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'"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 six season long (1997-2003), 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 prison's out-of-control violence, general anomie, and domination by gangs creates an environment that forces prisoners to make difficult decisions just to survive, much less avoid sexual slavery, drug addiction, or solitary confinement. Characters range from former lawyer Tobias Beecher, Aryan leader Vern Schillinger, Iago-figure Ryan O'Reily, senior citizen Bob Rebadow, veteran criminal Simon Adebisi, 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 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. 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.


The show was HBO's first dramatic series, and was considered a forerunner of "Peak TV" series like The Sopranos and The Wire. The series was revolutionary in being uncensored, featuring only 8 episodes per season, and featuring Loads and Loads of Characters that can become central to the story immediately, fade away, be killed, or be transferred unexpectedly.

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 with a certain other Oz. Or Dr. Oz. Or The Land Down Under.

This series contains examples of:

  • AB Negative: When a prison guard is stabbed in the eyes and needs a blood transfusion, the only donor immediately available is inmate Ryan O'Reilly, who makes it a condition of his helping that Cyril be moved into Em City with him.
  • Acid Attack: Alonzo de Torquemada, a prominent LGBT nightclub owner, is convicted of 1st degree assault and sent to Oswald Prison for throwing a flask of acid into the face of somebody he had an undisclosed personal beef with.
  • 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 Gays Are Promiscuous: Defied in Richie Hanlon's case, though some of the other inmates do treat him like he's one.
    Hanlon: I only suck the cocks I wanna suck.
  • 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 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.
    • The killing of Kenny "Bricks" Wangler, Junior Pierce, Lou Rath, and CO Joseph Howard by timid French inmate Guillaume Tarrant. Mostly because everyone else is terrified because Tarrant went on a shooting spree inside the prison.
    • Played for Laughs when Mayor Wilson Loewen is killed; there follows a montage of various characters saying in a deadpan voice, "Oh well."
  • Anyone Can Die: this show routinely killed off well-established characters. By the end only 5 of the many prisoners that appeared in the pilot are alive and even Warden Glynn has died.
  • Anything That Moves: Scott Ross, who is said to "fuck anything on two or four legs." Ditto for Chris Keller, who seems to prefer men, but has been married 4 times.
  • Arch-Enemy: Beecher and Schillinger, O'Reily and Ortolani, Saïd and Adebisi, Timmy Kirk and Father Mukada, Chris Keller and Agent Taylor...
  • Ass Shove: James Robson, who, contrary to the typical Prison Rape, gets a spoon shoved up his ass by a more creative inmate.
    • All the rapes in the series certainly count as well.
  • Asshole Victim: Everyone by default, though subverted in that you can feel sympathy even for some of them given how horrible their fates are. For example there's Neo-Nazi thug Robson, who goes through a Humiliation Conga throughout Season 6..
  • As the Good Book Says...:
    • Vern Schillinger to Reverend Cloutier, when warning him not to interfere in the affairs of the Aryan Brotherhood.
      "And I will pour out mine indignation upon thee. I will blow against thee in the fire of my wrath, and deliver thee into the hand of brutish men. And skillful to destroy." Ezekiel 21:31
    • Warden Glynn as Smug Snake Timmy Kirk is hauled off to Death Row.
      "He who comes in vanity, shall depart in darkness. And his name shall be covered in darkness. He will never see the sun." Ecclesiastes 6:4
  • As Himself: Robert Iler (AJ Soprano of The Sopranos) shows up in the season 4 finale as a celebrity contestant on the Show Within a Show "Up Your Ante" when McManus appears on the show.
  • As You Know: the sometimes awkward retellings of pertinent plot points as they jump from storyline to storyline
  • Ate His Gun: Poor Tarrant....
  • Autocannibalism: Unseen until death, solitary inmate McCullum upped the ante by eating himself.
  • Ax-Crazy: Many of the inmates are this. Even Beecher after taking a level in badass and some of the guards show these tendencies.
  • Back for the Finale: In most episodes of the final season Augustus receives co-narrators in the form of many of the shows past characters including ones like Dino Orlanti and Jefferson Keane that died way back in season 1. In a more straightforward example, in the finale proper Jackson Vahue makes an appearance after being Put on a Bus back in season 4.
  • Badass Boast: Martin Querns introduces himself as the new unit manager of Emerald City with one of these, earning him the respect of the prisoners.
    Querns: The warden is correct, I have served in many correctional institutions. But what he didn't say, is that like most of you, I come from the streets. I am not some candy-ass white liberal looking to turn you all into "better citizens". I intend to meet with each of you individually, but until that time, keep one principle in mind: Don't fuck. With Querns. That's all.
  • Batman Gambit: Most of Ryan O'Reilly's ploys. He fails sometimes, but never completely.
  • Becoming the Mask:
    • An inmate joins the Muslims in order to kill Said, only to convert to Islam for real. He later dies saving Said's life.
    • Chris Keller is originally sent to make Tobias like him in order to hurt him emotionally later on but ends up actually falling for him instead and turning on the plot's mastermind Vern Shillinger.
    • Undercover cop Desmond Mobay becomes a drug addict trying to infiltrate Adebisi's gang. He also becomes Adebisi's top seller, and even kills another prisoner.
  • The Big Damn Kiss: A few throughout the series. Beecher and Keller's kiss in the laundry room in season 2. Keller (again) when ex-wife Bonnie comes to visit. And Dr. Nathan kissing O'Reilly when she admits her feelings for him.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Quite a lot, and in Spanish (Alvarez, etc.), Russian (Stanislofsky), Chinese (Kenmin) and probably some more.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: even the most 'innocent' characters- Beecher, Cyril and Rebadow- are killers. 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...
  • Bolivian Army Cliffhanger: Used twice at the ends of the first and fourth seasons. The first ends with National Guard troops bursting into the cellblock to put down the riot, firing live ammunition at random. The fourth ends with a massive accidental gas explosion in the prison kitchens.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: The series ends with Oz being evacuated after a supposed anthrax attack on the prison.
  • Bookends: 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.
    • The shot of Keller's dead body is largely similar to the first time his face is shown in his introductory flashback.
  • The Boxing Episode: Several episodes in series 3 centre around a boxing tournament organised between the various gangs in Oz. Ryan tries to fix the fights so his brother Cyril wins.
  • Break the Cutie: Several characters apply but Beecher...Hoo boy Beecher... And Dr. Nathan, whose husband is murdered, because O'Reilly has a crush..
  • Butt-Monkey:
    • Tobias Beecher's entire time in Oz is spent making his life get worse and worse. Season 1 has him get handed every prison humiliation in the book, Season 2 has him get all of his limbs broken, Seasons 3, 4, and 5 have his family getting victimized by Vern Schillinger, and Season 6 has him get paroled, only to get shipped back to Oz thanks to Keller, and then accused of Keller's murder.
    • The Christians are always portrayed as weak, as they are the only gang who accepts sex offenders (though there are rapists in most of them), the bottom rung of prison hierarchy.
    • Omar White. He is genuinely trying to improve his behaviour, but being somewhat naive and hyperactive at the same time he gets into trouble constantly.
    • Supreme Allah tends to fall victim to just about any framing attempt.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Most of the inmates don't care about how they're labeled, or are too deluded or in denial to see their actions as wrong. Timmy Kirk, however, is the exception to that rule. When Kirk is put on Death Row for his attempted murder of Father Mukada, he boasts that he can't die because he's either Satan's spawn or the devil himself.
  • Cast Herd: This is enforced, due to the nature of the prison gangs. Most of the main cast members belong to different groups, making it difficult to focus on any great number of them at a time.
  • Celebrity Paradox: A particularly bizarre one. In the season 4 finale, McManus appears on the Show Within a Show "Up Your Ante" (modeled somewhat after $1,000 Pyramid) the celebrity contestant is Robert Iler who plays A.J. on The Sopranos (which was also running on HBO at the time), good thing McManus doesn't watch the show or else he'd wonder why Diane was on the show pretending to be an actress named Edie Falco.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Keller's obsession with Beecher which leads him to kill Beecher's 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 Morales' 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.
  • Convenient Miscarriage : Shirley Bellinger's sentence is commuted to life in prison when she turns up pregnant, then changed back to the death penalty when she miscarries.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Two during the Season 3 boxing tournament. First, "Throttlin'" Steve Pasquin is downed by a single punch from Pancamo. Then the Wangler vs. Khan fight. While Kenny gets plenty of punches in, they have no effect on Kahn. Meanwhile, every single punch from Khan rocks Wangler, to the point that he tries to bite Khan. One more punch puts him down.
  • 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 Aryans.
  • Death by Irony: The handsome Stanley Bukowski dies by getting his face melted off by a steam pipe by the Italians.
  • Death by Racism: Mark Miles was a Death Row inmate who took to constantly hurling racial insults at his fellow death row member Moses Deyell. This pisses off Moses so much that he digs a hole through the wall in between their cells just so he can strangle Miles.
  • 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 a deconstruction of the social leader archetype prevalent in the 1990s, 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.
  • Depraved Bisexual: Chris Keller, both a serial divorcée and a serial killer of gay men.
    • The Aryans frequently exhibit bisexual behavior, in the form of raping other men, but it's not clear how much of this stems from attraction, per se, and how much is them simply wanting to dominate other inmates on the deepest possible level short of murder.
  • Depraved Dentist: A rare heroic case appears in Dr. Faraj, who uses his skills to dish out some richly-deserved pain and humiliation to Robson.
  • 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 Alvarez causes the group's initial admiration for "El Cid" to eventually degrade into annoyance and makes him an easy target for Morales.
  • Doing In the Wizard:
    • It is implied that Rebadow's "conversations with God" are the product of a brain tumor, as the voices intensify when his tumor becomes malignant, and disappear when it is removed.
    • Cloutier's mystical disappearance at the end of Season 5 is finally explained in the Series Finale: he was kidnapped by the Bikers and sealed behind the wall again.
  • Double Standard: Rape, Female on Male: Averted. Claire Howell going after the reluctant inmates is disturbing. Not quite as disturbing as the male on male rapes, though.
  • Double Standard: Rape, Male on Male: Averted. Not a single rape scene is ever played off or received as "funny". When Glynn condones prison rape as a form of prisoner control, his staff is horrified.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • Beecher's wife Or was it?
    • Although he made it look like Beecher killed him, Keller's dive at the end may have been as well.
    • Poor Guillaume Tarrant blows his brains out on his second or third day in prison.
  • 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.
  • Embarrassing Tattoo: Ryan considers the tattoo of his wife's name on his forearm to be this, as he mentions to Said while scrubbing it off his arm in the bathroom.
    • Beecher is distraught that his wife saw the swastika that Schillinger burned onto his ass.
  • 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.
  • Erotic Dream: At one point Sister Peter Marie starts having erotic dreams of inmate Chris Keller. She realizes soon enough that he's been messing with her head to help him get closer to Tobias Beecher again.
  • 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.
  • Everything Is Racist: A dark, realistic example. The inmates organize themselves around racial lines, toss slurs around at each other, and compete for racial control of the prison, along with the occasional race-motivated murder or rape. The Aryans are the most explicitly hateful and violent, and even the prison staff seem to carry some racial tension.
  • 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.
  • Fake Guest Star: All over the place given that most seasons only had 8 episodes so nearly everybody feels like a series regular. Perhaps the most notable examples are B.D. Wong (Father Ray), muMs da Schemer (Poet), Lauren Velez (Dr. Gloria), and George Morfogen who were apart of the series from the pilot episode and appeared in nearly every episode through to the finale. The opening credits make it harder to judge; for the first two seasons, the opening sequence has a "guest-starring" tier, which is where a majority of actors fell. Season Three removes the actual words "guest starring", but still lists actual guest stars alongside the semi-regulars.
  • Fanservice: Many of the cast members are quite muscular and spend periods of time in undress.
  • The Farmer and the Viper: Many, many times, attempts at genuine kindness and altruism backfire horribly on the person offering. Examples include:
    • Dr. Nathan's kindness to O'Reily during his cancer treatments ends with him murdering her husband.
    • Poet repaying Kareem Said's efforts to secure his release by not only blowing it and getting sent back to jail, but later publicly humiliating Said over the latter's relationship with a white woman.
    • Schillinger repaying Beecher's attempt to broker peace by murdering Beecher's young son.
    • Beecher trying to protect Schillinger's prags from being raped results in one of them murdering Beecher's father to get a Rank Up in the Aryan Brotherhood.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Getting sent to solitary is this for Miguel Alvarez at the end of Season 2.
  • 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.
    • ** Jason Cramer's crime flashback shows that he was arrested after he attempted to send a package containing the decapitated head of his lover (where he was sending it isn't clear) and the clerk noticed blood seeping from the box.
  • Flat "What": Robson in response to Cutler telling him to bend over. It makes sense (and a lot more pain) in context.
  • Fortune Teller: Jara is a fetisher, reading cowrie shells in African tradition. He claims to have known that Adebisi would come to him for advice.
  • The Freelance Shame Squad: Any time a brawl or other drama breaks out, expect the other prisoners to stop what they're doing and whoop and jeer at the person on the losing end. This can actually be quite funny when it happens to prisoners who really deserve it.
  • Freudian Excuse:
    • The O'Reilys had an abusive father and a mother who died while they were young.
    • James Robson was both physically and sexually abused by his father.
  • Full-Frontal Assault: Some instances during the shower scenes.
  • 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 a 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.
  • Goodbye, Cruel World!: After Beecher's wife on the outside commits suicide and leaves her body behind for their little children to find, he receives a letter that she sent in advance in which she spitefully blames him for her death.
  • Great Escape: Agamemnon Busmalis, three unsuccessful attempts to dig out from prison to freedom. Got out once, but got caught.
  • Groin Attack:
    • The Season 2 premiere is aptly named "The Tip". When Beecher is sexually assaulted by one of his new cellmates after transfer to Gen Pop, he bites the tip of the man's penis off.
    • Johnny Post gets his penis cut off and mailed back to his gang.
    • In a hilarious and far less gruesome example, Beecher kicks Schillinger in the balls before beating him with a dumbbell and shitting on his face.
    • Tiny, old, crazy Giles surprises Alvarez (who was harassing him after being stabbed two years prior) by delivering a well-placed kick and punching him in the face.
  • Had to Come to Prison to Be a Crook: Tobias Beecher, imprisoned for vehicular homicide, is a murderer several times over by the end of the series.
  • Handsome Lech: McManus. Though this backfires on him when Claire Howell arrives on the scene.
  • Hanging Judge: Homeboys leader Burr Redding adopts this role for himself when he kills Tugg Daniels for conspiring against him with Supreme Allah, holding a mock trial before "sentencing" him.
    Redding: I believe every man deserves a fair trial... before the execution.
  • Heel–Face Revolving Door: Keller spends an awful lot of the series spinning around in here.
  • Hollywood Tone-Deaf: In an 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 Heartbeats, who was loosely based on singer David Ruffin. The point is, Michael Wright can sing.
  • I Can't Feel My Legs: A very tragic inversion. Augustus Hill, who has been paralyzed for the entire series, Famous Last Words are "I can feel my legs."
  • Idiot Ball:
    • 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 of it is to claim that he deliberately wants people to think of prison as brutal, to exemplify his "tough on crime" stance.
    • Both McManus and Glynn have a habit of putting their faith in prisoners when they're obviously up to something, 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 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.
    • Adebisi gives Said a tape of all of his misdeeds as an act of good faith, despite apparently knowing that Said wants to bring him down. Adebisi is genuinely surprised and enraged when the inevitable occurs.
    • The "Men Of Death Row" photoshoot. Sure, let's put a bunch of psychopathic dudes who are responsible for multiple murders in a room full of equipment. What could possibly go wrong?
  • 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."
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Donald Groves, who ate his mother and was saving his father for Thanksgiving.
  • Incompatible Orientation: When Richie Hanlon (gay) joins Shirley Bellinger (straight) in the Death Row block, Bellinger offers to show her vagina if Hanlon shows her his penis. He points out that he's gay, but obliges anyway when she says she doesn't care either way.
  • Indulgent Fantasy Segue: Rebadow, a kindly old prisoner, starts to become obsessed with the idea of killing after the leader of one of the gangs forces him to take out one of his rivals. At one point he fantasizes about laying into the crowd in the cafeteria with a machine gun before he snaps out of it.
  • Interplay of Sex and Violence:
    • There's the Keller/Beecher relationship, conjugal visits in the first season, and transvestites strutting their stuff. Not to mention all the sexual slavery that goes on.
    • Jefferson Keane's execution also counts, what with the actual execution part interlaced with scenes of McManus and Wittlesey getting it on in the prison.
    • The flashback to Augustus Hill's arrest and injury. Police broke into his apartment while he was having sex with his wife. In the ensuing chase, he shot a cop dead, then got thrown off a roof in retaliation, ending up paralyzed.
  • Ironic Echo: When Beecher finally gets back at Schillinger, beating the hell out of him and defecating on his face, he screams "Sieg Heil baby! Sieg-fuckin-Heil!". When Schillinger returns the favor, breaking Beecher's arms and legs, he delivers the same line, only with none of the irony.
  • Is That a Threat?: Martin Querns, the new unit manager of Emerald City, uses the "Are you threatening me?" version in a mocking tone towards the leader of the Muslim prisoners to emphasize how unimpressed he is by the toothless display.
  • It Is Pronounced "Tro-PAY": Vern keeps on correcting people's pronunciation of his name, and everybody who isn't his friend ignores him and keeps pronouncing it the wrong way. (Because let's face it, if you knew a bully/Nazi/homophobe/rapist like him, wouldn't you enjoy irritating the living fuck out of him if you could get away with it?) Witness his reactions, particularly the one at the very end of the video.
    "Schillinger! God DAMN IT! Schillinger! I've been here NINE FUCKING YEARS! You'd think you'd know how to say my goddamn name!"
  • Jerkass: Many of the guards, especially Lopresti.
  • 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.
    • Jason Cramer, a gay inmate who decapitated his lover, ends up getting his conviction overturned because a police officer involved in the case confessed to fabricating evidence and the one witness to his crime died several years prior.
    • Claire Howell abuses her authority as a prison guard to molest male inmates, and murders Nikolai Stanislofsky in order to please O'Reilly. In the end, she never faces any punishment, with the closest she gets being having to give up her violent ways in order to raise her daughter by one of the inmates.
  • Karmic Rape: The male-on-male rape that occurs in the Oswald prison is always treated as horrific and unjust, except a few instances where it's very clearly Laser-Guided Karma. Examples of such include Franklin Winthrop, who was convicted in the first place for raping a woman in public; and Robson, who frequently raped other inmates himself before he was later ousted from his gang and had to become a sex slave to a stronger inmate.
  • Killed Offscreen: Death row inmate Moses Dyell volunteers to donate his organs immediately after his execution, even getting Said to vouch on his behalf. Said later hears the news that Moses was shot when he attempted to escape from his prison transport.
  • Kiss of Death: Chucky Pancamo to Peter Schibetta, right before ripping his eye out.
  • 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.
    • Robson, who was among the more insistent Aryans with his abuse of "prags", ends up with HIV toward the end of the series.
      • This is also used to dish out karma to Clarence Seroy, who rapes Robson in the series finale, confident that he'll get away... then finds out about Robson's diagnoses and realizes what this means for him.
  • 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...
  • Left Hanging: Quite a few storylines are left unresolved, most pressingly: whether Beecher will get charged with Keller's death, how Ryan and Gloria will move forward with their relationship, if the Governor will remain in office, whether or not McManus gets fired.
  • Lemony Narrator: Augustus Hill narrates the show while simultaneously giving commentary on the prison system and life in Oz, all according to a theme indicated by the episode's title. Oftentimes he breaks to take a shot at one of the other prisoners or the staff.
  • 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. With Anyone Can Die being strongly in effect (with at least one or two notable character deaths per episode) there was pretty huge cast turnover so collectively, there was well over 200 named characters and over half of them died over the course of the series.
  • Longer-Than-Life Sentence: Several characters serve such sentences.
    • Chris Keller is sentenced to 88 years with parole accessible in 50 before getting an eventually overturned death sentence.
    • Subverted with Omar White: while he is sentenced to 75 years, he's up for parole in 20.
  • Love Hurts: And the pain aspect being intentional doesn't help much.
  • Luxury Prison Suite: Adebisi outfits his pod this way after Querns makes him trustee of Em City
  • Madness Mantra: Beecher's nursery rhymes in Season 2.
  • Made of Iron: Alvarez could be a mundane version. Over the course of the show, he is stabbed four times (once in the first five minutes of the show), shot, strangled, beaten, starved, and attacked with a shiv twice, and tries to commit suicide twice. And he manages to survive until the series finale. Played with in that he does spend time in the hospital ward for several of these injuries, but characters lament the fact that it seems impossible to actually kill him.
  • Male Frontal Nudity: If penises scare you, don't watch the show.
  • Manchild: Cyril O'Reily, due to brain damage.
  • Manipulative Bastard:
    • Ryan O'Reily, the king chessmaster of the prison.
    • Stanislofsky is O'Reily's rival chessmaster for a time, and even has the advantage for most of Season 4.
  • Mass "Oh, Crap!": Two moments of this bookend Season 4. In the premiere, during Guillaume Tarrant's shooting rampage characters as disparate as Hernandez, Schillinger and Said are shown with a massive Oh, Crap! reaction; and in the finale, one occurs when Padraig Connelly is revealed to have a bomb, swiftly followed by Crowd Panic.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Rebadow's "conversations with God", Timmy Kirk's demonic voice, and the visions of the Reverend Cloutier are never given an explanation.
  • Meaningful Name
    • 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). Peter means rock, and Marie is a variation on Mary, the mother of Christ.
    • Schillinger wants to make Adam Guenzel his prag. In old-timey prison slang, the word "gunsel" was the equivalent of "bitch", "punk", etc. It's essentially the Yiddish word for being Camp Gay.
  • Meaningful Rename: Halfway through the series, the facility's name is changed from Oswald Maximum Security Penitentiary to Oswald State Correctional Facility Level 4. Hill suspects that the name change reflects the administration abandoning any serious attempt to reform the prisoners.
  • 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.
    • The only times Keller does anything good is to help or protect Beecher.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Beecher, since he's a pretty big Woobie and becomes tougher with a "take no shit" attitude. There's also Chris Keller, Ryan O'Reily, Adebisi (who has a tendency to leave his shirt open) etc.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse:
    • Ryan O'Reily does this to Dr. Nathan's husband.
    • Chris Keller does this to every single one of Beecher's former male lovers, though, the two female lovers Beecher has after he and Keller became involved fare a little better. He drives one to dump Beecher, and he gets Beecher re-imprisoned to separate him from the other, but he doesn't kill or physically harm either of them.
  • Murder-Suicide: Guillaume Tarrant, a weak inmate who got his stint after demolishing an important statue, quickly finds himself bullied by several other inmates. When he gains possession of a gun through Adebisi, he kills his tormentors in front of everyone. He then turns the gun around on himself when the SORT team corners him.
  • Musical Episode: Series 5, episode 3 "Variety" is a downplayed 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 B.D. Wong. Also including a hilarious duet between enemies Beecher and Schillinger. Of all the characters who sing in the episode, the only one without an actor with stage musical experience was Jaz Hoyt. Hoyt is portrayed by Evan Seinfeld, bassist and singer for metal band Biohazard.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Beecher experiences this after his plan of getting Schillinger to kill his own son works
  • Naïve Newcomer: Beecher in Season 1. He's unprepared for the brutality of Oz, and quickly becomes Schillinger's sex slave after "saving" Beecher from becoming a sex slave to Adebisi.
  • Neck Snap: After Chris Keller discovers that an old friend tried to sell him out to the cops, he coaxes the man into giving him a blowjob in a janitor's closet, then snaps his neck afterwards.
  • Never My Fault: Adam Guenzel. He claimed that he gang raped his victim because they were all drunk and that he never meant to hurt her (he is later seen bragging about the rape). After Beecher hands him over to the Aryans, he blames his situation on Beecher, even though he brought it on himself by being a complete asshole to him after he saved his life.
  • Nice Hat: Adebisi's perpetually tilted knitted hat. Nobody is quite sure how he gets it to stay there.
  • No Bisexuals: Averted with a vengeance. Between Beecher, Keller, Adebisi, Schillinger, and the various prison rapists, the show has a large number of prominent male characters who don't seem terribly picky about gender.
    • Though, interestingly, bisexuality as a recognised concept might fit the trope. 'Homosexuality' is addressed by name and is acknowledged to be something that some men are beyond Situational Sexuality and/or using rape as a tool of domination, but bisexuality never is. When someone close to him accusingly asks if Beecher is or isn't gay, he stumbles over how not everything is simple and that people can't always easily be boxed into certain labels. Keller is pretty open about liking both men and women, but he has a lot of issues with what liking men says about him.
  • 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 a 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.
  • Not-So-Fake Prop Weapon: The prop knife in the prison production of Macbeth was switched for a real one.
  • Odd Friendship: A few develop over the course of the series: Beecher and O'Reily, Beecher and Said, Burr Redding and Col. Galson, Mukada and Cloutier once they get over their rivalry.
  • Oh, Crap!: Given all the plotting, power struggles and reversals of fortune among the inmates, this is a fairly common occurrence. Some notable ones include:
    • Schillinger has a literal one in the first season when Beecher takes his revenge, which culminates in Beecher taking an actual dump on Schillinger's face.
    • Kenny Wangler has a richly deserved moment of this when his meek, introverted bullying victim Guillaume Tarrant unexpectedly whips out a gun.
    • The look on Kareem Said's face when he realizes his efforts on behalf of Jason Cramer have Gone Horribly Right, and he's unwittingly helped set a brutal murderer free.
    • Huseni Mershah has one when Said survives the heart attack Mershah purposefully ignored and returns to Em City.
    • O'Reily when he hears the contraband cell phone ringing, and realizes Stanislofsky has just outfoxed him.
  • Only Sane Man: Augustus Hill. Also: Sean Murphy. Of the rounded officer characters he seems to have the most common sense.
  • The Old Convict: Rebadow, who's been in for 30 years and was handed the last death penalty in the state (before Devlin re-instated it). Busmaslis to a lesser extent, but he was old before he came to Oz.
  • Pariah Prisoner:
    • Any prisoner known to give up information to the guards
    • The prison has a separate small wing to house inmates who used to work in law enforcement to protect them from other prisoners.
    • Zigzagged by one of the few child killers in the show, Malcolm "Snake" Coyle. He was arrested on a robbery charge, but when the truth about his other crimes came out (he couldn't help bragging about it), all the other gangs allied together to protect August when he snitched on him. The Homeboys, however, were pissed off when Coyle ended up dead, albeit for "political" reasons rather than moral ones.
  • Pater Familicide: Mark Miles is on death row for doing this twice.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: Plenty of the inmates consider their original crimes to be something along these lines:
    • Schillinger is in prison for beating the drug dealer selling to his kids with a crowbar. He also crucified a former priest in prison for molesting a child.
    • Hill poisons Supreme Allah for getting him sent to prison and crippled (but also to protect Burr Redding).
    • Wangler has his wife and her new boyfriend killed when the boyfriend abuses Wangler's son.
    • Wangler himself (along with friend Junior Pierce) is killed by Guillaume Tarrant for stealing from and harassing him non-stop.
    • Snake Coyle is murdered by Antonio Nappa for brutally killing three generations of a family he knew for no reason at all and bragging about it.
    • Timmy Kirk is a manipulative inmate killed by Jaz Hoyt when Hoyt thinks Kirk is possessed by Satan.
    • O'Reilly kills Patrick Keenan for raping Dr. Nathan.
    • Shirley thinks she is doing this when she self-aborts, saying that she was raped by Satan in the form of a man.
    • Jefferson Keane burning Dino Ortolani alive after Ortolani viciously beat Keane's brother. In the same vein, Nino Schibetta has Johnny Post emasculated and tortured to death for burning Ortolani.
    • Beecher's murder of the loathsome guard Metzger, who was an ally of the Aryans.
    • The homophobic rapist Guenzel becoming the Aryans' newest prag. Also qualifies as Laser-Guided Karma.
    • Cudney views the killing of the son of the doctor who performed his wife's abortion as this.
  • 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.
  • Perverse Sexual Lust: In a late season 6 episode, an inmate in Emerald City is seen playing one of the Tomb Raider games in the computer rec room. It shouldn't come as a surprise that Lara Croft is one of the main draws.
  • The Place: The show's title refers to the correctional facility.
  • 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).
  • Post-Rape Taunt:
    • Invoked when Dr. Gloria Nathan is raped on her way home from work by an Irish criminal, and she suspects that inmate Ryan O'Reilly, who was obsessed with her and had already arranged her husband's death, was behind it. When she confronts him, he gloats about the rape until she physically attacks him, but he later admits to Father Mukada that he was lying so she could truly hate him and move on with her life. He later kills the rapist personally.
    • Schillinger gives one to Peter Schibetta in a hallway that causes Schibetta to have a minor breakdown.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: The default setting of the vast majority of prisoners. You could make a drinking game of the number of times some variation on "But what's in it for me?" is asked, or conversely, when someone spots an offer that's clearly too good to be true.
  • Put on a Bus:
    • Dianne Wittlesey, after Edie Falco landed a role on The Sopranos.
    • Miguel Alvarez escaped from Oz in season 4 for a chunk of episodes so that Kirk Acevedo could shootBand of Brothers.
    • Keller was given a death sentence in Massachusetts when actor Christopher Meloni decided working two shows at once (he also portrayed grizzled cop Eliot Stabler on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit) was to exhausting. The sentence was overturned when Meloni changed his mind and came back to the show.
  • Precision F-Strike: Sister Peter-Marie, who doesn't use any profanity (even Father Ray does when talking to inmates) angrily shouts "what the fuck is going on!?" after a verbal fight between McManus and Querns.
  • Prison Rape: Many instances of this, realistically portrayed and very disturbing. Rather perversely, many of the rapes perpetrated on this show are said to be against cast and crew that show up late to work.
  • Prison Riot: Prison riots are a constant threat. One erupts in the first season finale "A Game of Checkers" when the prison gangs unite to take over Emerald City by taking the guards hostage. The prisoners establish a ruling council, but it's later revealed that everyone from the rioters to the prison administrators were being manipulated by Kareem Said from the start. He correctly predicted that Governor Devlin would refuse even the rioters' mostly reasonable demands and take back Em City by force, causing enough deaths for public outrage to bring about real reform.
  • Prisoner's Work: The prison industry is a dress factory. Anyone who doesn't have a job elsewhere in the prison (mail room, kitchen, etc.) ends up working there.
  • Rape and Revenge: Prison Rape is really rampant in the setting, which turns victims into "prags", prisoners who trade in sexual favors for protection. The only reliable way for such a prisoner to regain their cred is to kill their rapist.
    • Beecher gets revenge on Schillinger for all the crap he did to him, which includes rape, by knocking glass in his eye, beating him up, and crapping on him.
    • James Robson becomes a prag to Wolfgang Cutler after he is kicked out of the Aryan Brotherhood, who sodomizes him with a spoon several times. Robson gets revenge by tricking Cutler into killing himself through Erotic Asphyxiation.
  • Rape as Drama: Chiefly with the rapes of Dr. Nathan and Peter Schibetta. In Season 6, prison rape is treated much more seriously, with one of the final scenes in the series showing Sister Peter Marie's new sexual assault support group.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot:
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
    • Wilson Loewen, whom Vern Schillinger idolizes, cuts him down brutally, telling him that he never thought he'd amount to anything, and the only reason he even looked Schillinger's way is because his father and Loewen were friends.
    • Hill gives a big one to Burr Redding:
      Bullshit! The fact of the matter is, I wouldn't be in Oz, I wouldn't be in this chair, if you had only let me have the fucking paper route!
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: How Father Mukada ended up in Oz. By his own admission he was a star student but was too critical of his superiors to rise further through the ecclesiastical ranks. The Cardinal claims that the assignment was not intended as a punishment, but as a lesson in humility.
  • Reckless Gun Usage: One of the inmates was sent to prison after brandishing a gun at school which went off, killing a schoolgirl on the floor above.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Commonly done. Most notably Jefferson Keane in Season 1, Andy Schillinger in Season 3 and Omar White in Season 6.
  • Seinfeldian Conversation: Occurs several times when the prisoners are watching Miss Sally's Schoolyard.
  • 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. Said can look particularly scary when the lighting makes his (normally dark brown) eyes appear red!
  • 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 is 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.
  • Series Fauxnale: By the time of the fourth season finale, they didn't know whether they would be renewed and so Tom Fontana wrote two endings: one where Beecher got paroled and one where he didn't. If the show was canceled they would end on the happy note of Beecher being paroled. The show was renewed but Fontana liked the sequence of Beecher's parole so much that he used it as a dream sequence in the final season.
  • Serial Killer: Quite a few, with Keller eventually admitting to have been one.
  • Sexy Secretary: Floria Mills, Glynn's temporary secretary in season 4. The whole prison gives her a standing ovation when she strolls through the cafeteria.
  • Shot at Dawn: After Donald Groves is sentenced to death for the murder of a correctional officer, he chooses firing squad as his method of execution.
  • Shout-Out: When Clayton Hughes shoots Governor Devlin, his hair is cut into a mohawk and he wears a green army jacket, not unlike Travis Bickle. Interestingly enough, the whole affair is reminiscent of the Hinckley shooting, which was inspired by Taxi Driver.
  • Show Within a Show:
    • Miss Sally's Schoolyard a children's show that also appeared on several other shows Tom Fontana produced and featured a buxom host that the prisoners loved.
    • Up Your Ante: a game show modeled after $1000 Pyramid that featured celebrity contestants (one of whom was Miss Sally) helping regular contestants guess the answers to questions.
  • 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.
  • Sinister Minister:
    • Played straight with Timmy Kirk, who after converting from Catholicism to Cloutier's evangelical group, arranges beatings, murders, and the arson of Father Mukada's rectory. He pays for several of these with blow jobs. He also arranged for Cloutier to be bricked inside the kitchen wall.
    • Subverted with Cloutier: despite initially seeming like a shady televangelist, he's actually a very good preacher who helps keep the peace.
  • Sinister Shiv: The Weapon of Choice for inmates of Oz. One of Augustus Hill's narration segments even breaks down all the different varieties found in Oz.
  • Slasher Smile:
    • Schillinger, Ryan, Adebisi, Chris, and even Beecher have perfected this. Oftentimes it doesn't seem like they're capable of any other kind.
    • Done (as a probably unintentional visual pun) in a Season 3 episode when Nikolai Stanislofsky (the Russian Jew) kills an inmate in the shower with a razor he had concealed in his mouth.
  • Sleazy Politician: Governor Devlin.
  • The Smurfette Principle: There is but ONE female inmate depicted in the whole series: Shirley Bellinger. She is also a very believable Distaff Counterpart to the male inmates in her amoral ways.
  • Soap Opera Rapid Execution Syndrome: A number of inmates sentenced to death row are executed in a matter of months. The average wait time in real life is close to fifteen years.
  • Sociopathic Hero: Chris Keller and Ryan O'Reily.
  • 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.
  • Special Guest: The show didn't really traffic in outlandish Stunt Casting but on occasion featured well known character actors that often got a special And Starring credit in the intro. The more notable ones include Eric Roberts, Charles S Dutton and Luke Perry.
  • Stalker with a Crush:
    • Ryan O'Reily's obsession with Dr. Nathan.
    • Keller's obsession with wanting to remain in Beecher's life, even though Beecher rejects him.
  • Straw Nihilist: Lemuel Idzik, who kills Kareem Said in the hopes of a death sentence, because he believes his life is meaningless due to the impending apocalypse.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute:
    • Chris Keller for Scott Ross; both are depraved bisexuals with ties to Schillinger.
    • 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.
  • Talkative Loon: Omar White. He does not shut up for even a second, and nothing he says makes a damn bit of sense.
  • Thanatos Gambit: Keller's suicide is engineered by him as a means of keeping Beecher in Oz.
  • The Cast Showoff: Craig "Mums" Grant who plays Poet is a poet in real life. In fact, he wrote every poem he read on the show.
  • The Television Talks Back: Augustus Hill never interacts with the other characters while speaking as The Narrator, except for one occasion when Simon Adebisi is in the computer room high on drugs, and is dumbfounded to see Augustus on his monitor discussing the events of the episode.
  • The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: Subverted in the case of Eli Zabitz. Keller wants to kill him out or revenge, Robson wants to kill him so he can't blackmail the Aryans anymore. While they argue over who can kill him (and quite obviously prepare to attack each other over the pleasure), Zabitz has a heart attack. Keller and Robson look at each other, shrug, and leave.
  • The Unfair Sex: Averted with characters like Shirley Bellinger and Claire Howell. Bellinger murdered her own children and is put on death row, while Claire Howell is depicted as a loathsome sexual predator who abuses her authority. This discussed with regard to Shirley, as Devlin gets a lot of flak for the first death sentence in 30 years being handed to a woman.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • Adam Guenzel, the last thing you should do is act like a complete asshole to the only person in the prison who's trying to protect you from the Aryans who clearly have it out for you.
    • Enrique Morales' brother-in-law bragging to Morales that he'd abused his wife (i.e. Morales' sister). No-Holds-Barred Beatdown ensues.
    • Peter Schibetta taunting the resident Ax-Crazy Scary Black Man Adebisi with racial slurs... while Adebisi's holding a box of rat poison... and finishing by telling Adebisi to go fix him lunch. Three guesses where the rat poison ends up. Sadly that's not even the most disastrous of his decisions, but it is one of the most blatantly stupid.
    • Directly after Kosygin tells Stanislofsky that he's going to kill him, Stanislofsky turns his back on him and damn near dies from a weapon that Stanislofksy knows about and which Kosygin is brandishing.
  • 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.
  • Tunnel King: Agamemnon 'The Mole' Busmalis. Not only were they his MO for robbing banks on the outside, but he repeatedly uses them in attempts to escape from Oz. He even names his tunnels and treats them like women.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Adam Guenzel. After Beecher went out of his way to protect him from the Aryans, he mocked his sexuality and humiliated him in front of the prison.
  • The Vamp: Shirley Bellinger, who uses her sexuality to get favors from prisoners and COs alike.
    • Timmy Kirk to a slightly lesser extent; he tends to offer oral sex as payment for favors. It works about half of the time, with disastrous consequences for other characters.
  • The 'Verse: The appearance of Miss Sally's School Yard places it in the same convoluted universe as Homicide: Life on the Street, The X-Files and Cheers among many others.
  • Villainous Crossdresser: The first to appear is Nathalie/Nathaniel in Season 3. Franklin Winthrop as the Aryans' prag qualifies however, as does Robson during his brief "feminine" period.
  • Villain Protagonist: Several of the major prisoners. Ryan O'Reily is probably the premier example.
  • Walking Shirtless Scene: Adibesi is shirtless most of the time, and quite muscular.
  • 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). Character wise, there are several who disappear with no explanation. Although they are usually minor characters, some more important ones have disappeared, notably William Giles.
  • Where da White Women At?: Despite his political and religious views, Kareem Said has only been attracted to white women, much to the horror of his fellow Muslim followers, and even his own (Christian) sister.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: It's never made clear where Oz is located. The best location is likely in western New York, as CO Sean Murphy was able to transfer from Attica to there with little time to move. Other clues lie in the power of the Wiseguy gang and the prevalence of white powder heroin instead of black tar heroin (black tar being almost exclusively used west of the Mississippi).
    • After being released, Sippel mentions sleeping on the subway. There are only eight cities in the US with subway systems: NY/NJ, DC, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and LA.
    • On occasion, the NY state flag and motto appear behind public officials when they are giving press conferences.
    • The only state mentioned explicitly as it not being is Illinois, as Governor Devlin rants against Governor George Ryan's abolition of the death penalty.
  • Widowed at the Wedding: Jefferson Keane, the first leader of the Homeboys seen in the series, got his life sentence for shooting one of his enemies at the man's own wedding.
  • Wild Card: Ryan O'Reilly was a prisoner in the Oswald State Correctional Facility who was often involved as part of some scheme with various other inmates (or even the guards), but with no true allegiances except to himself. The Irish weren't really organized as a major gang like El Norte (Latinos), the Homeboys (blacks), or the Aryans (neo-Nazis), so he only really had his mentally disabled brother Cyril as muscle. His audacity and charm allowed him to become one of the leaders of the prison riot in Emerald City, for one.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Malcolm Coyle, Timmy Kirk, Shirley Bellinger, William Cudney, Vern and Hank Schillinger... a disturbingly large number of inmates, really.
  • Written-In Absence:
    • Christopher Meloni left the show towards the end of the fourth season because he was also working on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and he felt that he could no longer do both shows at the same time. On the show, it was explained that Keller was transferred to another prison. But Meloni missed Oz and decided to return. He decided that being able to work on two great shows simultaneously was worth the physical and emotional toll.
    • Kirk Acevedo (Alvarez) was absent from most of the first half of the fourth season because he was working on Band of Brothers. On the show, it was explained that Alvarez had escaped. Acevedo returned for the second half of the fourth season. But shortly after production began on the second half, he landed a recurring role on Third Watch and had to leave again. This time, it was explained that Alvarez had been put in solitary confinement. In some episodes, archive footage of Acevedo from past episodes was reused.
  • 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.
    • Ryan O'Reilly towards Dr. Nathan. After Nathan helps him recover from cancer, he falls in love with her and arranges for her husband to be murdered.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: Are you, or have you recently pissed off, a series regular? Is your parole hearing coming up soon? Yeah... good luck with that.
  • Zipping Up the Bodybag: This is seen quite a bit during the later seasons, most notably with El Cid and Desmond Mobay. Dino Ortolani's burned body is also seen in one, albeit in a photo and not zipped up.


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