How Ozark's Alfonso Herrera Created A Different Kind Of TV Drug Lord

Laundering money for a drug cartel means wading into dangerous waters. No one knows this better than the Byrdes, the family at the center of Netflix's hit narco drama, "Ozark." Over the course of four seasons, they've been on the wrong end of many guns touted by felons, drug traffickers, and once, an enraged pastor. When it comes to making enemies, no one has a track record quite like Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman), an expert at pissing off small business owners and full-fledged murderers alike with his snarky, knowing smile.

And yet, against all odds, the mild-mannered financial adviser has managed to live through almost four seasons of money-laundering chaos — he might even make it to the very end! But I wouldn't hold my breath on that, because the odds are very much stacked against him. One of the biggest factors pointing toward Marty's untimely demise wasn't even on our radar until the fourth and final season of the series — Omar Navarro's hotheaded nephew and cartel lieutenant, Javier Elizondro (Alfonso Herrera).

Enter Javi, our newest wild card

Omar Navarro (Felix Solis) has been circling the Byrde family for years now, and while he has certainly established himself as a terrifying presence in their lives, it was Javier Elizondro's arrival that pushed things to a breaking point. Alfonso Herrera's Javi struck fear in the Byrdes and the audience immediately — not because of bloodshed (though in seven short episodes, he committed many harrowing acts of violence), but because of his personality.

Weirdly, Javi has been oozing with charm since the start of the fourth season. One moment he's smiling like a shark and poking fun at the Byrdes, then in the same breath, threatening their lives. Later, as though none of that matters, we'll see him wining and dining the family, who remain abundantly aware of the gun that's likely tucked away in his waistband. Herrera was very intentional about this aspect of Javi. Earlier this year, he explained to Vulture that he thinks of Javi as "a guy who likes to enjoy the present." He added:

"He enjoys these little things like a glass of wine. He likes to have a good conversation. When he sits down and when he has a meal, he really likes to connect with the people at the table. There is a balance, so that we can position ourselves far away from the cartoon or the cliché."

Although we've yet to see Javi's story all the way through, we know his mother, Camila (Veronica Falcón), has been cast and is set to appear in the second half of the final season. Herrera explained:

I think when Javier is home, he's a very lonely person. That is how I portray him. He's probably someone who enjoys his time alone. He enjoys having dinner by himself, but he's a very lonely person. The strongest connection that he has to the outside world is with his mother. Basically, that's it. And that is going to be explored with much more depth in the second part of Season 4.

With Javi, Ozark twists the narrative

TV series and movies are both filled with narco drama, so at this point, we've seen out fair share of drug lord clichés — the threatening, slow-talking, gun-wielding figures who exist solely to intimidate. Javi has wielded many weapons, of course, and doled out his share of violence, but by far his most unnerving trait is his easy charm. When he joins Marty and Wendy Byrde for dinner with their teenage daughter and easily works his way through friendly conversation, he's all the more terrifying because of how easily he could turn on them without a second thought. A layered performance form Alfonso Herrera works wonders on the audience, giving us all the more reason to fear Javi's presence.

Javi isn't your average charismatic psychopath, either; he's also an up-and-coming business owner — and he's got some great, revolutionary ideas! When we first meet him, Javi is poised to take over the cartel from Navarro. In fact, Navarro actively suspects his nephew may try to kill him and seize power sometime soon. (Typical family drama.) As Herrera said in the same interview, "Javier wants to transform his family business into an enterprise, into something bigger."

Javi is the natural successor and believes himself ready. Given his nephew's reckless actions, Navarro disagrees. But say what you will about Javi, he has at least one great idea for change: murdering the Byrdes. Javi desperately wants to kill them, and while that may make us viewers of the show kinda sad, from the cartel's perspective, it makes plenty of sense. They may be help with big returns, but judging by the first half of Season 4, they might be more trouble than they're worth.

The Byrdes are no heroes

With Javi's threat of violence, "Ozark" also presents us with a much more complicated situation than a villain threatening our heroes. Protagonists, sure, but the Byrdes aren't really heroes. They've been the cause of many deaths in their years of laundering money, and the show takes special care to highlight the many ways they're at fault. This was a big part of what attracted Alfonso Herrera to the role: We're so used to drug lords and money laundering clichés that shove the blame to the south, but the American counterparts in "Ozark" are just as culpable (via Remezcla):

"The ones responsible always live in the south. The one that supplies, lives in the south. But where is the responsibility from the other side of the border? That's what this story presents. It presents a much general responsibility that doesn't only lie on the neighbors in the south ... And that's why this story is outside of the clichés and stereotypes because we can see how all of this machinery operates in a very peculiar manner, and how it gets to the north. And in the north, things happen too."

Speaking to Vulture, Herrera added:

"The characters have light, and they have darkness. So it's a very interesting element. And it doesn't necessarily relate to the culture where I live; I think it relates to every single place in the world. In previous stories, the guys from the FBI, the U.S., the CIA, they come as the deus ex machina to save everybody. Here, it's completely different. We are trying to keep our distance from those clichés."

The fate of both the Byrdes and Javi remain an open question as the series approaches its endgame, and thanks to these complex characterizations, whatever comes next will certainly be difficult to watch.

The second half of the final season of "Ozark" arrives on April 29, 2022.