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prison frisson

Let’s Remember Christopher Meloni’s Psychotic Oz Love Story

Tonight Fox debuts its new sitcom Surviving Jack, which stars Christopher Meloni as a gruff, ex-military doctor who suddenly finds himself as the main caregiver to his teenage kids. A badass who, against all of his instincts, gets in touch with his tender side? Sounds like Meloni is returning to his roots: Back in 1998, he was introduced on HBO’s GLAAD-nominated Oz as psychotic murderer Chris Keller, whose devious plan to mind-fuck Job-like convict Tobias Beecher (Lee Tergesen) evolved into true — though still psychotic — love. Their passionate love affair was filled with sweet caresses, stabbings, deep kisses, arm-breaking, tender words, and murder plots; a gay love affair far more passionate than anything seen on Looking. Join us as we revisit the most-loved plotlines and romantic moments that inspired fevered fandom in the form of fan fiction, art, Tumblrs, and YouTube mash-ups (like “Beecher/Keller Best Kisses”).

Laundry Room Love
Beecher, a married alcoholic attorney convicted of killing a child while drunk driving, was a timid newbie when the show began, tormented by his cellmate, evil Aryan leader Vern Schillinger (J.K. Simmons, also now playing a sitcom dad!). But by season two, Beecher was hardened, having beaten up and shat on his archenemy Vern, then bitten off the tip of the penis of the next Nazi who tried to force Beecher to fellate him. And yet his calloused heart thawed when he got his new roommate, sociopath Chris Keller, who had been locked up for shooting the owner of a grocery store he was robbing. Their pairing inspired a lot of “will they/won’t they?” tension, kind of like early Ross and Rachel on Friends, except not at all like that. When Beecher had nightmares about the fatal car accident, Keller was there for him. When Keller tried to dream up ways to cover up the swastika brand on Beecher's ass (imprinted by Schillinger), Beecher was touched. They confided in each other, and they wrestled — not with their sexuality, but actual, literal, macho-type wrestling on a gym mat. And finally, in the prison’s laundry room, they confessed their love for each other and shared their first kiss. Unfortunately, this nakedly affectionate and poignant moment was broken up by guards with absolutely no sense of romance, and Keller freaked out and landed in solitary confinement.

The Breaking Point
While Keller was in the hole, a moony Beecher turned to drink, and was devastated when Keller finally emerged and unexpectedly ended their burgeoning romance without any explanation. The mystery was solved when Beecher was moping in the gym, once the triumphant site of his face-shitting victory over Schillinger. It quickly became a den of humiliation: Keller and Schillinger smugly arrived to reveal that the two were old friends, and had concocted a scheme for Keller to play with Beecher's emotions. Ha-ha! And then, after breaking Beecher's heart, Keller proceeded to break both of his arms and legs, while Schillinger looked on mockingly.

Stabs of Regret, and Also Stabs and Regret
But wait! Keller may be a sociopath, but he's the kind of sociopath who can love. And it turns out that, like a prison-yard version of She's All That with multiple fractures, even though his devotion started as a prank … he really developed feelings for Beecher. Keller tried to win him back in season three, even confessing to the authorities his role in the Beecher attack to prove his penitence, but his true love remained unmoved. Demonstrably so, in that Beecher stabbed Keller. But Keller did not let this stop him, and when he later saw Schillinger stab Beecher, Keller stabbed Schillinger! Let's just say that stabbing really comes in handy as a plot point on Oz. But all the stabbing and shivving and shivving and stabbing had a happy ending: Beecher and Keller exchanged longing glances and then passionately consummated their love on New Year’s Eve.

Here's Looking at You, Stabby
The only upbeat moment for the couple in season four was a scene where Beecher courageously told his visiting parents that he and Keller were lovers. (Don't worry! Beecher wasn’t cheating on his wife: She was killed by Schillinger's Aryan pals on the outside in season two. It was made to look like a suicide, and she was forced at gunpoint to write a note in which she blamed her death on despondency over what Beecher had done.) Anyway, after a murder (it’s a long story), a big fight, and a breakup, Beecher pursued other men, which inflamed Keller’s jealousy. This was a time before social media; Keller could not subtweet his anger at Keller's new beaus, so instead he killed them off one by one — personally hooking up with the last one, and then snapping his neck during fellatio. Done and done! But all was forgiven on both sides when Keller stepped up to take responsibility for a murder-for-hire that was actually Beecher’s doing (another long story). Keller was shipped off to another prison, and their truly touching farewell featured some dialogue that rivals Casablanca. Keller promised to see Beecher back at Oz, “or in heaven.” Beecher: “You really think we’re gonna get into heaven?” Keller: “You and me, together? God doesn’t have the balls to keep us out.” It's like they stabbed us all … with emotion.

Convicted … of True Love
But this is not the end of Keller and Beecher, as Keller returned to Oz in season five, this time to death row. Turns out he was a serial killer — and we all know how irresistible bad boys are. Beecher’s love remained steadfast, as he supported Keller even after Beecher got paroled and landed a non-serial-killer love interest (his sultry female lawyer). Using his own law degree, he got Keller’s death sentence overturned. But sociopathic love works in mysterious ways on Oz: Keller missed Beecher’s full-time presence so much so that he got Beecher’s parole revoked by tricking him into buying illegal drugs (again, long story). Back in prison, an infuriated Beecher was determined to cut ties with Keller once and for all, and Keller decided to come to terms with it in the way he deals with all affairs of the heart: elaborately, somewhat bizarrely, and with lots of betrayal. He threw himself to his death while implicating Beecher. And that was where their romance — and the series — pretty much ended, unless you take into account the vibrant post-Oz lives of the beloved couple on the internet, in which shippers have them on the run, living it up in Vegas, and even getting cozy in an apocalyptic future. All prison sentences end one way or another, but that doesn't mean their love has to.

Photo: HBO