Jason Bateman and Laura Linney in 'Ozark.'
CNN  — 

After ending the third season with a bang (pun intended), “Ozark” begins its fourth and final arc with a nail-biting sense of purpose, as the Byrdes continue their dangerous dance with people who you really don’t want to get on their bad sides. Increasing the kids’ role without losing any of its potency, this Netflix drama remains among TV’s best, unfolding with a perpetual state of dread.

As in its origins, there’s a strand of “Breaking Bad’s” DNA running through this tale of at-first ordinary folks entering the world of drugs and money laundering, only here it’s been turned into a family affair. That’s especially true now that the Byrde kids are growing up and have been clued in regarding what their folks, Marty (Jason Bateman) and Wendy (Laura Linney), have been doing.

Foremost, the bifurcated final season (seven episodes are premiering now, with more to come) centers on the Byrdes’ relationship with Omar Navarro (Felix Solis), the drug kingpin who speaks softly but has already exhibited his ruthlessness.

Still, even Navarro has to deal with internal politics and US drug-enforcement agencies, which further complicates Marty and Wendy’s lives and significantly adds to the perilousness of their high-wire act.

Nearer to home, the Byrdes still face issues involving the psychotic and mercurial Darlene (Lisa Emery), whose commitment to her home-grown drug operation risks raising the ire of Navarro and his people, and leaving Marty and Wendy caught in between.

Showrunner Chris Mundy has impressively navigated the story from one seemingly inescapable corner to the next, with the (mostly) unflappable Marty repeatedly testing both his financial savvy and ability to fast-talk his way out of getting caught or killed. It’s a performance that has rightly earned Bateman a trio of Emmy nominations, although his lone win has come for directing the show.

Once again, the Byrdes continue to tap into reservoirs of grit that weren’t immediately evident, as they seek perhaps naively to find the means to return to Chicago, where it all started. That resilience is equally evident in Ruth (Julia Garner), whose alliance with the Byrdes has been strained by the events of the third season.

“Ozark” isn’t really a particularly novel concept, which makes its appeal a function of the qualities that generally define top shows: the right casting, terrific writing and enough unpredictability to keep the audience off balance, with each season deftly building upon the one before it.

The second half of season four will determine whether the series and the Byrdes can sustain that all the way through to the end and give the series a worthy sendoff. Time will tell, but in terms of a takeoff that sets up such a landing, so far, so good.

“Ozark” begins its fourth season on Netflix on Jan. 21.