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  • Anvilicious: The creator's thoughts on capital punishment and prison reform are made very obvious. The fact that Governor Devlin is a pretty blatant Straw Character based on mid-late 90's Republican governors doesn't exactly help.
  • Base Breaker: Alvarez. Some fans see him as a Jerkass Woobie and a Butt Monkey who keeps getting himself screwed over as he tries to survive in Oz. Others see him as your everyday Jerkass who blames all the misfortunes he goes through on other prisoners, despite his impulsive decisions, like the eye gouge incident.
  • Big Lipped Alligator Moment: While there's some build up to it, Augstus putting himself in a coffin to escape Oz in the last scene of season 2. In season 3 he's still in the prison like nothing happened and no reference is ever made to it later on.
  • Best Known for the Fanservice: The way people talk about the show you'd think the whole series was just a looping 30 minute clip of a man getting raped in the showers after dropping his soap.
  • Better on DVD: While the arcs and loads of characters are easier to follow on DVD, the repetitive setting can get old quickly when watching a lot of episodes in a row...or put you in the right mood to take it all in.
  • Bizarro Episode: One season 4 episode has Hill's narration segments replaced with various characters singing classic numbers.
  • Complete Monster: Even in this Crapsack World, a few characters stand out.
    • Timmy Kirk is a sociopathic murderer who gets by in Oz despite his mediocre intellect and physical strength, due to his sheer ruthlessness and treachery. A flashback shows that he was incarcerated for homicide after putting a baby (implied to be his own) in a rat-infested dumpster, over the desperate protests of its mother. Initially a low-ranking member of the Irish gang, he makes a name for himself in prison by routinely betraying one gang for another. He seals Jeremiah Cloutier in a wall to die a slow and painful death in response to the latter casting Kirk out of his gang for his erratic behavior. After Father Mukada refuses to accept Kirk's reversion to Catholicism, Kirk responds by burning down Mukada's church in hopes of killing him. When Mukada survives the attack, Kirk continues to hound him with absurd allegations of sexual molestation. Kirk, by now facing execution, is simply happy that he might die knowing that the allegations could see Mukada permanently stripped of his priesthood.
    • Claire Howell is a sexually sadistic warden who rivals or surpasses the worst of the prison's inmates in cruelty. She is established early on as domineering and possessive, filing a false sexual harassment charge against Tim McManus, after he tries to get her fired for a savage beating of an inmate that left the victim comatose. It is then seen that she routinely forces herself on inmates, who know that their refusal would be met with violent reprisal. She develops an erotic fixation on Ryan O'Reilly, rapes him repeatedly, coaxes him into keeping quiet by killing a rival of his, and even offers to stop the abuse on the condition that she can target Ryan's mentally handicapped brother Cyril. She later assists in cutting Enrique Morales's Achilles tendons after he proves a nuisance to the prison management. Her one arguably good act-refusing to have an abortion after she becomes pregnant from one of her rapes is explicitly motivated by fear of divine retribution and does nothing to redeem her.
  • Foe Yay: Schillinger, Beecher, and Keller tend to have a triangle of this - lampshaded with Beecher and Schillinger in their song duet in "Variety",
    • A general intimidation tactic by Adebisi, with the implication of rape (see "Never live it down" below), seen with Beecher, Said, and Peter Schibetta — which comes to a brutal end when Adebisi rapes Schibetta.
  • Guy on Guy Is Hot: Just ask the Beecher/Keller fandom.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight: CO Armstrong's helping a Christian inmate destroy the printing press that the Muslim inmates were using for a prison industry business, on orders of a rival business/gang leader, and his line "I guess this is one of those times you don't ask "What Would Jesus Do?"." The actor playing Armstrong, Tim Brown, is an ex-NYC firefighter and one of the main dissenting voices in the debate over whether to allow the building of a Mosque near WTC ground zero.
  • Jerkass Woobie: A Trademark of the series. Every character is loathsome but is invested with a story or acting performance to show that They are still human and have suffered Their own tragedies. Schillinger stands out the most. He's crossed the Moral Event Horizon God knows how many times but J.K. Simmons' acting is so good and the writing is strong enough that he can still be sympathetic while ordering the deaths of children.
    • Other examples are: Dino Ortolani, Donald Groves, Miguel Alvarez, Nino Schibetta, Peter Schibetta, Jefferson Keene, Andrew Schillinger, Chris Keller, Burr Redding, James Robson and Shirley Bellinger.
  • Magnificent Bastard: O'Reily, Adebisi, Chris Keller, Jia Kenmin to varying degrees.
  • Mind Game Ship: Chris Keller/Tobias Beecher. Ryan with whomever he is manipulating, to an extent.
  • Moral Event Horizon: Hoo Boy.. Schillinger and Ryan O'Reily both could fit a whole page with this.
    • Beecher's manipulation of Andrew (who was a jerk) would normally count, but doesn't because Beecher's responsibility is a bit cloudy, and the realization of his contributions causes Beecher to feel genuinely guilty.
    • Kenny crossed it in the Season 2 finale when he killed Jara. Before then, Kenny was starting to go through Character Development and actually seemed like he could redeem himself. But when Season 3 started, he became an irritating and despicable punk with a stupid nickname who only cared about himself.
    • In general, played with. While many appear to have crossed theirs (Keane, Adebisi and William Cudney being some examples) by virtue of the crimes they committed, the show's themes of morality and redemption work it in such a way that they are not as evil as they may have been portrayed otherwise. While most cross theirs while in prison (Schillinger, Robson and Keller to name a few), they are never explicitly viewed as beyond any redemption.
  • Narm: Thy name is Cyril O'Reilly, especially in later seasons. The forced tender moments start seeming ridiculous after he kills or incapacitates multiple people.
    • Often Hill's narrations verge on this.
  • Narm Charm: The series has tendency towards the melodramatic and can feel over-stylized at times... but most of the drama is compelling enough to make it work.
  • Never Live It Down: Once someone is raped, he's forever a "prag," and while he can earn some respect, he can have no real power in the social order unless he, personally, kills his rapist. If the rapist has left Oz or died some other way, then that's just too bad for the victim.
    • The show itself is mostly remember in pop culture as being "that show with prison rape" and not for much else.
    • Among fans, the "aging pill" storyline. Words can't describe how jarring it is to have this show that used to pride itself on its harsh realism suddenly incorporate a plot element out of a Ray Bradbury story.
  • Nightmare Fuel: Enough to have its own page.
  • One-Scene Wonder: Eric Roberts' performance as a death row inmate at the end of the fourth episode is simultaneously terrifying and mesmerizing.
  • Rescued from the Scrappy Heap: Robson. After the gum incident at the end of Season 5, he became a prag. From that point on, Robson Took a Level in Kindness (no, really) and was the center of a realistic subplot involving prison rape. Robson alone managed to redeem himself, and made Season 6 much more tolerable compared to Season 5.
  • Retroactive Recognition: Oh my God, Elliot Stabler and Emile Skoda, what are you guys doing?
    • The show features several actors who were later cast on The Wire, some in quite different roles.
  • Seasonal Rot: Later seasons (generally after Season 3) significantly upped the number of character deaths and surreal storylines.
  • Selective Squick: Many (mostly male) viewers called out the series on its profusion of full frontal male nudity, and shots of prisoners using the toilet.
  • Sophomore Slump: Season 2 tried to go in a lot more storyline directions. Some worked, some were annoying.
  • The Scrappy: Omar White seems to be an in-universe example, lucking his way back into Em City into despite either pissing off or annoying everyone in sight.
    • Kenny "Bricks" (eye roll) Wangler manages to piss away all his sympathetic character development by being generally evil, whiny, and insufferable. Only Poet and Pierce seem to care when he gets shot.
    • Alvarez for some. See Base Breaker at the top of the page.
    • Cyril O'Reilly, who is frequently narm incarnate.
    • Clayton Hughes and his character's rapid slide into insanity were poorly received.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Character: Quite a few because Anyone Can Die, especially at the beginning and end of the series. Season 1 was probably the biggest offender, killing off Dino Ortolani, Jefferson Keane, Donald Groves, Eugene Dobbins, and Scott Ross. Several characters introduced in Season 6, such as Torquemada and Jafree Neema, seemed to be placed for a prominent place in the storyline if the series continued.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Plot: One can forgive the writers for not wanting to touch this with a 39 and a half foot pole, but a plot where Said and the other Muslims face increased discrimination in the wake of 9/11 would have been potentially brilliant, especially since Oz was one of the only shows running during the attacks to feature prominent Muslim characters.
  • Trapped by Mountain Lions: A chronic issue, possibly due to the large cast. Most prominent in Seasons 2 (Ryan's breast cancer and Peter Marie's dealings with Giles), 4 (Ageing drugs) and 5 (Alvarez and the dog training program, Omar's singing).
  • The Woobie: Beecher, Cyril, occasionally Alvarez, and Diane.
    • Also Father Mukada, sent to Oz because he questioned the conservative views of his powerful church patron, is clearly out of his depth in the madness and brutality of a maximum security prison.
    • Omar White could count as well, considering the fact that Mcmanus decides to stop giving him chances very soon after he actually begins earnestly heading in the right direction, and sends him back to solitary begging for forgiveness.
    • Eugene Dobbins. All he did while in Oz was play his cello and entertain everyone, and he became close friends with Augustus. But after his cello is destroyed simply because Vahue was angry, Eugene distances himself from everyone (including Hill) and just watches TV. And during the riot in Season 1, he's stabbed multiple times for no reason and ends up bleeding to death, despite Hill's desperate attempts to save him.
    • Guillaume Tarrant, while only appearing in a couple of episodes, could be considered one of the most tragic characters: Sent to a maximum security prison because of a minor crime (destroying a statue at a museum), he is instantly targeted by the stronger inmates (particularly Wangler). Then, he is manipulated by Adebisi into killing his tormentors, and commits suicide afterwards.

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