"OZ… The name on the street for the Oswald Maximum Security Penitentiary."
Before we delve into the second season of "OZ," let me first provide you with some backstory. Emerald City is an experimental unit within OZ, where prisoners are afforded more freedoms and luxuries, but are under closer surveillance. For instance, in the rest of the prison, inmates are confined to jail cells and have to wear standard prison issue; while in Emerald City, inmates live inside glass pods, and are free to wear whatever they like. As a result, most of the show's storyline revolves around the diverse inmates in Emerald City, and the people who run it. To get you caught up, here is a brief "who's who" in "OZ." (Warning, contains some Season 1 spoilers):
Prisoner #97N909 Tobias Beecher (Lee Tergesen) – Formerly a well respected lawyer, Beecher is sent to prison for drunk driving. Beecher becomes a "prag" (prison bitch), and turns to drugs to escape his pain. Eventually, he stands up for himself, and starts to lose his mind in the process.
Prisoner #95H522 Augustus Hill (Harold Perrineau) – Wheelchair bound Hill serves as both the narrator of the show, and as an inmate in Emerald City. A cop killer who kicked a nasty drug habit, Hill has found himself using again to gain the friendship of a celebrity basketball player who was sent to OZ.
Prisoner #97P904 Ryan O'Reilly (Dean Winters) – Arrested for reckless driving, O'Reilly is the ultimate schemer. His connections both in and out of the prison allowed him and Simon Adebisi to take control of the drug trade from the Italians.
Prisoner #97S110 Vern Schillinger (J.K. Simmons) – The leader of the Aryans is quite possibly the most evil man in "OZ." Arrested for assaulting a black drug dealer, Vern loves his sons, and his race. After abusing Beecher for months, he finds himself on the other side of the fence.
Prisoner #97A413 Miguel Alvarez (Kirk Acevedo) - Stabbed his first day in prison, Miguel changes his cocky ways in hopes of a being a good father for his son on way. Unfortunately in OZ, good things rarely happen, and he finds himself as the leader of the Latinos.
Prisoner #93A234 Simon Adebisi (Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje) - Incredibly strong and intimidating, Adebisi goes from lackey to the leader of the blacks in no time; but suffers from a nasty drug habit. Along with O'Reilly, he takes over the drug trade in OZ after feeding glass to mob boss Nino Schibetta.
Prisoner #97S444 Kareem Said (Eamonn Walker) - After torching a white owned warehouse, Minister Said is sent to OZ; where he quickly organizes the Muslim population. His mission is to fight the system that oppresses his black brothers and take over "OZ."
Tim McManus (Terry Kinney) - McManus is not just the creator of Emerald City, he also runs it. A true liberal, he believes that he can reform prisoners into functional members of society.
Warden Leo Glynn (Ernie Hudson) - As the warden of OZ, he is at the mercy of Governor Devlin's recent cutbacks in prisoner rights. After a rash of murders in OZ, Glynn is under fire for the findings of his investigation, ultimately leading to an attempt on his life.
Sister Peter Marie Reimondo (Rita Moreno) - Sister Pete, both a nun and the prison psychologist, finds herself taking on the issue of capital punishment and prisoner rights.
Officer Dianne Whittlesey (Edie Falco) - The only female guard in Emerald City, she is also one of the toughest. With a daughter and sick mother at home; Diane turns to smuggling cigarettes in for a prisoner to give her some extra cash.
Now that you know some of the characters, let me briefly discuss the style of the show. As mentioned earlier, Augustus Hill serves as the show's narrator. Each episode has a specific theme, which is conveyed through his excellent narration. "Prisoner Flashbacks" are common throughout the show, as well. Whenever a new character is introduced, a "flashback" of their crime is usually shown, along with Hill providing us their name, prison number, crime, and sentence. These scenes are especially cool for certain characters (El Cid, for instance) and helps to round out the characters a great deal.
If you know me, it's no secret that "OZ" is my favorite show on television, period. Since 1997, I have been a rabid fan; often counting down the months, weeks, and days until the newest season premiered on HBO. This month, the final season of OZ will air, and my favorite show will be no more. While a very sad turn of events for yours truly, I am happy that HBO has decided to release season sets on DVD. It just so happens that Season 2 of "OZ" is my favorite season of all, so far. The dialogue, story arcs, and character development are near flawless. You're not supposed to like the inmates of "OZ," but you can't help but be drawn to them, most notably Ryan O'Reilly, Tobias Beecher, and Simon Adebisi.
"OZ" is not a show for everyone; in fact, it's too intense for most people. What I love most about "OZ," is that it doesn't try to be something its not. The violence is very graphic, the language is very strong, and there's a ton of male nudity. What, did you expect anything else from a Maximum Security prison? Therefore, if you have a strong stomach, and appreciate drama at it's finest; then you owe it to yourself to check out the second season of "OZ."
"OZ: The Complete Second Season" features 8 episodes, each with a running time of approximately an hour. Below are episode summaries. Be forewarned again, there are some potential spoilers in their descriptions.
The Tip - In the aftermath of the riot, Governor Devlin, under fire from the press and media, appoints a special committee headed by Law School Dean Alvah Case (Emmy-winning guest star Charles Dutton) to investigate. Meanwhile, the leaders of the riot are sent to solitary, while the other residents of Emerald City are stuffed into Gen Pop. In my opinion, it's the weakest episode of the season, but serves as a recap to make new viewers familiar with the inmates of and people who run OZ. Keep an eye out on a Simon Adebisi going through withdrawal, and Beecher clarifying why this episode is REALLY titled "The Tip."
Episode Grade: B+
Ancient Tribes - Its 10 months later, and Emerald City has reopened. McManus decides to take a more proactive approach, and creates a special council of inmates to air grievances. Learning of Schillinger's upcoming parole hearing, a vengeful Beecher does his best to make sure he doesn't get released. This episode is a major step in the right direction, as we are introduced to new characters in Busmalis and Pete Schibetta, and the Schillinger/Beecher story continues to intensify.
Episode Grade: A-
Great Men - Alvarez knows who raped the warden's daughter, but isn't telling. Hill enlists the help of Said to help him get his sentence overturned. Meanwhile, O'Reilly is diagnosed with breast cancer, and undergoes treatment for it. This episode relies heavily on shock value, as OZ welcomes their first female prisoner, and the Aryans reassert their presence within the prison.
Episode Grade: A-
Losing Your Appeal - Beecher has a new roommate, who shares his hatred for the Aryans, or does he? Said fails to get Hill freed, but manages to get Poet's writings published. Surviving his lumpectomy, O'Reilly falls in love with Dr. Nathan. This episode is phenomenal, as it effectively sets the wheel in motion for the phenomenal Keller/Beecher relationship.
Episode Grade: A
Family Bizness - It's Graduation Day for those taking the GED, but due to budget cutbacks, it will be the last year of the program. O'Reilly develops an unhealthy obsession with Dr. Nathan, that results in fatal consequences. Adebisi joins forces with Alvarez to temporarily take out Schibetta. Another spectacular episode, as Adebisi is given the chance to shine.
Episode Grade: A
Strange Bedfellows - Schillinger, still plotting the ultimate revenge on Beecher, asks for Said's help in getting his sentence overturned, which results in another investigation surrounding the riot. El Cid arrives in OZ, ousting Alvarez from the Latino power position. This episode is what I refer to as the "calm before the storm" as it's not as good as the others are, but the fallout from it makes for the single best season finale I've ever seen.
Episode Grade: B+
Animal Farm - There's a new wiseguy in town, and his mission is to slowly destroy Adebisi. O'Reilly's mentally challenged brother, Cyril (Scott William Winters) arrives in GenPop, and is immediately abused by the Aryans. After Keller is punished, Schillinger takes delight in Beecher's downward spiral. Another powerhouse of an episode, as there's too much great stuff to name here.
Episode Grade: A
Escape From OZ - I refuse to spoil this episode, because it's absolutely amazing. You will count down the days until Season 3 gets released on DVD… guaranteed.
Episode Grade: A+
HBO presents "OZ: The Complete Second Season" in full frame 1.33:1. The picture is intentionally grainy, capturing the gritty feeling of a Maximum Security prison (remember kids, prisons are supposed to look dull and grainy). Lots of grays and blues in the color palette make the picture look somewhat drab as well. Regardless, flesh tones look realistic, and the print is essentially free of dirt and artifacts; which is exactly what I expected from an HBO DVD release.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby 2.0. The 5.1 soundtrack sound good, especially in scenes in which they do "crime flashbacks" and where there is background chatter. The opening credits sound great, drawing anticipation for the events that are about to unravel with its catchy theme. There are no audio dropouts whatsoever, and character dialogue is crisp and clean.
Every DVD, except for the fourth disc, has the same exact menu (special features are located on the third disc). The "OZ" theme song plays in the background of an interactive menu. Your choices are between "Episode Index" and "Audio Selection." When you select an option, you are treated to a CGI walkthrough of locations throughout the prison, exactly the same as on the Season 1 DVD.
Reading Amazon's description of the extras included in "OZ: The Complete Second Season," I was expecting to be overwhelmed with goodies. Unfortunately, they have the wrong information posted as there are NO commentaries or deleted scenes present like in "OZ: The Complete First Season" (the back of the Season 2 box lists the accurate extras, thus no foul on HBO's part). I am disappointed that Season 2 didn't even included ONE commentary, especially considering how pivotal and well written it was. Regardless, we are given a roundtable discussion conducted with the cast and crew of "OZ" at The Museum of Television and Radio, a Season 2 Featurette, Cast and crew bios, episodic previews and recaps, and web links. Everything is fluff except for the roundtable discussion, which was recorded in between Season 1 and 2 (all discussion is relevant to the events in Season 1 only). It is often funny and informative, yet doesn't delve deep enough into the show for my liking.
Let me state that I am very biased when it comes to "OZ.". Not even the lack of extras on this box set will keep me from giving it the "DVD Talk Collector Series" recommendation. This is drama at its finest, all put together nicely in a neat box set. If you've ever seen an episode and liked it, then I suggest you run out and buy this, regardless of it's rather high MSRP of $64.98.