If you haven’t finished the latest season of “Ozark” — and intend to at some point — you should probably stop reading here. But for the rest of us, it’s high time we had a talk about Wendy Byrde, one of the show’s central figures. Wendy’s descent from flawed figure to personification of evil incarnate is bigger than a single character arc on a popular television show. Rather, it is an indictment of our time.

My little sister fervently believes the nuclear family in America is a myth, or a lie. She sent me an article the other day suggesting it was only a construct of the industrial age, and never really existed anyway. Down there in New York City, they have all kinds of fancy ideas. But if my sister is right, and the nuclear family is indeed dead, then Wendy Byrde is dancing on its grave.

Fellow “Ozark” watchers, recall how the Byrde family arrived in the Ozarks. Wendy’s husband Marty, a mild mannered accountant, had been laundering money for a Mexican drug cartel because Wendy, undone by a miscarriage, persuaded her hesitant and otherwise staid spouse that it will somehow help fill the void. But apparently it doesn’t because Wendy goes on to have an extracurricular affair with a wealthy man.

The discovery of her affair coincides with Marty’s partner getting caught pilfering from the cartel, throwing this nuclear family into four seasons of wild danger, uncertainty and, for us, excitement. We, the audience, become complicit in the moral bankruptcy of a family doing what it can (and, later, chooses to do) to survive. An almost ordinary family performs under extraordinary circumstance.

Survival, though, is not enough for Wendy. Her lust for advancement and control plays out like a dramatic adaptation of what Lord Acton said about power (that it corrupts). Conveniently, in her past life Wendy was a public relations consultant for politicians in Chicago — she even worked for Obama! It is these instincts that drive her to build a family foundation (sound familiar?) as an instrument for running the political tables of the Midwest.

Her ruthless ambition captivates the state’s top power broker, whom she proceeds to screw over — but not before plenty of dramatic tension as to whether she’ll repeat her marital infidelity. Yet power has eclipsed sex for Wendy, and she’ll stop at nothing. She sends her husband to Mexico to better integrate with the cartel, and then proceeds to undermine his work there because she, naturally, knows better.

Like a train-wreck, we watch her make increasingly bad and dangerous decisions that she maintains are bold and visionary. Throughout the series, she draws strength from the morally corrupt she encounters, even courts, along the way like a black widow saps the regenerative power of the male spider before killing him. We simultaneously marvel at this while confronting our own disgust of her.

Does my loathing of Wendy make me a misogynist? Some might say this is what a powerful woman looks like and I just don’t like it. But I’ve worked for enough powerful women to know it doesn’t have to be that way.

Her bloodless calculations do resemble those of an actual, twice-failed presidential candidate who never seems to go away. Those of us who see political intrigue everywhere even imagine Wendy could have been invented as a sort of stalking horse to make it appear as though Hillary’s edges are smoother….

Wendy green-lights the killing of her own brother, who threatens to mess up their deal. She turns the Byrds’ once rebellious teenage daughter into a minion and drives her son away, before corrupting him as well. She even pays off her father, played by John Boy Walton (Richard Thomas). Throughout the show it becomes criminality that hold the family together as all other worldly forces try and pull it apart.

“For now we see in a mirror, darkly, but face-to-face,” 1 Corinthians says of adulthood. Ingmar Bergman borrowed the phrase for the 1961 Swedish family drama. The name has been borrowed by other dark adaptations, including a Showtime thriller launched at the same time as COVID-19. The common thread linking these family-based stories is that the stages of human life and development are necessarily cast against a grim, soul-sucking reality.

“Ozark” has taken this ball and run with it, developing a set of some superb characters in the process, but it’s shed its unsettling light on something else too — a tendency in America today to see the nuclear family not as a source of nurturing and support, but rather as a wicked trap from which one would have to chew off their own leg in order to escape.

The trapper’s name is Wendy, and we should all heed her warning.

Sam Patten is a recovering political consultant who was raised in Knox County and worked for Maine’s last three Republican senators.