"If you look after the apex predators in any eco-system, everything'll
be *all right*."
     --Steve Irwin, THE CROCODILE HUNTER.

"Do you like Beecher?" Asks an anxious fan who recently gave me some
very nice feedback for UNBOUND, the currently still-unfinished
Beecher/Keller opus I co-write with my partner/writing partner Stephen
J. Barringer. Adding, a moment later: "I can't entirely be sure, so I
had to ask."

     To which I can only wonder: And what was it I wrote, exactly, that
gave you the impression I might *not* like him?

     In a multi-layered, multi-storylined true ensemble piece, Tobias
Beecher has dubious distinction of having played human entry-point in OZ
fandom for more people than almost any other character--more
pasty-white, middle-class people from a particular educational bracket,
at least [please note, this is a *very* blanket statement I'm making,
here...but I think I could probably produce some pretty good statistics
to back it up, if I had to]. And as far as I can tell, that's because a
lot of "us" both sympathize with and identify with Beecher, one way or
another--a fuck of a lot more of us than identify with Vern Schillinger,
Simon Adebisi, Kareem Said, Chris Keller, Ryan O'Reilly or Tim McManus,
all told. In the midst of a squirming nest of frighteningly alien
personalities, Beecher is one of the only prisoners in Em City who seems
to at least have started out roughly where most of us still are, even to
the love-vs.-lust, low to no self-esteem, substance abuse and personal
responsibility problems. I mean, I personally often act as though he
deserves everything he gets, but that might be because--most days--I
often believe I deserve everything *I* get, and more.

     Examine this phenomena a little more closely than most fans tend
to, however, and you'll notice a rather interesting flaw in our initial
assumptions as to what kind of person Beecher "is": Like everybody else
in Oz, none of us have ever actually seen Beecher in his "real life".
Was he the life of the party, or a repressed weirdo? Probably the life
of the party when he was drunk; maybe boring when sober, and painfully
aware of it. Or colder and more "lawyer"-like than most people would
like to think. We're sucked into feeling for him because he's
"different"--not a career criminal, not a thug, an upper-middle-class,
educated man who made one glaring mistake. But as he spirals continually
downward, we not only see explicitly how the "point" of OZ is Tom
Fontana's conviction that prison makes bad men worse and turns dubious
men bad, but also that Beecher always had the potential to become like

     Which means, perhaps, that so do we, by extension--given the right
set of events, the right situation. That all of us contain a seed of
Machiavel, of strategist, of cold-eyed whore, of ruthless and
unrepentant killer who slips faaar too easily for comfort from closing
profitable deals to shanking someone in the back. So yes, he's an
outsider, he's "normal", but he's only different in degree: Oz is not a
different world, so much, as a more honest one.

     Not to mention how things changed forever during Season Three, when
Beecher killed C.O. Karl Metzger (apparently mainly because Metzger was
pushing him around, his lover/betrayer Keller wasn't handy, and he
already had those sharpened claws just waiting for any opportunity to
scratch *somebody*'s face to shit, and--well, hey, what the heck, eh?)
and then walked away without ever having to take responsibility. Beecher
comes in a self-deluded manslaughterer, and leaves--if he ever leaves--a
deliberate murderer. Many Beecher apologists don't seem to want to
process this fact, to the extent that most of them seem to have either
totally forgotten about it or truly don't believe it must have impacted
upon him in any significant way; the Season rounded out with B/K's
famous Millennium Night kiss after all, which surely must have washed
away all the shit they'd both already crawled through in a big, warm
flood of long-deferred emotional/sexual epiphany. The laundry room
gamble of Season Two brought to its semi-logical conclusion: Ooh, mmm,
oh yeah, baby.

     Personally, thought, I don't find Beecher's body-language in that
particular scene immensely convincing as evidence of true love eternal
made flesh. When he looks at Keller under his lashes, waiting for him to
make the first move, I see far less a declaration of devotion than one
end of a bargain kept up...a less repulsive version of the Beech/Vern
play-for-protection racket, to put it in the absolute worst possible
light. And I'm not implying that Beecher doesn't feel *anything* for
Keller, or that what he feels doesn't run both silent and deep, because
I definitely think he does. But Beecher's key-note is perversity, and I
don't think he could ever bring himself to be as easy with his own lust
for and vulnerability to Keller as most unabashed B/K'ers want to think
he already is.

     Why can't Beecher love and be loved easily? Why can't he accept
love in return, as well as giving it recklessly out, making unreasonable
demands he knows the other person can't meet and then waiting for them
the fuck up so he can turn on them like some crazed weasel? Because,
just like Keller--though for markedly different reasons, I'm sure, if we
could only be eventually clued in to what they actually *are*--he
essentially doesn't consider himself worthy of the unconditional love he
craves. That kind of love is most closely related to forgiveness, and
Beecher can neither forgive nor be forgiven. Because...he's *guilty*.

     Doesn't just feel guilty (mainly when it suits him to, so he can
wallow in self-pity awhile)--ladies and gents, the man really IS guilty.
He drove drunk, he killed a little girl, he got caught, he went to jail.
Does he deserve to be where he is? Debatable, what with a first-time
offense (previous DUIs notwithstanding). Beecher's in Oz, as opposed to
Club Fed, because he got slammed with the maximum sentence--made an
example of, as payback for every lenient sentence a drunk driver ever
drew. Whether he's "learning" anything, aside from how to shift the
blame in ever more creative ways, is similarly debatable: His whole
initial man-to-prag interaction with Vern has allowed him to keep seeing
himself as a victim ever since, while at the same time allowing him to
feel "justified" about acting like a vengeful predator. But does he
deserve to be *somewhere*? HELL yes--and probably not somewhere where he
can spend every night locked up in a pod with somebody he *wants* to
fuck his lights out, either.

     Now, I'll never deny that Lee Tergesen is one damn attractive man:
Compact and surprisingly muscular, almost catlike in his physicality,
his slant blue eyes and his flat little nose--and on the plus side, his
Beecher is passionate and heart-wrenching, genuinely smart (whenever he
can get his head out of either his own or Keller's ass) and genuinely
needy, often demanding far more from those around him than they can
possibly give within context. He wants redemption, but settles for
restitution. He's always dimly--and occasionally sharply--aware how
tangled his own psyche is, but takes no responsibility for his own share
in it; he can be funny in a snarky, sideways kind of way, evidencing a
sly, dry, sometimes hallucinogenic way of seeing the world. He's never
been afraid to say he loved Keller out loud, even around other people,
and he certainly does seem to feel bad after he does bad things (though
usually for all the wrong reasons).

     But Beecher is also routinely verbose and whiny, a selfishly
self-centred angst junkie, prone to think himself either the best or the
worst person in the world--and its sollipsistic centrepiece, either way.
He's bitchy, manipulative, adept at spreading and using guilt; as a
fallen Hahvahd man, he's also intellectually snobbish and innately
classist. He can never leave well enough alone; he always has to pick
any given scab raw, to stick it in and twist it before the wound can
heal. As a fic writer, I don't *have* to go out of my way to torture
Beecher, because he'll always come up with ways to do it himself.

     And this is the single most important thing, when trying to
understand Beecher: He's an addict, with a *textbook* addict's
personality. The patterns behind his disease (why DID he drink?) have
become indistinguishable and inextricable from the disease itself. I
don't know if he's capable of being unconflictedly or sustainedly happy,
or ever making a decision he'll totally stick with/stand behind. His
essential nature is one of discontent, of self-doubt, even shrewd and
fierce and sexy as he can occasionally be; a lifetime of live white amle
privilege has him in its grip, rendering him quick-fix credulous in that
Warren Zevon "Send lawyers, guns and money/Dad, get me out of this" type
of way. When he's conflicted, he'll throw himself on the mercy of
whoever's handy: God, Allah, Said, McManus (but only the once), Father
Mukada, Sister Pete...on *really* bad days, he acts like he even doubts
his own doubting. Any hint of uncertainty or fear, things particular
endemic to a maximum security prisoner's existence, he instantly sees as
weaknesses to be reflexively denied--a quality he shares with Vern,
interestingly enough; by setting his standards so ridiculously high, he
can always guarantee himself yet another excuse to punish himself for
failing to "make the grade" (or get somebody else to do it, whichever
comes first).

     Looking back, Beecher's drugs of choice have always been narcotics
or anaesthetics--alcohol, heroin, prescription drugs. He's never
returned to angel dust, even though taking that free hit of it from Ryan
O'Reilly once "gave" him his greatest victory over Vern. One way or
another, he just wants to be *somewhere else*, even if the only place he
IS is stuck inside his own itchy, guilty addict's skin. And Keller can't
*be* his everything, which lies at the root of what drives Keller nuts.

     Which brings us back to my original thesis--or theme, at least:
Beecher's underlying fascination, sometimes in a sexy or sympathetic
way, sometimes in a wholly sick one--the same sort of fascination we
feel for any given accident waiting to happen. Sure, jsut because a
person does self-destructive things, it doesn't necessarily follow that
he deserves destruction...but exactly how much of the shit that comes
Beecher's way does he manufacture, or at least invite? And he's
vindictive, too. That combination of the "civilized" and the feral, a
spoilt child with a monster's claws. Even when he has "good" reasons to
do what he does, he always goes too far; his lawyer's instinct is to cut
a deal, to forgive only as far as you would be forgiven. Trade whatever
for whatever--but only 'till you find a "valid breach of contract", so
you can break the deal without incurring a penalty.
     Right before the Em City List self-destructed one last time,
someone posted this observation--

   *I really am not interested in Beecher, sexually, so I always like
him as the bottom, even though he's not supposed to be on the show [in
that Keller once told an FBI guy who said, of Beecher, "You fuck him"
that he and Beecher actually "fuck each other"]. But I'm really sick of
the Keller-Top/Beecher-Bottom fic---aside from the fact that it's all
the same and boring and repetitive, they're always twisting the shit out
of the Keller character, making him he's an exclusive top,
exclusive homo, when everybody knows the character is supposed to be a
buy [sic]-sexual slut...all's he does is fuck, protect, "love," and hold
doors open (AU) f/Bitcher. At first it was actually pretty hot, but now
it's just like "Bullshit! I'm really fucking sure---that never fucking
happened" (ha ha.) *

     To which I replied:

     *What I think you're really talking about is this seemingly
universal tendency to infantilize and feminize Beecher, which I too have
occasionally been guilty of. (A long time ago, someone once had to remind
me that Beecher was actually half a head taller than Vern--grantedly difficult
to see most of the time, especially when he's slouching and hugging himself.) And
as long as he keeps striking that "oh poor me, I'm a victim, born prey in a cage full
of predators" pose, there'll always be takers for Beech-as-Barbara-Cartland-heroine
fic. But Beecher *ain't* a girl--and even at Lee's most anorexic, his sheer physicality
won't really let him pull it off for long: He's a sturdy, nasty individual, fully capable
of going toe-to-toe with Chris on the wrestling mat, and elsewhere. And I'm
sure Chris takes some perverse pleasure (the only kind he trades in) from goading
him into showing it, every once in a while.

     As for the top/bottom dynamic--it seems to me that the impression is made up
of several slightly darker, more interesting elements. Such as that maybe Keller
would want to be firmly recognized as the top in the B/K relationship, because
part of said relationship involves him redefining himself in the prison hierarchy as
a Daddy rather than a prag. Or that B. might go along with that impression,
because part of his pattern of behavior IS to "go along to get along"--that being on
the bottom means that you always make sure the person on top is more invested
than you in making the relationship continue, is *feeling* more than you, and you
can just literally lay back and steer them around by the dick. The post-Vern lessons
taking hold once more.

     Then again, things might occasionally reverse themselves, for similarly complex
reasons: Maybe Beecher has one of those offhand spurts of annoyance/agression,
that "damn it! I used to be Mr Corporate straight guy, you White Trash slut!" vibe
you sometimes get, and Keller is too surprised not to let him run with it. Or maybe
K. tries to get B. out of his pose, to get at the *real* emotions underneath the
not-so-simple sexual attraction, by forcing/seducing him into doing rather than
being done by. Again, a darker and more intricate route than most of these people
seem to want to travel.

     Neither Keller nor Beecher are easy people, and to treat them as though they
could be reduced to a simplistic top/bottom, man/woman, protector/protectee
paradigm is insulting, both to them and to us. We shouldn't have to cut them
retroactive slack on their shared bag of skanky, cross-addicted, co-dependent tricks
just 'cause we like to see them kiss.*

So, yes: I *do* like Toby. Just because I'm not about to cut him
continuous slack for his skanky, co-dependent behavior patterns doesn't
mean I DISlike him. But I'm definitely tired (and have been since the
beginning) of seeing both Beecher himself and the people who write about
him playing the "oh poor me, boo hoo, I'm just a lamb in a cage full of
lions, etc." card. Oz itself isn't run the way I'd like it to be, but
this IS a guy who needs to be temporarily removed from society and made
forcibly aware that what he did wasn't an *accident* so much as the
culmination of a series of bad choices and willful, selfish decisions,
all of which he arrogantly decided he could probably get away with
making (over and over and over).

      Did he "deserve" to be fucked up the ass, branded, treated like
crap? Within the rules of prison society--rules he certainly couldn't
have known coming in, but should have been aware enough to observe and
pick up on--yes, to some degree; he colluded in his own humiliation by
palying prey for just as long as it struck him as fitting, then used it
as an excuse to go hog-wild nutso and reclaim his true predator status.
Intentionally? Probably not, considering how he likes to keep himself
distracted with drink, drugs, religion, misery. But I continue to see
Beech as a bundle of tics, a dark and knotted mystery, as much of a user
as everyone who's ever used him. And that's what I like best about him,
because that's links him to everyone else in Oz: Though he's
occasionally perceptive enough to realize it, he still has no practical
impulse control...and like Guard Wittlesey once said, so long ago, "if
you *had* any self-control, you wouldn't be in here."

     Well, would you, prag?

     Which makes Beecher not SO very different, after all.




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