'"Oz, that's the name on the street for the Oswald Maximum Security Penitentiary. Oz is retro, Oz is retribution. You wanna punish a man? Separate him from his family, separate him from himself, cage him up with his own kind."
- Augustus Hill
Oz is a long-running, critically-acclaimed one hour drama that follows the daily lives of the inmates and staff of the Oswald State Correctional Facility, nicknamed Oz. Inmates are divided between the main prison (Genpop) and "Em City", a unit with more perks for the prisoners at the price of more surveillance.The main focus of the show is the study of personalities within the prison population, whose out-of-control violence, general anomie, and domination by gangs creates an environment that forces difficult decisions just to survive, much less avoid sexual slavery, drug addiction, or solitary confinement. Characters (who are summarized in the character page) range from former lawyer Tobias Beecher, Aryan leader Verne Schillinger, Iago-figure Ryan O'Reilly, senior citizen Bob Rebadow, veteran criminal Simon Adibisi, and many, many more. Wheelchair bound prisoner-for-life Augustus Hill serves as narrator, intermixing the events of each episode with a more general theme.The Loads and Loads of Characters would influence future shows like LOST and The Wire. There is constant character turnover due to the fact that Anyone Can Die, and that anyone can get released. Newly introduced characters can become central to the story immediately, other main characters can fade away, be killed, or be transferred unexpectedly.Aside from the character study, the struggles of gangs to control the lucrative prison trade in "tits" (drugs) creates much of the dramatic background, with cunning gang "leaders" attempting to leverage both their followers and the prison structure in a never-ending battle for dominance.The staff of the prison, while treated sympathetically, is shown to be divided and isolated from events in the prison. Idealists such as Em City head Tim McManus, Father Ray Mukada, and Psychologist/Nun Sister Peter-Marie attempt to introduce academic rehabilitation methods, while the more battle hardened Corrections Officers tend to view the prisoners as scum who deserve punishment, leaving the well-meaning yet politically astute Warden Leo Glynn to decide between them. Some successes in reaching inmates are balanced by outright failure, while crackdowns on inmates that get superficial results sometimes lead to much bigger problems just beneath the surface.When first released, the powerful first 15 minutes (featuring Beecher's entry into prison) forever branded Oz as "the show with prison-rape." However, the show is more complex, attempting to tackle questions of the nature and origin of violence and criminality, but continually refusing to provide any easy answers. Every character on the show is morally ambiguous, with the "good" characters of the show sometimes committing despicable deeds while the "monsters" sometimes act humanely. The show also examined the issue of prisoner's rights and the effectiveness of the American prison system, which the show depicts as inherently corrupt.Not to be confused witha certain other Oz. Or Dr. Oz.
This series contains examples of:
Affably Evil: Enrique Morales, leader of El Norte prison gang, especially the scene when he forces The Old Convict Rebadow to murder his predecessor, El Cid. "Who'd suspect a nice old man like you?"
All of the Other Reindeer: There's a lot of bullying in this show, and many attempts to graciously help those bullies; however, these attempts tend to backfire. For example, Beecher's attempt to reunite Vern with his son, Hank. Vern ends up getting suspicious and has Hank murder Beecher's son, and Beecher has Hank murdered.
And I Must Scream: Reverend Cloutier, who is sealed inside the cafeteria wall by Timmy Kirk and the bikers, remains there forgotten for what must be at least several days, is caught in an enormous gas explosion, survives, sustaining horrifying burns, then as his throat begins to recover so that he can almost produce more than a raspy gurgle, the bikers pick up his charred body and brick him behind another wall to keep him from naming names. As if detaching him from life support wouldn't have been enough. Father Mukada finds his decaying corpse in the final episode, only to seal it back up, figuring he's better off left where he is.
And There Was Much Rejoicing: Any act of violence witnessed by the inmates is greeted by cheers and jeers, depending on their sympathy (or lack of) for the one being attacked. Exceptions include:
When feared Nigerian gangster Simon Adebisi is killed, the initial reaction is a shocked gasp of disbelief from both inmates and guards, as Adebisi seemed so Bad Ass he couldn't be killed by anyone.
The death of Augustus Hill. Burr Redding is overcome with grief, and most of the prisoners are shocked. McManus actually breaks down crying. Mainly this is because more so than anyone else in Em city, Hill had become the most philosophical and accepting of the bad things that he had done.
Anyone Can Die: this show routinely killed off well-established characters. In fact, most of the main characters are dead by the end of the series finale.
With Beecher doing something even worse than that before the end of the series. Although he has a My God, What Have I Done? moment shortly after that and tries to make things right, it's too little, too late.
Blatant Lies: Prisoners to each other, prisoners to guards, guards to prisoners, guards to each other...
Book Ends: The episodes begin and end and with Augustus Hill narrating on some philosophical topic. This is notably subverted however in the season 5 finale, where Augustus Hill dies. The final shot of the episode is of his empty chair, symbolizing that the voice of Oz is truly dead.
Crazy Jealous Guy: Keller's obsession with Beecher which leads him to kill Beechers prison lovers and and sets him up to be sent back to prison after he gets a girlfriend on the outside the equally obsessive Ryan O'Reilly over Gloria Nathan leading him to have her husband killed, the character Li Chen was doing time for the attempted murder of his girlfriend and the man he saw her kissing and Enrique Moralis' abusive brother in law towards his sister.
Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: This is one of Ryan O'Reily's specialties. Played with in series 4 with his rivalry with Stanislofsky. One episodes plot sees the two approach various different groups and attempt to get them to kill the other, all while maintaining a very visible friendship.
Conveniently Cellmates: Ryan and Cyril O'Reily, although the lengths Ryan had to go through to arrange this diminishes the 'convenient' aspect.
Cycle of Revenge: One runs between Schillinger and Beecher for the whole show. Lampshaded by Said to Beecher: "You killed Schillinger's son, he killed yours, now you're going to kill his other son. When does it end?" Beecher replies it will end when Schillinger is dead. It does in fact end in the series finale, when Beecher kills Schillinger and Keller kills the rest of the Ayrans.
The Danza: Chris Keller is played by Chris Meloni.
Death Row: Killing another prisoner or a CO generally puts an inmate on death row, which is located in a small wing of Oz, and the characters there are generally used as a "B-plot" in Seasons 2 and later, with different inmates appearing until their execution.
Deconstructed Trope: Kareem Said, mostly in Seasons 1 and 2, is arguably a deconstruction of the social leader archetype prevalent in the 1990's, particularly after the L.A. Riots. He is a brilliant and wise man who fights for a noble cause (equality in the justice system). His arguments that the judicial system and society are not fair to minorities are not without cause, but he is completely unwilling to take responsibility for his actions, such as the deaths caused in the riot, and he frequently comes off as petty and vindictive to those outside his group. He polarizes race relations into a two-sided issue and often appears oblivious to the fact that every prisoner in Oz is guilty.
Determinator: Hernandez to Alvarez. Hernandez's pure hatred of Alvarez (which he finally admits has no logical basis) and constant pressure on his fellow Latinos to kill Alavarez causes the group's initial admiration for "El Cid" to eventually degrade into annoyance, and makes him an easy target for Morales.
Directed by Cast Member: Averted. Somewhat bizarrely, the show had a long list of actors show up in the director's chair, Steve Buscemi, Kathy Bates, Matt Dillon and Rob Morrow among others, none of whom ever actually acted on the show.
Although he made it look like Beecher killed him, Keller's dive at the end may have been as well.
Dysfunction Junction: It's a show about a prison. But interestingly, the staff aren't above this trope.
Electrified Bathtub: Prison guard Claire Howell murders inmate Nikolai Stanislofsky this way, after first giving him some hand relief.
Enemy Mine: Happens all the time as the different factions struggle for power or revenge, forming temporary alliances to gain the advantage over their enemy of the moment. Lampshaded by Galson, a convicted Marine colonel.
Galson: The land-mines in Oz are even less visible. Friends turn on friends, enemies buddy up.
Even Evil Has Standards: A major theme of the show. Special mention must go to Malcolm Coyle. He boasts that he slaughtered a family for fun, prompting Hill to turn him in. Kareem Said enlists the help of the Latinos, Italians, and Aryans to protect Hill by reminding the leaders that they are family men, and Coyle is despicable even by their standards. Schillinger especially agrees once he learns the family had a war Veteran in it.
Eye Scream: Alvarez gouging out the eyes of a prison guard. Or Schillinger getting some glass shards thrown onto his eye courtesy of drugged up Beecher.
Failure Is the Only Option: McManus and Said in their attempts to reform the inmates — every time it looks like they've succeeded, circumstances or the inmates' own internal demons make it all for naught.
Despite coming off as a prison advocate, there have been cases where Said throws his name into a cause with the intention of seeing failure. A few examples include:
Taking up Augustus Hillís appeal attempts in season 2, but when it doesnít look good for Augustus he simply shrugs it off and tells Augustus that his failure will show society how corrupt the justice system is. Hill is less than pleased with this analogy.
Then there was the class action lawsuit he instigated in season 3. He gathers the families of the prisoners who died in season 1ís riot to sue OZ, but in season 4 he refuses to testify because he finds it demoralizing to have to wear a prison jumpsuit in court. Tobias Beecher calls Said out on this and even accuses him of trying to deliberately sabotage the case before going to court himself to testify. When Beecher reports later that the lawsuit was successful, Said is completely disinterested, leading some credence to Beecherís accusations.
Then there was Jason Kramerís case in season 4. Said only took this case because he wanted Cramer to be found guilty again. When he realized that Kramer was going to go free though he withdrew himself from the case entirely, hoping his depature would somehow steer the case in the opposite direction. It didnít work, and Jason was acquitted anyways.
Finger in the Mail: African-American inmate Johnny Post kills Italian inmate Dino Ortolani on the orders of Homeboys leader Jefferson Keane. In retaliation, the Italians dismember Post and send Keane his penis in a box.
And then of course there's the actual fingers in the mail, previously attached to Beecher's kidnapped son.
Flat "What.": Robson in response to Cutler telling him to bend over. It makes sense (and a lot more pain) in context.
Gallows Humor: An awful lot of it. No matter how brutal or horrific a situation, someone is going to make a joke about it.
Warden Glynn: The M.E. has ruled McCullum's death as suicide. He bit into his skin, chewing off chunks of muscle over the course of a week or so, causing himself to bleed out. Sister Pete: Sweet Jesus! Officer Murphy: Like a cannibal! Tim McManus: A cannibal eats somebody else's flesh. Murphy: So what do you call a guy who eats his own flesh? Tim McManus: Inventive.
Great Escape: Agamemnon Busmalis, three unsuccessful attempts to dig out from prison to freedom. Got out once, but got caught.
Hollywood Tone-Deaf: In and effort to stay clean, Omar White takes up singing. Every prisoner seems to think he's the worst singer in OZ. It should be noted that his actor Michael Wright played Eddie King Jr. in the film The Five Heart Beats, who was looseley based off of singer David Ruffin. The point is, Michael Wright can sing.
Governor Devlin: Despite OZ experiencing a riot, the above average murder rate, two inmates escaping, two different incidents involving an inmate having a gun, and a freaking bomb scare not to mention a gas explosion that followed, Devlin seems completely content with sending numerous high profile criminals such as Kareem Said, Jackson Vahue, and even his close friend Mayor Wilson Loewen to OZ (though in this case you could argue he set Loewen up deliberately). Another case would be allowing a TV crew to film a documentary on prison life in OZ when there are other prisons without a history of clusterfucks. It ends with the Host getting the crap beat out of him. And finally, amidst tension and in the wake of several murders, two separate times Devlin has ordered Glynn to end an essential lockdown so he can save face and portray a sense of control to the public. Though that last one is probably more of him not caring than being stupid. The only way to justify much if it is to claim that he deliberately wants people to think of prison as brutal, to exemplify his "tough on crime" stance.
Leo Glynn: Though most of the time his hands are tied by above mentioned Devlin, Leo has allowed many programs and trial to take place in OZ and they almost always end badly. Magazine Photo-shoot, inmate gets electrocuted, printing press, fire, production of Macbeth, inmate is killed on stage in front of everyone.
Tim McManus: Three programs he's allowed in Em City, and three have ended in disaster: Boxing tournament, basketball tournament, and a Seeing Eye Dog program. The respective results: an inmate is left braindead, a C.O. gets his tendon cut and is crippled for life, and finally an inmate trains his dog to attack a C.O.
Both McManus and Glynn have a habit of putting their faith in prisoners when they're obviously up to something (Morales worrying about the mental well-being of Hernandez? Come on.), while any genuine plea for protection, help or justice is usually met with a "Now, why would I trust you? The answer is NO."
The correction officers. If they were good at their jobs and stopped a good portion of the shenanigans going on in Emerald City, there wouldn't be much of a show. Some of them are shown to be outright corrupt, however.
Robert Sippel: After serving time for molesting a fourteen year old boy, Sippel cannot find a place to stay, let alone a job. He convinces Sister Pete to let him sleep in his old cell, and not in protective custody. He only lasts hours before CO Metzger brings him into the gym so the Aryans can crucify him.
McManus deserves another special mention with Lemuel Idzik. When Idzik killed Kareem Said, McManus knew that Omar White (having kicked his addiction to heroin thanks to Said) intended to seek vengeance. In true McManus fashion, his ideals overshadowed common sense when he made the two cellmates. Omar didn't kill Idzik however, Idzik killed Omar Nice going McManus.
"As an act of good faith I, Adebisi, will give Kareem Said this incriminating video of me doing drugs with impunity." Hows that workin' out for ya?
If I Had a Nickel: "If I had a nickel for every time I didn't understand, you'd be talking to an empty chair."
Karma Houdini: Ryan O'Reily commits numerous heinous acts and in the end faces minimal punishment for his crimes, mainly because he's able to manipulate others to do the dirty work for him; and then arrange their deaths as well.
Laser-Guided Karma: After six years of monstrous and sadistic acts, Schillinger looks like he is about to end the series unscathed. He is even about to kill old enemy Beecher during a play. Then he realizes that Keller switched it so Beecher has the real knife. Particularly nice in that he realized he had been duped just before dying. The prison audience rejoiced.
Last Minute Reprieve: Part of Bob Rebadow's backstory; a power failure saved him from the electric chair. Cyril in Season 6. But it's only temporary...
Loads and Loads of Characters: During any given season, there's at least twenty recurring characters that are playing a pivotal role in at least one arc. If you got a line somewhere in the first two seasons, chances are you got a name, multiple character arcs, and a tragic death scene by the end of the show.
The evil Nazi guard is called Karl Metzger; "metzger" means butcher in German. In fact, almost all the American white supremacists on the show (James Robson being the exception) have at least one German or German-sounding name.
Ray/Rei is Japanese for spirit, a fitting name for a priest, though in a sardonic twist it can also mean zero, i.e. nothingness.
Sister Peter Marie Reimondo = Rey mundo (King and world in Spanish). God truly is the ruler of the world?
Schillinger wants to make Adam Guenzel his prag. In old-timey prison slang, the word "gunsel" was the equivalent of "bitch", "punk", etc.
Mind Rape: This is essentially Schillinger's revenge plan for Beecher during the second season. It works flawlessly.
Morality Pet: Ryan O'Reily and his brain-damaged brother — though this is horribly subverted on several occasions due to Ryan's utter willingness to manipulate his brother for his schemes.
Chris Keller does this to every single one of Beecher's former lovers.
Musical Episode: Series 5, episode 3 'Variety' is a semi-example with various characters singing during the narrator segments instead of Hill talking. Allows The Cast Showoff skills of Broadway alums Betty Buckley, Rita Moreno and BD Wong.
Nobody Poops: Averted, the use of toilets is a semi-regular occurrence.
In Season 4, there is a complete shot of Chris Keller urinating into a bucket.
How Beecher finishes his epic beat-down of Vern Schillinger at the end of season 1.
No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: On many occasions, the most brutal of them all (Keller to Beecher) being surprisingly systematic in nature.
Not Quite Forever: One measure of the show's gradual decline from a gritty prison drama to a prison-based soap opera is the number of times Alvarez is sent to Solitary permanently, only to be let out a couple of weeks later.
Not so Above It All: Most of the prison staff; McManus is secret pot smoker, Diane murdered an inmate in order to keep him from incriminating her in a scheme to get her to smuggle cigarettes into the prison, Sean Murphy helped cut Morales' Achilles tendons as payback for him having another guard's tendon cut, and reoccurring straight-arrow prison guard Armstrong took money to let a man destroy the Muslims' printing press equipment.
In addition, Glynn makes no effort to hide his disdain for prisoners or his bullying of Alvarez.
The homophobic rapist Guenzel becoming the Aryans' newest prag. Also qualifies as Laser-Guided Karma.
Percussive Prevention: In the long feud between Beecher and Schillinger, Schillinger gets his son to kidnap Beecher's children and kill one of them. In retaliation, Beecher arranges to have Schillinger's son killed, but feels remorseful afterwards. So remorseful, in fact, that when Schillinger is about to find out that Beecher was responsible Beecher decides to own up to it. Keller wants to confess to the crime instead so that Beecher won't become a target. Beecher tells him no. Keller knocks Beecher out so that Beecher can't stop him from taking credit for the murder and then runs off to do so.
Police Brutality: Alvin Yood (Prisoner 01Y218) is a former small town Sheriff jailed for beating a minor who spat on him during an interrogation.
Posthumous Narration: Augustus does his usual narrations in Season 6 despite being killed in the Season 5 finale. He's joined by other dead characters such as Jefferson Keane, Dino Ortolani, Antonio Nappa and even the Schillinger brothers (who never appeared together onscreen while alive).
Funnily enough, SNL did a parody in which Jerry Seinfeld, after having been sent to prison in the last episode of Seinfeld, gets sent to Oz. What follows is a helluva lot of Seinfeldian dialogue.
Scars Are Forever: Subverted. Both Alvarez and Schillinger receive prominent facial scars during the first season, and both scars are totally badass and reflect on their character. Nonetheless, both heal over, which in Vern's case is actually pretty hard to believe. Although Alvarez's scar occasionally reappears as the plot demands.
Scary Black Man: Adebisi. Said often uses this stereotype to his advantage, too.
Scenery Censor: Noticeably averted. There's quite a lot of full frontal male nudity. Hell, by Season 4, they made at least one of those shots (I think of Ryan) part of the opening titles.
The Scottish Trope: In the final season the prisoners put on a performance of Macbeth. Every prisoner who volunteers for the title role gets murdered, with the last death taking place on stage during performance night.
Serial Killer: Quite a few, with Keller eventually admitting to have been one.
Shout-Out: When Clayton Hughes shoots Governer Devlin, his hair is cut into a mohawk and he wears a green army jacket. Now where have I seen that before?
Shower of Angst: Considering the amount of traumatic experiences the prison inmates go through, it's expected.
Shower Scene: There are a few notable beatdowns in the shower, but probably the worst is in Season 5, when Supreme Allah kicks the shit out of Augustus Hill—who is in a wheelchair, and NAKED.
Justified as well as Truth in Television in her case because it's a men's prison and Shirley was only there because she was on Death Row — the women's prison didn't have the facilities or experience. (Since the USA reinstated capital punishment in 1976 only 12 women have been put to death, which is just 0.9% of executed prisoners. She's supposed to be an unusual occurrence.) The show makes up for it by including female prison guards, medical and administrative employees, and recurring family members.
Sorting Algorithm of Evil: The prisoners range from benevolent characters (Ralph Galino, Hamid Khan, Father Meehan) and harmless characters with a few exceptions (Busmalis, Augustus Hill, Said) to monsters like Schillinger, Adebisi and Hernandez.
Jahfree Neema, a charismatic African American community leader of some local renown, comes into Oz almost immediately after Kareem Said, a charismatic African American community leader of some local renown is shot by Lemuel Idzik. Not that much really comes of the similarities, but the archetype void is filled.
The Unfair Sex: Averted with characters like Shirley Bellinger and Claire Howell.
Took a Level in Badass: Tobias Beecher, starts out as a helpless rich lawyer in first season by the end he's a cynical grizzled con with a beard to prove it. Eventually becoming tough enough to kill a hard as nails white supremacist guard with nothing but his sharpened fingernails. Actually that's only the third season. He sorta goes back to how he started by the end of things but now he swears more.
Villainous Crossdresser: While not notably more villainous than any other major character, Alonzo Torquemada (Bobby Cannavale) is a tall, sexually aggressive transvestite with a penchant for hallucinogens and a thing for Alvarez. In the last episode, Torquemada and Alvarez end up together, though it's left vague as to whether or not Torquemada was BSing Alvarez when he told him he wouldn't fuck him, as far as him telling Alvarez that while gay, he was celibate.
Actually he's one of the only gays on the show to not crossdress. He just looks like something out of a Lady Gaga video is all. Franklin Winthrop as the Aryans' prag qualifies however, as does Robson during his brief "feminine" period and Nathalie/Nathaniel in Season 3.
Welcome Episode: Tobias Beecher being admitted into Oz in the first episode.
What Happened to the Mouse?: the finale infamously left the Governor Devlin plotline unresolved, let alone McManus's fate (essentially being told that in a month's time, if Devlin doesn't get arrested for his crimes, new warden Querns will have no choice but to fire him in order to appease Devlin).
Where Da White Women At?: Despite his Afro-Centric political and religious views, Kareem Said is only attracted to white women, much to the horror of his fellow Muslim followers, and even his own (Christian) sister.
Yandere: Chris Keller. He murders all of the guys that Beecher has sex with, acts aggressive with Beecher, has him unknowingly kill Schillinger when he can't convince Beecher to do it willingly, and later kills the Aryans so that they don't pose a threat to him and Beecher. On two various occasions knocks Beecher out with a punch to the head when he refuses to comply with his wishes, and later handcuffs him to a chair, away from everyone, where he threatens him and then forcibly kisses him.