Why Ozark's Laura Linney Won't Call Wendy A Villain

The chaos of "Ozark" began when mild-mannered suburbanite Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman) got his family entangled in a dangerous drug operation. Backed into a corner and desperate to keep his family together, he uprooted their lives and whisked them from Chicago to the Lake of the Ozarks, to begin a life of leaping from one disaster to the next, desperate to keep both the FBI and a dangerous drug cartel at arm's length. Though Marty is an exceptionally clever person and gifted with a very effective poker face, the Byrdes haven't survived for four seasons on his merits alone. More than once, he's nearly spiraled right off course but when all else fails, his wife Wendy Byrde (Laura Linney) steps in to save the day.

To be fair, saying that Wendy often "saves" the family is a bit of an oversimplification. In very difficult situations, she's often the one who cooks up a scheme that saves their lives — sometimes it's a bad situation that she got them into and other times, her solution just creates more problems. But say what you will about her harebrained schemes and shaky moral ground, Wendy Byrde has certainly proven herself to be a force of nature. Wendy is a stone-cold, cutthroat political animal with the smile of a midwestern mom. She won't hesitate to strike down anyone who gets int he way of her family's success and the worst part is that she'll do it with a poisonous grin. For Laura Linney, this is the appeal of playing the character. Speaking to GQ Magazine, here's how Linney described Wendy: 

"She's reactive. Her instincts are so good—they're shrewd. They're not the best choices, but they work. And she doesn't think deeply—she acts. She's primal that way. She starts to trust her own power. "I'm right. It might be messy and awful, but I'm right. I know I'm right." And she is right most of the time."

Wendy is the queen of doing the absolute worst thing for what she deems to be the right reasons. As the show approached its end, she delved further and further into darkness, prompting viewers to ponder a core question: had Wendy become the villain of "Ozark"?

Is Wendy Byrde the villain?

When the going gets tough, Wendy Byrde gets tougher. Moreso than Marty, Wendy has been quick to accept the awful nature of what must be done to keep the Byrde family alive. She does what she believes she must, whether that be covering up murders or scheming some of her own. In the later seasons, she even dabbles in voter suppression and rigging the political system, when she revisits her political roots to recruit partners and investors for the Byrde Foundation. So she isn't one for the moral high ground and surely no one can argue that her actions don't veer into pure evil. So does that make her a villain? In the same chat with GQ, Linney pushed back against this claim.

"I don't know if she's the villain because she's not trying to hurt her family. She's trying to save her family. I think if she were actively, intentionally trying to derail her family then she would be a real villain. Normally, the villain is the person who goes after the protagonist, tries to thwart the protagonist. That's not who she is. I don't know quite what she is but she's not that."

One could make the case that all of Wendy's terrible actions are softened by her desperation to keep her family safe — she loves her children so ferociously she won't hesitate to kill for them – but that isn't the only reason Wendy acts. She also enjoys the power. Marty has made it clear many times that he'd be content to run off to the Gold Coast, or give into witness protection or even do some jail time for the sake of survival. But Wendy doesn't just want to survive — she wants the Byrdes to stay together and thrive. As Linney said, Wendy doesn't thwart Marty for the sake of taking him down. She certainly diverges from his plans and has a tendency to pull the rug out from under him, but ultimately it's because she wants the Byrdes to succeed. If this is their story, then how can the family's greatest champion be their villain?

Wendy is shaped by her past

Ultimately, the way Wendy operates leads back to her past. The series takes its time to unravel who she was before marrying Marty and still only gives us morsels, but it's more than enough to make sense of the person she's become. Linney explained:

"When we first started doing Ozark, the thing I was most interested in examining was the whole issue of identity within a character, within a group of people, within a family, within a state—how people view themselves, what they present and what they are. How hard some people can work at not being who they really are, which is where I think you first meet Wendy Byrde. She's worked really hard to be something different than what she came from, for the right reasons, and then when she's sent back to the Ozarks, she's put back in a situation that's too familiar. And, slowly, she becomes more aligned with a lot of the values that she experienced growing up."

Over time, Wendy reveals that she grew up in the church, taking care of her mentally ill brother and fending off an abusive, drunkard father. During a dark period in her life, she turned to the church for acceptance but was met with judgment, which prompted her to turn her back on the past and run away to forge a new path. This is the root of her ambition and drive, and why she refuses to let go of the capital that the Byrdes slowly accrue.

In the second season of "Ozark," one of the many precarious situations Wendy finds herself in involves being tied to a chair and held hostage in a basement, kidnapped by Mason Young, the pushed-to-the-brink pastor desperate to get his child back. Despite his threats to her life, Wendy relates to him in a rare moment of honesty. She says, "evil comes when the righteous path is so hidden, it just looks like there's only one way out." It's an excellent summation of Wendy's point of view, one that becomes truer over time as her actions become darker for the sake of survival. And as the final chapter of "Ozark" proves, it's a perspective that eventually rubs off on the entire Byrde family,

The final season of "Ozark" is now streaming on Netflix.