Note: Spoilers ahead.
“Ozark” ended its four-season run with Ruth Langmore (Julia Garner) dead and the Byrde family intact – just barely – as a 14-year-old son Jonah (Skylar Gaertner) joined the show’s long list of cold-blooded killers.
Or did he?
In the show’s final scene, reminiscent of that WTF? “Sopranos” series ender, Jonah aimed a shotgun at pesky private investigator Mel Sattam (Adam Rothenberg), who broke into the Byrdes’ lakefront house to steal the ceramic-goat cookie jar containing the ashes of Wendy’s (Laura Linney) unstable brother, Ben Davis (Tom Pelphrey), contract-killed by his sister in Season 3.
Sattam told Marty (Jason Bateman) that his crematorium did a subpar job burning Ben’s body and that he had enough DNA evidence (bits of teeth and bone) to prove that Ben was murdered. Jonah emerged from the shadows, pointed the shotgun at Sattam and the screen suddenly cut-to-black – the silence shattered by a shotgun blast that left Mel’s fate and Jonah’s intentions open to interpretation.
Gaertner, 18, answered a few questions from The Post about the shocking finale and how Jonah evolved over the four seasons since “Ozark” premiered in 2017.
Did you know how it would play out for Jonah going into Season 4?
Well… not entirely. At the start of filming for Season 4, I talked to our showrunner Chris Mundy about some of the broader themes and character interactions that would be central to Jonah’s arc. So I knew about his relationship with his grandpa [played by Richard Thomas] and where the conflict with Wendy was headed. But there was still plenty of information that was left out, so I was probably just shocked as the audience was when I would discover the major deaths or plot twists as the scripts came out. Obviously a lot has changed for Jonah over the course of the show, but, fascinatingly, I think he remained very true to his core qualities.
How would you say Jonah evolved over the course of the series?
From the very beginning, he was extremely loyal, resilient and willing to make the most of any circumstance – when he found out that his life was going to be relocated to the Ozarks, he got involved with the local wildlife and became best friends with the old man living in his house. When he found out his family was involved in a massive drug operation, he learned to launder money and started his own business doing homework for classmates. When his parents got into especially tight situations, he became highly skilled with firearms and offered to use his drone for security.
The first three seasons largely followed Jonah’s repeated attempts to find purpose in his dangerous and extremely unforgiving environment. The issue is that, in an attempt to be “good parents,” his mom and dad began shutting him down at every turn. They somehow expected him to be a normal kid with a normal life and normal friends despite having knowingly set him in a strange location with deadly stakes at every turn (I always loved the extreme irony of the show).
The biggest shift came at the end of Season 3, but even then I wouldn’t say that he lost that loyalty and resilience. His mom’s willingness to sacrifice his uncle and best friend, Ben, rather than find another option forced him to confront what his family had become and who he would become if he remained a part of their operation. The tragedy is that he didn’t make it very far at all. Although he largely transferred his allegiance to the Langmore / Snell clan, he was still trapped in the same world, surrounded by dangerous, power-hungry people. And somehow his actions were still dictated by his parents’ mistakes.
So, through all of that, I would say that his evolution went from an adaptable, curious kid, to an independent, calloused teen with exceptional knowledge of the criminal world and good business instincts. He has a good heart, but he has been gradually conditioned to make compromises for the sake of his family… and I can’t imagine that will serve him well in the future.
Were you surprised to learn that Jonah would be in the final scene of the series?
Well, yeah. Naturally I was definitely surprised when I read that. I honestly loved that moment because it’s such a blurry mix of tragic and triumphant.
Even though I was surprised, though, I think it made a lot of sense. Jonah has been toying with the limits of what he’s willing to do for his family since Season 1, and, to me, this felt like a “full circle” moment from when he tried to shoot Garcia in the living room (as well as from when he went to Helen’s house to serve justice for Ben). It’s fascinating to me that, even then, the only thing that really stopped him was a strange turn of circumstances.
In the finale, he was faced with that option one last time, and it seems like the circumstances were finally aligned enough for him to take that last step into the life of crime. Or was it?
There have been a few floated theories about what happened after the final fadeout… Did Jonah kill Mel Sattam? Did he shoot the cookie jar to get rid of the evidence? Did he shoot Wendy, based on their fractured history? What do you think?
Believe it or not, there were actually quite a few changes to that scene happening up until the last minute (I know the writers didn’t get much sleep towards the end because there was a lot of pressure to get it “right”). So, on the day, we ended up filming a few slightly different versions, one of which actually did more directly raise the question of who he might shoot. In that version, Mel took a few steps and ended up in front of Marty and Wendy, causing Jonah to tell him to step away from his parents. Mel does, but Jonah doesn’t immediately follow him with the shotgun, leaving a tense moment of uncertainty where Jonah has the gun trained on his parents, and he makes his final choice of allegiance.
Even though they ended up going a different direction, it’s clear that a hint of that ambiguity remains. Frankly, I’m shocked that Mel survived as long as he did, given that he is so nosey. And Jonah’s character arc does seem to set him up for the tragic ending of fully embracing the horrors of this life that he couldn’t escape. At the very at least, I believe it is Jonah’s intentions to shoot Mel when he walks out with the shotgun.
Still… I wouldn’t underestimate the underlying turbulence of Jonah’s headspace. His parents are responsible for an enormous amount of death and hardship in his life, and there is no guarantee that that’s over.
As a final side note, I kind of like the idea of Jonah deciding it would be enough to shoot the cookie jar and destroy the evidence. After all, they do have the FBI and an enormous amount of political power to defend them. Jonah is smart enough to piece that together, and, in its own way, that would also indicate that Jonah has fully grasped and embraced the power of his family.
I won’t try to totally settle the uncertainty, but I will say that I would be open to continue exploring Jonah’s story in some sort of spinoff (should the brilliant architects of this enterprise wish to do so).