Chris Mundy interview: ‘Ozark’ showrunner
[WARNING: The above interview contains spoilers about Season 4 of “Ozark.” Watch at your own risk.]
The fourth season of “Ozark” was a unique one — and that’s not just because it was the show’s farewell installment. It was also the Netflix drama’s longest season ever with 14 episodes and split into two seven-episode blocks that debuted on January 21 and April 29, respectively. “We thought of it as two different seasons, just because people were going to experience it that way,” Emmy-nominated showrunner and executive producer Chris Mundy tells Gold Derby in a new webchat. “When you pasted all [episodes] together, they had to make coherent sense… So, it was a little tricky. It’s one season, but it’s not, and it’s two seasons, but it’s not.” Watch our exclusive video interview above.
Instrumental in bringing about this cohesion is the seamless transition from Episode 7 (“Sanctified”) to 8 (“The Cousin of Death”), the latter of which is one of three that Mundy penned this season, the others being the season opener and closer. The “meditative” eighth episode, so the writer, chronicles the aftermath of Darlene’s (Lisa Emery) and Wyatt’s (Charlie Tahan) tragic deaths and follows a grief-stricken, vengeful Ruth (Julia Garner) as she travels to Chicago to hunt down and eventually murders their killer, Javier “Javi” Elizonndro (Alfonso Herrera). It is a stylistically and structurally novel episode of “Ozark,” but Mundy was hopeful that he and his fellow writers had built enough goodwill to pursue a different model for this all-important installment. “[After all], her decision was going to kickstart everything,” he divulges in regard to Ruth killing Javi. “The whole thing starts spinning in on the Byrdes, on Marty (Jason Bateman) and Wendy (Laura Linney), and Ruth, and to pull them out and put them in one dilemma just felt like the ticket.”
The actual scene goes down in the office of Clare Shaw (Katrina Lenk), the CEO of Shaw Medical Solutions, where Ruth shoots Javi dead upon immediate entrance. This is after Ruth demands someone call Javi and Wendy is the one to lure him to the office with the promise of signing an agreement for the stock options. Wendy tells Marty at the beginning of the following episode that she made the call because she knew Javi’s death was inevitable, but was that really her only motive? Mundy thinks so. “I actually think that is the primary reason, because I think Wendy and Ruth are so similar… A lot of the time, they see each other clearly. Marty doesn’t always see Wendy as clearly as he should for a spouse, and he doesn’t always see Ruth as clearly as he should for kind of a surrogate father, but Wendy and Ruth see each other,” he explains. Plus, Ruth, who starts spilling the beans about the Byrdes to Clare before the phone call is made, would have likely disclosed the death of Wendy’s brother Ben (Tom Pelphrey), argues the showrunner. “[It’s about Wendy thinking], ‘I don’t want to hear about Ben; I don’t want to hear about what I did.’ So, I think emotionally Ruth pushed her.”
Unfortunately, Ruth’s vindictive act comes back to bite her after Camila Elizonndro (Veronica Falcón), Javi’s ruthless mother, learns that Ruth killed her son and shoots her to death in the series finale, titled “A Hard Way to Go.” While Ruth’s demise was as devastating for Mundy as it was for viewers of the show, you might be surprised to hear that he actually wrote her death scene rather quickly. “I think that was the first draft, to be honest,” he reveals. “But there was a lot of talk. It was really important that if that character was going to go — and I’m still heartbroken that that character is gone — that she needed to go out as strongly and on her terms: without fear, without tears, without begging… so that moment is always hers. So, the thinking of that took forever; the writing of that took about five minutes.”
In our chat, the Emmy nominee also discusses the show’s much-talked about final scene, which sees the Byrdes return home from their fundraiser to find that Mel Sattem (Adam Rothenberg) has broken into their house and recovered the cookie jar containing Wendy’s late brother’s ashes. After he vows to bring them to justice, Jonah (Skylar Gaertner) comes outside with a shotgun. But instead of showing whom he shoots, the screen cuts to black as a shot is heard. Though this ending has proven to be ambiguous for viewers, “the gun is very firmly on Mel,” states Mundy. “My reasoning for [the shot] being off screen is simpler than mystery. It’s really [about], if you see that moment, how long do you live in that aftermath? It changes your emotional relationship to it if suddenly you’re in the muck and the mire of it. And then, how long do you stay?” That said, the showrunner likes that there is debate surrounding the show’s ending. “If people can debate it, it’s just hopefully because they cared about the show,” he says.
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To date, Mundy has earned three Emmy nominations, all of which recognize his work on “Ozark.” He earned two consecutive Best Drama Series bids as an executive producer (2019-20) and a Best Drama Writing nom for scripting the Season 3 finale (2020).