A Hard Way to Go: How John Prine’s Lyrics Foretold Ruth’s Fate in ‘Ozark’ Finale

by Jim Casey

Even two years after his death, John Prine’s lyrics are still helping shape pop culture. That’s the beauty of a great song . . . or a great songwriter. Or both. I don’t need an excuse to write about the late, great John Prine, but the Ozark finale on Netflix just gave me one.

For about three minutes during S4, E14 (titled “A Hard Way to Go”), all I heard was Prine (even though he wasn’t singing). And for Ozark fan-favorite Ruth Langmore (actress Julia Garner), it meant her fate was sealed. Warning: Ozark spoilers and John Prine adulation ahead.

Let’s break it all down.

Make Me an Angel

John Prine, 73, died on April 7, 2020, due to complications from COVID-19. Without getting bogged down in the badassery of Prine (we would be here all day), here are his crib notes. Known for his wry pen and gravelly voice, Prine gave us tunes that should be in everyone’s listening catalog: “Sam Stone,” “Paradise,” “Christmas in Prison,” “Mexican Home,” “Pretty Good,” and more. And then there are the songs he penned, made famous by A-listers like George Strait (“I Just Want to Dance With You”), Don Williams (“Love Is On a Roll”), and Bonnie Raitt (“Angel From Montgomery”).

And the latter, “Angel From Montgomery,” is why we’re here today.

In that song, an Alabama housewife dreams of an angel to take her away from the misery of her monotony, wondering, “How the hell can a person / Go to work in the morning / And come home in the evening / And have nothing to say.”

“To believe in this livin’ / Is just a hard way to go.”

Prine’s brilliant word pictures make his characters come alive (see “Sam Stone” or “Donald & Lydia” for further examples).

A Hard Way to Go

If you want to enjoy the brilliance of Ozark (44 episodes over four seasons) condensed into three minutes, Ruth’s dreamlike vision at the 32-minute mark in S4, E14, has it all. Brilliant dialogue, score, cinematography. The whole nine yards.

The Scene

After waking up, Ruth exits her trailer door at the Langmore compound, surrounded by all of the family members she’s lost during the show’s four seasons: father Cade (Trevor Long), uncles Russ (Marc Menchaca) and Boyd (Christopher James Baker), and cousin Wyatt (Charlie Tahan).

During the sequence, Russ sings and strums “Angel from Montgomery.”

Her father mans the grill, while Boyd fires a bottlerocket at him. They jaw back and forth.

“Hey, you two shut the f*** up. Both of you. This is f***ing beautiful,” says Russ, as he continues the song.

It was beautiful, in Ruth’s mind.

Ruth smiles as she spots Wyatt on the trailer roof, and she makes her way up a ladder to him. Boyd picks up a Dobro and joins Russ’ jam. Atop the roof, Wyatt and Ruth chat about building the “weird” new house and pool. And then cousin Three (Carson Holmes), who is actually alive, joins Ruth on the roof.

“You don’t the first thing about being rich,” says Ruth, in jest, to Three as he questions the building of a pool on the lakeshore.

“Maybe you can teach me,” says Three, as Russ’ scratchy voice delivers the song’s final lyrics: “To believe in this livin’ / Is just a hard way to go.” Prine’s lyrics said it all.

And with the conclusion of that scene, you knew—almost certainly—that Ruth wasn’t going to survive the finale. Of course, she didn’t. Killed by drug queenpin Camila Elizonndro (Verónica Falcón) about 30 minutes later during the episode, at least Ruth died at her compound.

Fans wanted to believe that Ruth would survive the finale. That at least one of the “have-nots” (Langmores) would overcome the “haves” (Byrdes). But . . . “To believe in this livin’ / Is just a hard way to go.”

“A Hard Way to Go,” remember, was the title of the episode. Bravo, Ozark, on a brilliantly played scene.