Monday, December 03, 2007

The Conclusion of HBO's "Oz" (Years After the Fact).

Today M. and I completed our viewing of the complete series of HBO prison drama Oz. It truly was a long, strange trip. Six seasons of machismo, menace, shifting alliances, violence, and betrayal should satiate even the most bloodthirsty of viewers. Yet at the dark heart of this journey, there is some humanity to keep us engaged. If Oz doesn't make you reflect on the prison industry (one of the fastest growing sectors in our 'New World Order economy'), then you're not watching closely enough. This milieu represents the most fatalistic and complex microcosm of our society, and if you think it represents only a narrow portion of the United States- then I think you are sadly mistaken. While it's true that life in 'Emerald City' (the 4th level unit in which most of Oz's action takes place) is an exaggerated depiction of what modern incarceration is like, it does present us with a general picture of some of the extreme difficulties that we face in our administration of 'justice'.

Season 6 brought us a heaping dollop of what we'd come to expect from watching the previous seasons. Oz's creators were never shy about eliminating its main characters, no matter how much we were led to feel for them. The last eight episodes clearly illustrate that absolutely no one is untouchable. Sometimes the abrupt endings of these lives is randomly meaningless, just as in our external reality. If we learn nothing else from this show, it is that fate is often arbitrary and capricious. One major player is eliminated in such a shockingly unexpected way that it seems anti-climactic. At other times the demise of an inmate occurs in such a dramatically poetic way that it seems almost inevitable. In fact one such episode is underscored by a big house production of Shakespeare's MacBeth that contains a fitting resolution to a conflict set up in the very first show of the series. Part of the fun (as it were) of watching Oz lies in the anticipation of these conclusions. As in life, sometimes they are satisfying, and sometimes not.

Even when I thought that I could track the logic of the scriptwriters, I occasionally found myself tricked, and sometimes devastatingly so. Episode 6 is particularly wrenching. M. and I found ourselves viewing an unthinkable story arc that inverted our feelings and hopes for those involved. It was amazing that we could be taken to such emotionally vulnerable states simply with the dramatic depiction of something we know has happened in the past. Good television strives to close the distance between the cold hard facts we hear in the news and the visceral effects of harrowing experiences, aptly portrayed by competent professional actors. Sometimes the result is magical, causing us to feel a depth of compassion we were barely aware existed within ourselves. The realization of deeply held empathy is our reward for subjecting ourselves to such tragedy. Episode 6 was the perfect example of this process. I found myself weeping for almost a half hour after seeing it.

The ultimate finale of Oz was (I believe necessarily) a bit dissatisfying. Within the last couple episodes there were intriguing new characters introduced, and tales just beginning their development. There were plenty of threads left unexplored, and their presence suggested that the creators had enough material available for an additional season. I'm not sure whether or not the word of Oz's cancellation came down while they were still shooting Season 6, but it really seemed as if Tom Fontana and company had more up their sleeves. Ultimately it doesn't matter because Oz is gone now, and has been for several years. It is left up to the viewer to speculate on the lives of the remaining inmates and administrators of Oswald Penitentiary. Neither M nor I knew what to expect in terms of resolution before watching Season 6, but I am comfortable with my speculations about the unseen futures of the characters.

It seems that any lack of closure in a television series is enough to keep curious viewers from engaging it. In the case of Oz, I feel that any hesitation based upon this absence of tidy endings is a mistake. If you have a strong stomach and enough open-mindedness to take a look at the underside of humanity, then you owe it to yourself to watch Oz. As citizens of the US, each and every one of us is complicit in a justice system that aims to protect us from those who stray outside the bounds of our laws. Turning a blind eye to the ugly realities that are created by our methods of incarceration and punishment only contributes to a collective ignorance. Having the courage to confront the complexities and consequences presented by our choices will not yield pat answers, but it can be enlightening. Why not shine a bright light into society's black corners? Can the revelations about what lurks in the darkness be as frightening as the darkness itself?

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Anonymous marc said...

I totally agree with what crescenet said, especially as it pertains to Brazilian internet phone service :-)


5:38 PM  
Anonymous Ryan said...

Felt very lost after finishing Oz yesterday. Yes, 8 years after the series ended, and I only discovered the series 2 weeks ago.

In a way, it feels very apt that I respond to your very old post.

Found your blog as I was search for more thoughts and feelings to put some meaning to what I am feeling now.

Your blog post is well-written, and I agree with what you say, how Oz was not the show that could have things tied up neatly. By doing so, it's left a lasting impression, and set us thinking about the injustices and the horrible randomness of events that befalls us all.

I guess that is one of the many feelings that haunt me - the unfairness of what I have seen, in addition to the loss I feel in suddenly losing all the wonderful characters I have met and come to know in Oz.

1:26 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

Thank you for discovering my post and taking the time to respond. It is appreciated.

8:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just "discovered" Oz, and purchased the entire series on DVD. Only the second series, I have ever done such (ST Enterprise being the other).

I am viewing it, day-by-day. I can only imagine the agony in having to wait for each episode when originally aired.

I have to agree, there seems to be more story to be told. I don't know if it was hoped the series would somehow run for more seasons than it did.

12:15 PM  
Blogger Chicago said...

I'm another one who found your post after finishing each season of Oz while looking for answers on a potential season 7 or some form of resolution. I completely agree with what you said. Well done!

9:04 PM  
Blogger Kendra said...

I finally finished Oz today after two weeks of binging on it. The ending left me unsatisfied and yet, quenched at the same time. The fact that it left the biggest question "What now?" unanswered is perhaps a gift and a curse to those who watch the show. All those characters with their love, their dreams, their goals are left in ambiguity much as I want to hate it, I love it. I want to be a believer like Beecher and Busmalis and think positively. In my mind, Miguel is free, Bob Ribidau is in love, Busmalis adopts the female officer's baby, Gloria is able to find peace, Ray and Peter Marie have weekly picnics, William Giles is found reading a book to himself, Ryan tends to graves for Cyril and his father, Chucky Pancamo continues to wear jumpsuits that show off his massive physique, Poet writes more poetry etc.

5:24 AM  
Blogger Roken said...

In the UK, we got serasons 1 - 3 of Oz back in the late 90's as it was made. Unfortunately, there it stopped. Here we are in 2014, and I've only just learned it went to 6 seasons, and so in true, British OCD fashion, I've watched 1 - 6 back to back (as much as life allows) over the past two weeks.

And this, after finishing season 2 of "Orange is the new Black".

There are similarities, but where as Orange tends to follow the tail of one character, Oz drew you in to many stories. Don't be fooled, it's not an American tale, it's a tale of man generally, and there are morals for us all in there.

And despite the almost hidden narrative at the end "Oswald State Penitentiary will never re-open", there is still an opportunitity to bring it back. The problem is, modern producers will never be able to bring it back as well as it was.

For those who never saw it originally, or for Brits who only ever saw as much as Channel 4 broadcast on late night TV, it's certainly worth a revisit to see it all.

4:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

umm also its one of the most deliciously homo-erotic shows ever!!!

11:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just wanna know if beecher hit life in prison at the end or if they believed him..damn that ending...

11:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Funny to see so many recent posts, it must have just been released on Amazon, where I too just binge-watched 6 years of powerful, gripping TV.
The questions about the characters will hang in the ether forever, and I'd love to know how Beechers story ends, but I've seen far less acceptable ending to shows, and I like the original bloggers take on the whole series. Cheers!

5:30 PM  

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