The SDN List From Ozark is Very Real and Very Dangerous
The burden of accomplishing the impossible is that people want to see you do it again. Marty and Wendy Byrde from Netflix’s Ozark felt that burden for most of the show’s four seasons as the wizards of Omar Navarro’s drug cartel. They were able to turn hundreds of millions of dirty drug money into clean cash by mixing it in with legit revenue from cash-only businesses and transferring it through a web of shell companies. They’ve turned a pregnant FBI agent into an accomplice of a drug cartel, manipulated politicians to fast-track the purchase of a riverboat casino, and helped a Mexican drug ring gain a foothold in a heroin business in the Ozarks run by the Snells, a family with generations of influence in their town.
Nothing has stopped the Byrdes from accomplishing any task thrown at them by their Mexican overlords until they had to face off against something called the “SDN list.” For the vast majority of Season 4, Part 2, the Byrdes are tasked with getting an imprisoned Navarro off the dreaded SDN list so he can resume his reign as cartel leader. By the end of the series, the SDN list is the only obstacle the Byrdes never surmount, but it changes everything for the show and leads to one of the most pivotal deaths of the series.
What is the SDN list?
The SDN list stands for the Specially Designated Nationals And Blocked Persons List. It lists companies and individuals acting on behalf of countries the U.S. government has targeted as adversaries for several reasons. It also contains individuals, entities, and groups the government has targeted as threats to the United States’ national and economic security. Those people typically include terrorists and drug traffickers. Americans and U.S.-based companies are prohibited from doing business with those on the SDN list or face severe sanctions and other punitive measures.
Anyone on the SDN list is subject to having their assets held in the United States frozen and unable to use. For example, Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine resulted in the U.S. Treasury Department freezing Russian central bank assets held in the U.S. to curb the country’s ability to fund its destabilization of Ukraine. This is why Russian President Vladimir Putin is on the list. Money makes the world go ’round, and the SDN list is meant to stop the big bads of the world in their tracks by tapping their pockets, which is pressure that one of Ozark‘s main villains felt in the final episodes of Ozark.
How does the SDN list work on Ozark?
When Ruth Langmore avenged her cousin Wyatt’s death by gunning down future cartel leader Javi Elizonndro in cold blood, she also killed the Byrdes’s deal with the FBI, which stipulated Javi would lead the Navarro cartel as an FBI-controlled informant. This also meant the Byrdes would no longer be indentured to the cartel or the U.S. government. When Wendy proposes extraditing Navarro to Mexico where he can pay for his escape and resume leading the cartel as an FBI informant, the Byrdes are informed Navarro, who was being held in a U.S. prison, is on the SDN list, which complicates any extradition attempts. The Byrdes want to extradite a drug trafficker back to the country where he committed the offenses that got him on the list. That defeats the purpose of an SDN list designed to curtail his deadly influence
Having Navarro removed from the SDN list is the Byrdes’ best option for getting him extradited, but that requires doing three-dimensional chess-level maneuvering to get the right players in place to make this impossibility happen. The good news is retired Illinois governor and Wendy’s frenemy Senator Randall Schafer is on the board of directors for the Byrdes’ charitable organization, The Byrde Foundation. He has the political capital to pressure the Treasury Department into removing Navarro from the list. The bad news is he’s only willing to do so if the Byrdes help with installing the compromised voting machines introduced in Season 4’s fifth episode, meant to help suppress votes and sway elections in key swing states such as Wisconsin and Michigan.
After initially refusing to help Schaffer in manipulating elections, Navarro’s insistence on being removed from the SDN list in a fraction of the time Wendy proposes it could realistically be done forces her hand. The weight of her ambitions suppresses the voice of her conscience. She initially acquiesces to Schaffer’s demands, until the Byrdes find a lethal alternative to circumvent the SDN list entirely.
How did the SDN list affect the Ozark ending?
The SDN list changes from a blockade to a trap after Marty and Wendy conspire with Navarro’s sister Camila to have Navarro murdered—so she can secretly run the cartel as an FBI informant. The Byrdes promise his removal from the SDN list is set, to remove any suspicion Navarro might have of the Byrdes attempting to double-cross him.
It’s entirely likely Navarro reasoned he was unexpectedly being transferred from the prison holding him due to him being removed from the SDN list. As a man who has a contingency plan for everything, he had none when his transfer was interrupted by a guard lying about helping him escape via plane before assassinating him, and blaming it on Navarro attempting to escape detainment. Navarro spent most of the final Ozark episodes looking at the SDN list as his biggest impediment to freedom and his best chance at achieving it, only for the list to ultimately be a trojan horse: It disguised his deadly fate as a source of salvation.
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