Warning! The following contains spoilers for Ozark Season 3. Read at your own risk!
Though Tom Pelphrey's character had only been a part of Ozark for the season, his character had a strong impact on audiences and on the series as a whole. So much so that I have a theory that Ben may not have died in Season 3 like we were all led to believe, and that he could come into the story should Ozark return for Season 4.
What Happened To Ben And Why
Ben's arrival in the Ozark's was not a quiet one, as the character streaked his way into the Byrde family home and right into their business. Ben soon learned about the family business and, as most people would, began to freak out. Ben eventually leveled out and even began a relationship with Ruth Langmore while staying with the family, but things changed drastically when he went off his medication.
Ben going off his medication caused his mood to become much more erratic, and the Ozark Season 3 character soon found himself in hot water. Ben felt empowered to cause a stink about his sister and brother-in-law's business, and his outbursts soon caught the attention of the Byrde's partner and lawyer to the Navarro cartel, Helen Pierce. Pierce ensured Ben was committed in order to protect their secrets, but Ben eventually got out thanks to Ruth and the insane Darlene Snell.
Once free, an erratic Ben went to find Helen and expose the true nature of her business to her daughter. It was a line that couldn't be uncrossed, and Ben was essentially a dead man from that point on. Wendy tried to save her brother, but despite her best efforts, he continually tried to sabotage her escape. With no other option, Wendy eventually gave up Ben's location to Helen, who sent her muscle to kill him outside the restaurant.
Why There's Reason To Be Skeptical
The last shot we see of Ben is him being approached by Helen Pierce's muscle, Nelson. The next time Ben his mentioned, his supposed body is retrieved by Marty and Ruth wrapped from head to toe in opaque plastic and tape. The two could've taken a chance to confirm the body, but instead load him into the funeral home's incinerator and turn him into ashes.
While Ozark has never been a show to intentionally deceive, Season 3 just did a trick that many shows in the past have done to fool audiences. With no explicit shot of Ben's face post-mortem, there's a slight possibility that he is actually alive, and that the person given over to Marty was just some person wrapped up in a lot of trash bags.
It's a theory that, understandably, I think many Ozark fans will be skeptical of. The Netflix original has killed off notable characters before, and even has had them appear as ghosts. One thing is hasn't done, however, is brought someone back from the dead, or faked a death. So then, why do I think there's a chance that Ben could still be alive?
The Hitman's Conversation With The Therapist And Helen
Nelson's confrontation with Ben was one of his two major appearances in Ozark Season 3, the first being when he killed the therapist who was extorting Marty and Wendy for learning about their business. The therapist took a meeting with Nelson, who made up some story about a dog that wouldn't leave his yard, and how he wanted to take it in, but said it felt irresponsible given how much time he spends at work.
The story ultimately lead nowhere, but later when Nelson and Helen were talking as they watched the therapists car and body sink into the river, he talked about the therapist. Nelson said he appreciated that the therapist was a good listener, and when Helen asked him if he ever gets tired of his line of work he said "not really," after a heavy sigh. I'm not sure how other Ozark fans saw it, but I felt like he wasn't being completely honest.
Why is this important? Because Nelson is the only person there to witness Ben's death. In a rhetorical situation where he was burnt out, he may have given Wendy's brother a pass, though one would question why considering it'd be an unnecessary risk to his safety. Nelson knows Helen is as cold as anyone in the Navarro cartel, so I'll admit it's a hard sell the Ozark character would spare Ben and swap a body just because of one therapy session. Still, we have the lack of body, plausible deniability, and some very interesting plot threads to consider if Ben survived the bar encounter.
How Ben's Survival Would Impact Ozark Season 4
In a hypothetical situation where Ben is alive, I can't imagine it would take long to find out. Ben kept causing trouble when he was off his medication, mainly by trying to alert the authorities of the activity of the Navarro cartel. If Nelson merely walked away and left Ben to do his own thing, I can't imagine he'd get too far before going to the police.
Let's say the Ozark character got smart though and was more concerned about protecting the Byrdes and, perhaps more importantly, Ruth. He may try to lay a bit lower, and perhaps do something crazy like return to the Ozarks in order to get Ruth. Granted, it's not quite as big a risk these days with Helen Pierce no longer in the picture, though Wendy might go after her brother again knowing what a risk he is to everything she and Marty have built. Or maybe not, perhaps the Byrde matriarch would be thrilled to see her brother alive. The unpredictability of how the twist would play out is a large part of why I want to believe this theory is true, in spite of any evidence to the contrary.
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