'Ozark' Showrunner Chris Mundy on Whether or Not the Show Was Always Going to End the Way It Did

In February 2020, Ozark showrunner Chris Mundy and the writers sat down to write the fourth and final season of the Netflix show, but a few weeks later, the show was cancelled. Then, four more episodes were added, and the season was divided into two parts.

Mundy tells THR, "We'd already kind of done it—we planned it out—but then we had to stop and readjust." "The hardest part was that you had to end episode seven in a way that felt like an ending and start episode eight in a way that felt like the beginning of a new season, because that's how people were going to see it. That was really tough. Then, of course, we started filming without a vaccine during COVID. It was all very hard."

Mundy talked to THR about how hard it is to write the last episode of a show, if it was always going to end the way it did (spoilers ahead!) and what this season was the hardest to write.

Your last season was nominated for 13 Emmys. Do these nods feel different from the ones you've done before?

I talked to both Laura [Linney] and Jason [Bateman] about it. The fact that it's over makes us all a little more introspective, in a way. We don't get to keep going back and doing it. So I think we're all a little bit more thankful because this is our last chance to be together. It's our last chance to just mess around with it, and it makes us realize that we won't be back for a fifth season.

Was it hard to divide the season into two parts?

We started writing it right before COVID shut down the world, so it was a crazy challenge. So I started working with the writers around February 2020, and by the middle of March, we were no longer in the same room. And that's when Netflix decided to increase the number of episodes from 10 to 14.

You wrote the first and last episodes of every season except the first. Is it hard to get people interested again after a season while also finishing the season and now the show's last episode?

In a weird way, I think there's more pressure or it's harder to write the first one than the last one. This is because you don't want everyone to feel like you're setting up everything, but you also have to set up everything. That's not so easy. You almost don't want your work to be so easy to see. When you're writing the last one, if we've done our jobs right, everything kind of rolls downhill, so it seems like it's going to happen anyway. Obviously, it's a little different at the end of the series, and you're a little more worried about doing it right. You know that some people won't like it and others will, but you want to stay as true to the story as you can. But most of the time, it's the beginnings that are hard.

What kind of research went into the show before it started?

We brought in an FBI agent who worked to stop people from stealing money. Even though it was funny, she had been in the unit for four years, but because it's so hard to prove, no one had ever been convicted. Then we brought in a hedge fund manager to say, "We're not saying you're going to launder money, but if you were, what would you do?" And these two things in particular helped a lot. We also had a few assistants who were really smart and good at digging into things. When we were done, we'd go to the writers' room and do a lot of research. Every bit that makes its way in makes it better. Almost everything seems to get bigger and bigger.

You also had to write Jonah's storyline as a money launderer this season. Was that different from how you wrote Marty's?

No. The same happened. In fact, we tried to make Jonah's language as similar as possible to Marty's. It's basically a child talking like an adult, and we liked the strange contrast of it all. Jonah is like a smaller version of Marty, so we wanted to play it very straight. Marty is proud of it in an odd way because he is smart and hardworking. We're trying to write more about the family part than the money laundering part.

Let's talk about what happens at the end. Was this how it was always going to end?

When we broke the first 10, before it turned into 14, the plan was to... I think it would have turned out the same way anyway, but at that point, Ruth's death wasn't the plan. Then, as we got a little further into the back seven, it became very clear that this seemed to be how it was going to go. And that got really weird and sad, because if you care about the characters on the show, you don't want it to happen. But for the people in the writers' room who were in charge of making sure it fit with the show and what was going on in the story, it felt like it had to happen. That was hard, and it really kept me up at night. When she kills Javi, it's like the beginning of a tragedy, and strangely, it's a straight line. What's going to happen is almost certain to happen. But I was hoping that even when you find out that Camila knows it was her at the party, you'll still think she'll find a way out because you want her to. But the way things really were was different.

What was the hardest episode of season four?

I thought that episode eight, in which Ruth shoots Javi, was hard. The whole thing was hard, especially because it was very meditative and hard to keep things moving. Ruth spends a lot of time driving, listening to music, and walking. We wanted to get into her head, but we didn't want the show to just sit there. As a whole, that was a tricky thing. As the season went on, we became, in a way, less complicated. I mean, the story always seemed to come back to our people. The last episode of the season was one of the easiest to film all year. We didn't go anywhere other than our usual spots. It was just sort of there. There weren't many people who weren't our regulars who played guest roles. In a way, it all came down to just us. So I think the only real problem with episode eight was finding the right tone and visual clues.

What happened with the car?

It took two days to do that. That's how hard it was to do that thing. You know, for something that looks like that on paper, and for the fact that the two days of work don't even count the time spent with the family in the car, that was a different thing. Everything about that thing was well thought out. I thought it turned out great. The thing that makes it scary is the fear that you won't get it right the first time and will have to try again. And it turned out so, so right. That was shot by Andrew Bernstein. It was all done in one take, with a real person driving the car. It's crazy how much they can do. We were already on the edge of our budget. On the show, we didn't do a lot of big stunts like that. When we did that, we had to be really sure. It's like the body drop in the first episode. You only had one good chance. All done.

How do you find the right amount of violence, especially when it comes to killing?

Jason always liked to see how far we could go with that line. In real life, he's a very nice guy, but when it came to that, he always wanted to beat the last one. And I kept saying, "We don't have to beat the last one!" I would usually write it, and then Jason would say, "What if it was 10 degrees weirder?" We'd figure it out then.


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