Oz is a TV show. About a maximum-security prison. That did its damnedest to show prison life the way it really is. And it was written by Tom Fontana. This is all the warning any sane person should require; translated, it says "do not watch Oz or read Oz FF." I've managed to avoid watching the show, but I've succumbed to the fic, albeit in a horror-show, hands-over-the-eyes, reading-between-my-fingers kind of way.
I don't do TV. The thought of prison life makes me woozy. And I hate Tom Fontana because he is the greatest living practitioner of character assassination (literal and figurative) and fan betrayal. See, the thing is, Fontana creates fantastic characters, characters it's easy to like or love or at least stare at (or read about) in endless fascination. And then, when he's got you, when you can't look away, he rapes them.
In Homicide, the rape was figurative. In Oz, it's literal.
Rape of any kind makes me seriously, seriously sick.
But I read this fandom anyway. Why? Well, when you take the props of civilization and sanity away from men, you get Oz. And when you take the props of civilization and sanity away from FF writers, you get some superlative fic.
Oz writers are the disadvantaged youths of the fannish world; their options are limited and their opportunities are few. Their guys can't date. Can't spend time together when they want and can't get away from each other when they need to. Can't ever be safe or secure or simply in love. These men are observed 24/7 by psychopaths and killers and sick, twisted fucks, and I'll leave you to guess which of those are the guards and which are the inmates. The characters live in a place with glass walls and fluorescent lights and cameras everywhere. They can't do the usual kind of kink, because they don't have access to sex toys or (private use) handcuffs or fetish gear, but every sexual encounter is BDSM anyway. Even lube is a problem for Oz writers. So Oz fic is written inside a strange auctorial prison, and the way good FF works around that prison is a wonder to behold. Seriously, it's worth seeing what such major limitations can do to great writers, even if the universe and pretty much everyone in it squicks you.
There are a lot of characters in this show. A lot. But for the sake of space and sanity, I'm going to restrict this list, and the fics that follow, to the major characters involved in the show's most popular – and canon – pairing. But please do keep in mind that each show consisted of many plot lines that involved none of these people. And also keep in mind that Beecher/Keller is simply the beginner's pairing in this fandom; there's lots of other great fic, including gen and het, which last one is particularly impressive when you consider how few women there were in this show.
TOBIAS BEECHER was an alcoholic, a lawyer, a slightly fucked-up but eminently normal man. He drove drunk, struck and killed a little girl named Kathy (or Cathy) Rockwell, and got sentenced to 15 years in Oz. I guess you could say that was the start of his downward spiral. Yes, things get substantially worse for him than merely killing a kid. I mean, he gets raped, he gets a swastika burned onto his ass, he gets humiliated, his wife commits suicide, his kids get abducted, one of his kids is murdered – are you starting to grasp the nature of Fontana's madness now? It should be no surprise at all that, before long, Beecher shares the madness; among his other Notable Prison Achievements, he bites off part of someone's penis, shits on someone's face, and, alongside Keller, wins, hands-down, the Drama Queen of All Time Award, competing in the doubles category.
VERN SCHILLINGER is the man who proved to Tobias Beecher that committing accidental manslaughter is really, in the scheme of things, not all that bad, at least compared to the things that can happen to you after that. He's a white supremacist; he heads up the Aryan Brotherhood in Oz. He's responsible for more than half the bad things that happen to Beecher: the rapes, for example, and the kidnapping and murder of his son. He's also responsible for one of the good things that happened to Beecher. If, in fact, you can consider Chris Keller a good thing.
CHRISTOPHER KELLER is a killer, a con-man, and a sociopath. Or he's a con-man and a killer with carefully constructed armor who found that the single chink in that armor was named Tobias Beecher. The fic goes both ways on this - and, in fact, in a lot more ways than just those two. I, myself, view him as manipulative, deceitful, and slick, but honestly in love with Beecher despite his own wishes and his own best interests. I also see him as just one of the many characters Tom Fontana has destroyed with his "twistiest twist that ever twisted" approach to plotting. I figure if Fontana can create 11 million versions of each of his characters purely for effect, I'm entitled to choose the edition I like the best, and I like my Keller fucked up but not beyond redemption.
I'll be honest. I have no fucking clue. It's six seasons of Tom Fontana's neuroses on display, is what it is, and people get raped and stabbed and fucked and fucked over and broken and healed and then broken again. And there's a hell of a lot of nudity (for a TV show) and not nearly enough consensual gay sex. I know that much, but I actually don't know anything, because take just Keller and Beecher. These guys go through every possible plot development FF writers could think of in the canon except maybe marriage and MPreg. (Actually, one of the things I love about this fandom is that the fic doesn't pull shit like that as often as in other fandoms, even if that's all the virgin territory Tom Fontana left for fic writers.)
Helpful Information for the Oz Newbie
-Where to Start If You Don't Know the Canon-
Well, the crack_van Fandom Summary is always good. But if you actually want to unravel any part of the plot, you'll need way more than that. Luckily, there is way more than that.
TV Tome's Oz Guide is very thorough; you can get anything from an overview to character details to episode guides here. The episode guides are particularly good.
Shank You Very Much is a fan-oriented site that's especially useful for the transcripts. But don't go looking for a transcript until you're damn sure that you can't find out what you need to know from a summary; the summaries are more coherent and easier to follow without having seen the show.
-Where to Start with Oz Fan Fiction-
First, know that you read at your own risk. Fic in this fandom doesn't pull any punches. Even fluff, Oz-style, still features more brutality per square inch than everything I've ever rec'd in due South, and schmoop, Oz-style, is something that lasts for four minutes during a marathon lockdown and that happens in between blows to the face. Caveat lectrix, sweeties.
And here's a warning in the opposite direction. Oz fic can truly be absolutely brutal. But I'm already seriously out of my comfort zone with this fandom, so I tend to avoid pieces that are enthusiastically described as "just like being shanked in the shoulder by someone you love!" or "even Fontana never went here" or "after you read this, you'll know how the Schillinger treatment feels – firsthand." So I tend to go for the stories that have – well, not happy endings, per se, because this is Oz, after all. It's just that I try to stay away from the eternal midnight end of the darkfic spectrum. So be aware that there are some great, great stories out there in this fandom that you'll never see me rec.
"I Didn't Want to Fuck You, but You're Pretty When You Cry": A Beecher/Keller Primer: Vid: Pretty When You Cry, by lierdumoa. I've never recommended a vid before, and there's a reason for that; this is one of only two vids that I've ever considered worth keeping on my hard drive. And oh how worth it this one is. If you're planning to spend any time at all reading in this fandom, you need this vid; it's five seasons of Beecher/Keller craziness packed into four minutes. Here you'll see the good (the laundry room kiss), the bad (most of the rest of the relationship, although I think the arm-breaking wrestling scene probably has to rank high on the "bad" list), and the ugly (Toby's OMG so scary save me save me save me facial hair, if you can even call that hair). The song choice is perfect. Hell, the entire vid is pretty much perfect. And after you've seen this, you'll know almost everything you need to know to read B/K. So watch it. (And be a good little vid watcher and save the file on your computer; don't watch it on her bandwidth. Apart from anything else, you'll want this one saved. Truly you will.)
Blasphemy and Buttsex Make a Delightful Combination: A Beecher/Keller Sex Scene: Zipless, by rowanfairchild. What's the first thing anyone wants to read in a new fandom? Well, if that person is a reader of this LJ, probably porn. Preferably cheerful porn that doesn't require a lot of detailed knowledge of the four seasons that precede the action. So I give you this, Rowan Fairchild's mildly blasphemous but otherwise absolutely buoyant Oz porn. I have in my notes on this one "light-hearted and cheerful," which is because they have sex, they're glad, and the last line actually made me laugh. I mean, if it wasn't for the guards, the nun, and the unfortunate behavior of some of the inmates toward the copy machine, you wouldn't even know it was prison. (Because Tobias Beecher types get fucked by Chris Keller types all the time. Right?)
When You Play with Keller, You'd Better Know You're Playing to Lose: Beecher and Keller and a Little Game: Two Truths and a Lie, by Adastra fictionbya. Another story that gets you to the heart of Beecher/Keller, or at least as near as you can get to the heart of the relationship at this particular moment in the canon. There are things Keller can't say without having an out. A lot of things. Keller doesn't like being pinned down, can't stand being totally honest. And there are things Beecher needs to hear absolutely, no outs, no take-backs, no lies. This story is a lovely piece of B/K interaction. Beecher pushes. Keller twists. No one wins. But no one exactly loses, either, which is what makes this one of those stories I can read and even rec, instead of one of those stories that leaves Beecher maimed and despairing and Keller dying and despairing and me baking comfort food and despairing.