The following story contains spoilers for Ozark Season 4, Part 1.
There are plenty of moments when Ozark beats its point right on the nose. Let's say, for instance, the way Season 4, Episode 1 ends things; Ruth (Julia Garner) is as furious as we've ever seen her, because once again she's been wronged by the criminal world that she finds herself in, and the Byrdes (who she must accept simply know how to play the game) are A-OK. It's not that she actively resents them (well, she probably resents Wendy), but moreseo the fact that she keeps losing people, and losing things, and losing chances, and they keep on getting through everything scot free. It's just not fair.
Other times, though, Ozark wants you to think a bit more. The opening of the Season 4, Part 1 episode "Let the Great World Spin" finds Ruth in an antique store, looking for...something. We don't know what, and neither does she—until she sees it: a cookie jar shaped like a goat. The saleswoman suggests that people don't usually think of goats and cookies together; her husband, she says, thinks it's because they're satanic goats. "I don't even think the devil eats cookies, does he?" she asks. "Maybe he does."
Ruth barely reacts. She doesn't really care about what this woman thinks of the jar (though, obviously, the satanic subtext can be read as reference to her frenemy business partners, the Byrdes). She saw it, and knew immediately that it was the right pick to hold the remains of Ben Davis, her late boyfriend (played in Season 3 by Tom Pelphrey).
Anyone who didn't remember Ben's final moments back in Season 3 will probably think that Ruth simply saw the Goat cookie jar and was drawn to its vibe. But it's actually quite a bit deeper than that.
Does the goat cookie jar in Ozark have a deeper meaning?
It sure does. In the 9th episode of Ozark Season 3, you may recall that Ben was continually trying to dig himself out of a mess that he had gotten into with Helen Pierce after going to her house and allowing her daughter to know what she does for a living. In the end, though, Wendy took Ben to a diner where she eventually would abandon him, leaving him to be killed by a hitman working from the Cartel. Wendy had done a lot of bad things, but this was her defining "Breaking Bad" moment—making the call on her brother's death.
Also remember that during Season 3 Ben had begun a relationship with Ruth, and was really beginning to see a future with her. In his final conversation with Wendy at that diner, she asked him where he saw himself in five years. Ben responded, telling his sister that he saw himself with a job, a car, married to Ruth, and living in a house that had goats. Wendy tells him it sounds like a good idea, eventually walking out of the diner, crying in her car, and leaving her brother to die.
In Season 4, Ruth gets Ben's ashes from Jonah Byrde because Jonah already knows that his mother made the call for Ben to be killed (as he learned holding Helen at gunpoint) and that his father, like most else, is simply concerned with surviving and making it to the next day. Marty is never connected emotionally to anything. And Jonah doesn't think his uncle—whom he shared a strong connection with—should be at their house. He'd be better off with Ruth, who actually cared.
In that antique store moment, Ozark lets us know that the "goats" detail is something that Ruth and Ben certainly discussed before; Ruth knew immediately that the goat jar was the one she needed to have. Notice that she could barely even speak to the woman was talking to her. She was so overcome with emotion and simply had to have it.
And with the Goat cookie jar, Ruth has a physical manifestation of the non-physical that infects nearly everyone in Ozark: the death of dreams and ambition due to entanglement in this criminal underworld. Ben didn't hurt anyone; Ben just wanted to live the best life with the cards he was dealt. And Ruth loved that about him—and for doing all he could, Ben lost his life. He was never able to get that job, own that car, marry ruth, or live in a house that had goats.
He'll spend eternity, now, instead, in that Goat cookie jar—and Ruth will always have a physical reminder of those broken dreams.
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