The following contains spoilers for Ozark Season 4, now streaming on Netflix.
With Netflix's Ozark wrapping up, viewers can't help but compare the show to Breaking Bad. One major similarity between the shows was the treatment of a young sidekick that each main character picked up in the first season. Ozark's Marty Byrde had Ruth Langmore and Walter White selected Jesse Pinkman to help then with their drug ventures. By the end of each series, the sidekick had their life entirely destroyed, with Jesse being victimized by Walt.
Many viewers don't have much pity for Ruth or Jesse, because they both made decisions that got them involved in crime, but it's important to consider their backgrounds and their ages at the start of their respective shows. In Ozark Season 1, Ruth was only 19 years old. She was barely out of high school and had been an accomplice to her family's petty crimes before she could think for herself. Her entire life was playing sidekick to her criminal father -- whose life she sacrificed to prove her dedication to Marty, believing he could secure a future for her. Jesse's story wasn't much different.
Jesse was 24 years old in Breaking Bad Season 1, but 24 is still fairly young, and Jesse had faith and trust in his former teacher; he assumed Walter wouldn't lead him astray. Jesse also had a bit of criminal history; he already had a connection to meth and drug dealing well before teaming up with Walter. His parents weren't criminals, but they were absent and ashamed of Jesse. They treated him poorly and failed him as parents, which led him down his drug-addicted path.
After considering their ages and family situations, their decisions to follow men they perceived as powerful and all-knowing don't seem as farfetched. Neither really had options. Ruth was stuck in her hometown where everyone knew her family's history and refused to ever give her a chance. Jesse's life spun quickly out of control the moment he reconnected with Walt. On their very first deal, Jesse followed Walt's orders as they killed one of his longtime drug connections. From there, he became dependent on Walt as he had no place to go and had been traumatized by the murder.
As both series progressed, Ruth and Jesse had to continue to move forward with organized crime after they got in too deep. Ruth wanted the financial freedom that came with it, and Jesse wanted approval from some type of parental figure in his life. In both cases, they were failed by their father figures multiple times. Ruth lost two uncles, her father and her cousin while working with Marty, even though he seemed to show care for her. She was beaten up and tortured by the cartel and the mob. Jesse suffered a similar fate, playing the role of punching bag or hostage when enemies wanted to force Walter's hand in some way.
Ruth and Jesse continuously paid for the sins of Marty and Walter, to the point where they had nothing left. At the end of Ozark, Ruth was killed by the cartel -- although she didn't have to be -- making everything she suffered through mean nothing. Marty stopped feeling guilty over the wrongs his family had done to Ruth as Ozark sent the message that consequences were only for the poor. Breaking Bad ended with Jesse as a prisoner, cooking meth for his torturers and living a life no one would wish on their worst enemy. While Walt did rescue Jesse and gave him the option to kill him, that move was too little, too late -- he, like Ruth Langmore, had already been victimized far too much to make up for it.
To watch the demise of Ruth Langmore, catch the final episodes of Ozark now on Netflix.