There’s a scene from the final season of Ozark that I can’t stop thinking about, because of the way it used a song I love extremely well.
Fortunately, it doesn’t really spoil very much about the show, so I feel like I can share it with you here. But for those who prefer watching a popular show in full, I understand if you wanna sit this one out. Call this a spoiler alert, though like I said, this scene ultimately doesn’t spoil too much about the plot.
Content warning: Violence, profanity. But also, one of the greatest pop songs of the past half-century.
Anyway, let’s begin. In episode 11 of season 4, Marty and Wendy Byrde (Jason Bateman, Laura Linney) are traveling in a van after having had an argument. Marty turns up the radio, which is playing the immortal banger “I Saw the Light” by Todd Rundgren.
Wendy isn’t happy about being tuned out by her husband, saying, “Are you shutting me out, is that it? Cute. Very very cute, very mature. This song sucks, by the way.”
(Side note: How DARE she.)
The two are in the middle of a heavy traffic jam in a construction zone, with Marty behind the wheel. Marty is in the middle of an intersection and can’t go anywhere; he’s completely, utterly stuck. Another driver is honking his horn and flipping him the bird.
Marty, already at his wit’s end, gets out of the car, and calls out the driver. The driver, who is essentially a stranger, insults Wendy.
“Talk to her like that one more time, I make a single phone call and have you killed,” Marty says at one point.
Then it just devolves from there. Marty throws the first punch, then the other driver lunges. At one point the driver throws Wendy, who was attempting to break up the fight, onto the ground. Marty eventually hits the guy, who is at this point passed out, probably a dozen times.
A construction worker eventually pulls Marty off the driver. Then Marty walks away, while Wendy looks on.
Throughout all of this, Todd Rundgren’s greatest contribution to the three-minute pop song is playing, completely contrasting the moment. It is a violent scene, surrounded by anger at all corners, but in the middle of all that rage, there’s “I Saw the Light,” one of the cheeriest sections of 70s soft rock ever put to wax. By the end of the scene, nearly the entire song has played through.
So, can we really say something, anything about this moment that hasn’t already been said? I will say that this is probably one of the best uses of music in a TV show in quite some time, the way it contrasts what would otherwise be a purely dark devolution of a couple with a pure piece of sunlight. Many shows would probably put this scene, probably one of the lowest points that the Byrdes have experienced yet, against a much darker and foreboding soundtrack.
But Ozark didn’t do that. Instead, it gave us Wendy Byrde exclaiming that Todd Rundgren’s best pop song sucks. (Hilariously, per Men’s Health, Linney directed the episode, the only one she’s directed throughout the entire series, AND selected the song.) Then, it gave us what was clearly a breaking point for a couple that has seen many throughout this series. While gritty and violent, it is great television, arguably because of the contrast.
That they thought to make Todd Rundgren a part of it is honestly the best part.
Time limit given ⏲: 30 minutes
Time left on clock ⏲: 1 minute, 42 seconds