Ozark season 3’s masterstroke was romantically pairing Ruth Langmore and Ben Davis. They made the series crescendo to set up an even better season 4.
The tragic love story between Ruth Langmore (Julia Garner) and Ben Davis (Tom Pelphrey) was the spark that saved Ozark season 3 from repeating the same cycles as the first two seasons. The Netflix crime series about the Byrde family, who transplanted their lives from Chicago to Osage Beach, Missouri so Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman) could launder millions of dollars for a Mexican drug cartel, hit new creative and emotional heights in Ozark season 3. This is thanks to the electrifying performances of Pelphrey, Emmy-winner Garner, and Emmy-winner Laura Linney, who had to make an unthinkable decision to end her brother Ben’s life in order to save her own family from certain doom.
The first two seasons of Ozark centered on Marty and his wife Wendy Byrde struggling to establish “legitimate” businesses in Osage Beach as fronts for Marty’s money-laundering operation. This meant running afoul of the local criminal element like the Snells, who dominate the heroin trade in the area, and the nearby Kansas City mob. Meanwhile, Marty and Wendy couldn’t keep the truth that they’re criminals from their children Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz) and Jonah (Skyler Gaertner); the Byrde kids had no choice but to eventually go all-in with their parents’ criminal enterprises. But Marty was sharp enough to identify one local who had the smarts and talents to benefit the Byrde family: the foul-mouthed and tough-as-nails Ruth Langmore. Despite her youth, Ruth was a scion of a local family of small-time criminals and she became Marty’s invaluable Girl Friday (although she also tried to kill Marty in Ozark season 1). However, Marty and Wendy’s fractured marriage and their mutual distrust dominate the series. In Ozark season 3, the Byrdes attended a marriage counselor (who they were both paying off) but this story in the first few episodes just perpetuated and recycled Marty and Wendy’s tired relationship problems.
Ozark season 3’s masterstroke was the introduction of Ben, who was revealed to be bipolar and a danger to himself and others. Wendy tried to keep her baby brother from learning the truth about the family business, to no avail. Ben quickly set eyes on Ruth, an ingenious and necessary move, creatively, because their sweet and brief love affair finally opened up Ruth’s hard-nosed character and showed softer sides to her. Ben genuinely loved and “lived for” Ruth, but he couldn’t satisfy her sexually while he was taking his anti-depression meds. Once off his meds, Ben drastically changed and became irrational and violent – but not to Ruth. After Wendy had Ben committed, Ben pleaded with Ruth to break him out, and Tom Pelphrey’s performance was heartbreakingly visceral. But after he got free, Ben made the crucial mistake of confronting the Byrdes’ lawyer Helen Pierce (Janet McTeer) and revealing she’s a criminal to her daughter Erin (Madison Thompson). Ben had to die and, despite Wendy trying to save his life, she realized there was no way to help her desperately sick brother. Wendy made the call to have Ben executed and Ozark season 3, in turn, crescendoed – the show will never be the same thanks to Ben and Ruth.
The ending of Ozark season 3 and the fallout of Ben’s death altered Ruth’s loyalties and life direction. Her decision-making was fueled by her love for Ben: Ruth knew Wendy – a “savage b*tch wolf” – had her brother murdered, just like she made the call to have Ruth’s father Cade (Trevor Long) killed in Ozark season 2. Meanwhile, Ruth can’t forgive Marty for not taking revenge after Frank Cosgrove Jr. (Joseph Sikora) nearly beat Ruth to death despite Ruth supposedly being “untouchable”. Losing Ben and the Byrdes’ lies about him was the last straw and Ruth finally broke away from them. Ruth reunited with her estranged cousin Wyatt (Charlie Tahan) under the umbrella of Darlene Snell (Lisa Emery) and her relaunched heroin business – by breaking away from the Byrdes, Ruth regained her own family.
Thanks to Ruth’s romance with Ben, Ozark’s deck of cards were reshuffled into what will be a more dynamic Ozark season 4. Marty and Wendy have become even more bonafide in Navarro’s eyes but they will return to Osage Beach to find the local criminal element united against the Byrde family. Jonah also learned the truth about why Ben died, which creates a schism within the Byrdes. But it all really started with the brilliant idea to romantically pair up Ruth, Ozark’s most fascinating and oddly endearing character, with Ben, the finest guest star the series has yet seen. Together, Ben and Ruth – Ozark’s best romance – turned the show upside down, raised the stakes, and changed all of the rules for the better.