Wednesday, December 22, 2010

WIP Wednesday: MIP Edition with "Oz" (Tom Fontana, 1997-2003)

Just to give an example of how prison stories can be both exploitive and smart, as well as to show the kind of treatment in WIP is not specifically misogynous, we shall take a look at Tom Fontana's well loved series Oz.

Now, Oz had six seasons and fifty-six episodes to do what they wanted, so there were lots of story lines and major players could change, but deep down it had all the basics of a WIP epic.

First, we have the "new girl" Tobias Beecher (Lee Tergesen). Beecher was a wealthy attorney who killed a girl on a bicycle while driving drunk. While not something to easily pass off as a mistake, he was hardly of the thug or killer types he would soon become associated with. Almost immediately he falls prey to the "head bitch in charge."

Our "HBIC" is Vern Schillinger (J.K. Simmons). Vern is the local leader of the Aryan Brotherhood and decides to make Beecher his bitch, going so far as to brand a swastika on his ass. Schillinger is a killer, and the one guy nobody fucks with. Sure, there are other major bad guys, but Schillinger is there from start to finish, while most of the others fall prey to their competitors.

Our "wise black chick" is Kareem Said (Eamonn Walker). Said is the leader of the black Muslims, and often sides with new girl Beecher against his enemies, but ultimately his own people are more important to him.

The evil controller is partly Warden Leo Glynn (Ernie Hudson), but is more accurately Governor James Devlin (Zeljko Ivanek). While Warden Glynn hates the bulk of the prison population and is not above extreme punishment, Gov. Devlin is the corrupter who abuses his power and forces Glynn to more extreme measures.

There are two big "matrons" - one of which is actually female. Martin Querns (Reg E. Cathey) is straight out of a WIP classic. He plays the factions against each other and promotes the drug trade as it keeps the inmates complacent. The big sadistic matron is Officer Claire Howell (Kristin Rohde). She torments the inmates, and rapes several of them. She's like all the pussy-hound guards in a standard WIP.

Of course, the biggest WIP parallel is in the nudity. There are cocks-a-plenty in Oz, and I am starting to think I have seen every man on Law & Order nude (many cast members from the various Law & Order shows are in Oz). This begs a question with me. Why is nudity brave for Chris Meloni's (Law & Order SVU, Bound), but Lina Romay's nudity trashy? In Oz, the nudity is primarily in the same places as your typical WIP film; shower scenes and when prisoners are in "the hole." Nudity automatically implies vulnerability. Getting your ass kicked while naked, or being in solitary creates tension. It still carries a degree of gratuitousness, whether the subject is male or female.

Obviously, there is way too much that could be discussed about Oz. There were numerous characters and storylines, and some of the players change sides, but the entire show boils down to Beecher versus Schillinger. I did not see the end of the show, but I got the feeling Beecher and Schillinger were coming to terms. If that is the case, then we have another WIP element in full effect. The good girl and the HBIC always join forces... Maybe I'll catch it someday?

Netflix / IMDb


Kal said...

I loved this show. It was a Friday night staple for me when it was on. Sometimes hard to watch for the brutality but no crime went unpunished so that has great appeal to me.

Darius Whiteplume said...

I wish I had caught the end. We watched it on a DirecTV channel, and they changed the air times at the end of the show and we missed the finale. It was pretty enjoyable, though got a little convoluted for me; but then I am not a fan of story-arc shows.

Anonymous said...

At the end it all became a little too gay with that drag queen in charge. The appeal of the show was exactly too see all those straight boys became «jail gay».

Darius Whiteplume said...

I think I'll have to check out "Kiss of the Spider Woman" some time; similar premise if I remember correctly.

Glad to see you by, Fabulastic. Sorry I have not been by your site for a while. I tend to check blogs at work, and well... ;-)

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