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“Inmates of ‘Oz’ are Evil”
“Oz” is an eight episode miniseries drama which is shown on HBO Wednesday evenings at ten o’clock. It is necessary to note that since HBO is a cable television network, it is not subject to the same restrictions that are placed upon basic networks. Oz is the nickname for the Oswald Maximum Security Prison. The setting is Emerald City, or “Em City” as referred to by the inmates. The warden is Leo Glynn, and the “Em City” creator and administrator is Tim McManus.
The inmates of Oz span every ethnic, religious and social class background. It would take too much to name all of the characters, and there is no main character because the show spends time dealing with each character’s situation equally, especially since they all intertwine. The inmates are broken up into ten groups by McManus with four inmates in each group so as to even the population. The groups are as follows: bikers, Aryans, Italians, gangsters, Irish, gays, Christians, Latinos, Muslims and “others”. Each groups has one leader as a representative in the “Em City Council” which helps to attempt a community atmosphere within the prison according to McManus’ idea. The population is supposed to reflect real prisons with 70% of inmates who are colored. There is one character that represents the predominantly white-collar viewer, Tobias Beecher, an attorney who is serving a sentence for vehicular manslaughter. He involuntarily hit and killed a young girl on a bicycle. He is in the “others” grouping. Our reactions to what is going on inside of Oz mirrors his. As the setting and the characters should imply, “Oz” is, on the surface, about the struggles amongst men inside a prison that has representation from almost every group present in our society today. The struggles are not always between the inmates either. The warden, administrator, guards, and even the mayor play a vital role in the unveiling of the creator’s vision. There are a vast majority of underlying themes contained within the plot of “Oz.” Much of our society and its problems are thrown into this small cell block for the world to view at its pleasure. One sub-theme that is present in most of the issues faced within the prison is the question, and presumable answer, of whether or not man is truly evil. This has been a philosophical question argued for centuries. “Oz” present us with ample evidence for the pro side to this argument.
When discussing this question, it’s best to think of man in his primitive state in which he is alone and fending for himself. At this point it is agreed that man does what he has to in order to survive, no matter what it takes. In “Oz,” the inmates are thrown into prison with nothing. Everything they had in the outside world as far as possessions, friends, family, pride and peace of mind is taken away once they enter Em City. In this sense, the inmates can be compared to primitive man. They are thrown into a world where all they have are themselves with their main goal being to survive at any cost. This is when the evil shows through. No one really cares about anyone. By taking a close look at just the first episode, it is easy to see where the writer is going in terms of portraying this theme of evilness in man and man’s inhumanity to man.
The audience mainly sees, and more importantly identifies, with most of the action through the eyes and mind of Tobias Beecher, a white, disbarred lawyer, who is serving a sentence for vehicular manslaughter while driving drunk. The first episode shows Beecher being placed in a cell pod with Adabese, a black muscle-bound thug who belongs to the “gangster” grouping. Each new inmate is placed with an older inmate of the prison in order for them to get some guidance. Beecher receives Dino Ortolani as his sponsor who teaches him little about anything. Adabese is an evil man in the fact that he has learned what it takes to survive in Em City, and that means being violently assertive and taking what he wants, when he wants to. He shows this by immediately stealing from Beecher and threatening to rape him in the future. In Beecher’s travels, he makes a friend in Bob Rebadow who tells him that during the nighttime his main concern should be “to try to keep breathing.” This is coming from a man who has been in Em City for a while and knows what goes on. His statement shows the audience that the situation is kill or be killed.
An example of not being able to trust anyone occurs the next day when Beecher meets Vern Schillinger, a middle-aged white man who sympathizes with Beecher’s situation in rooming with Adabese. He tells Beecher to let the warden know that he is unhappy, and he will get switched. This happens, and Beecher is switched to Schillinger’s pod. Beecher quickly learns of his mistake when Schillinger tells him that he will brand him in the future, which he does, a swastika on his left buttock. Beecher is now physically branded by the evil. It now consumes him. From this point on we see Beecher begin to act more and more aggressive until one day when he turns completely evil. This shows the audience that people become evil during their stay in Em City, even if they enter it good. This is showing us that there is no good place within Em City. Everyone is truly out for his own good, sort of paralleling man in his primitive state. Although some type of organized society may exist, it is really a false sense of security. No one can be trusted, and if you trust the wrong person, you will get yourself into a lot of trouble.
In most societies there is a group that is most powerful and oversees all of the action. In Em City’s case this is the Mafia group led by Schibetta. The Mafia controls all of the evil within the prison including the drugs and underground control of the population. This means that what they say goes, or else. Dino is allied with the Mafia, and is considered their front man, although he can’t be kept in any real control due to his stress of being in prison. When Ryan O’Reily, an Irish gangster and Dino’s enemy, enters the prison, sparks immediately fly between the two. We can slowly see many alliances between different groups forming at this point. One alliance in particular is the Irish and the gangsters, formed with one thing in mind, to take out the Mafia. This is showing not only that man is evil, but he bands together with other men to accomplish his evil deeds. This is sort of the “more the merrier mentality”. The more people you
have on your side, trying to accomplish a goal that benefits all parties
involved, the better chance you have of obtaining that goal.
After Dino beats up a gang member, he is confined to an all day job working with AIDS patients where many attempts on his life are made by the gangsters. Eventually Dino gets released back to his pod where he is doused with lighter fluid and set on fire by the gangsters. This is showing the audience that evil men will get what they deserve at some point, and it might even be the outcome of an evil deed committed by an evil
person. The show may in turn be implying that every man in the prison will eventually get in some kind of trouble because they are all evil in some way.
The reason Em City was created was to rehabilitate the inmates who are
sent there. This is where Warden Glenn and McManus come into play. The Warden oversees everything and McManus runs all of the rehabilitation programs. These are supposed to be the good characters in the prison, however, we can see the evil start to leak out and enter their lives as well. Warden Glenn’s dark secret is that he testified that his brother did not commit a murder that he really did. However, one of the inmates finds out about this information and, through black mail, forces the Warden to give his brother up in a later episode.
The last episode of season one shows Em City being pushed to its limits and a riot breaks out. McManus shows that he is consumed by the evil of the riot when he shoots and kills one of the inmates knowing that the inmate is unarmed. He was later freed of these charges because a guard lied under oath to save him, again showing that this evil reaches all possible places. No one is good in Em City, not even the people who are trusted to run it.
By showing us man in a state in which he has to learn to live with others, and form a society with others, the writers of “Oz” present a situation with many meanings. It gives us a look at our race in its primitive state. The inmates are alone, and have nothing but each other. This is how primitive man lived. “Oz” shows us that we are evil at heart. The only thing keeping society from falling apart by this evil are the social conventions that we are forced to conform to from day one. Man is incapable of forming any kind of rational society free of evil by himself, or in this case, even with the help of a warden and administrator. This shows us that, in this state, which is comparable to primitive man in some ways, man is evil and out for himself. He has trouble getting along with others because they interfere with his well being by being out for themselves as well. The senseless violence that occurs within Em City proves all of these points. At heart, man is evil.
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