “yes” or “no” will suffice. Were you satisfied by the ending?
Linney: That’s a very hard question to answer. Yes!
I won’t ask you to answer whether or not the family survives, either literally or figuratively. But I am curious to hear your thoughts, Laura, about whether they can survive. Do you think Wendy loves Marty, even now? And do you hope, as an actress, they—and the family—can stay together?
Linney: Yes, she does love Marty. She does love Marty. I think their relationship goes through many different incarnations, and they are bound to each other, and they’re sort of all they have. They just have each other, really. And I think Wendy feels that way. Very much like Wendy, I believe in that family, as messed up as they are. As an actress, I root for the family. As an actress, I root for that marriage, whether it survives or not, whether the family stays together or not, I root for them.
And Sofia, on your end, do you think Charlotte really believes the family can return to Chicago and live the life they lost four seasons ago?
Hublitz: Charlotte believes what’s presented to her, what’s in front of her in the moment. I think she jumps at the opportunity of hope. So whenever there’s any little semblance of light at the end of the tunnel, she’s going to jump on it—because it’s a lot better than the prospect of having to stay there and having to continue to [work for the cartel]. So I think when it finally, at least verbally, comes into play from her parents, yeah, I think she believes it. And just to agree with Laura, I absolutely root for the family. It breaks my heart when they all want to separate and do their own thing, because if they were to deviate from the family unit, I mean, what would happen to all of them, morally, if they were to lose the structure of the family?
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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