Okay. So here's the basic Gemma Files fanfic FAQ, which usually boils down to two simple questions: Why (mainly) write fanfic about OZ, in the first place? And given the range of intense, interesting, exciting characters from OZ that I COULD be playing with, *why*--for the love of God, Montressor--do I find (mainly) writing fic from the point of view of someone like Vern Schillinger [as embodied by character actor J.K. Simmons, who probably finds having finally gained late-life "fame" as a neo-Nazi prison rapist a pretty mixed blessing at best] attractive, let alone excusable?

     OZ, created for HBO by writer/director/producer Tom Fontana (previously responsible for such challenging, cult-worthy primetime shows as St. ELSEWHERE and HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET), is a no-holds-barred look at hard times doing hard time...a Ground Zero-level view of life in Emerald City, the experimental wing of a made-up prison called the Oswald Maximum Security Correctional Facility. Inmates at Oz range from supposedly-meek rich-boy former lawyer Tobias Beecher [Lee Tergesen], in for three to twelve on a first offense conviction for vehicular manslaughter (while driving under the influence, he hit-and-ran a twelve-year-old girl riding home on her bike), to charming lowlife borderline sociopath Christopher Keller [Christopher Meloni], who robbed a bodega and committed two counts of felony murder, thus netting himself a cool eighty-eight years (up for parole in fifty).

     During his first few days in Oz, Beecher's total lack of street smarts--possibly allied with a certain innate self-destructive streak--made him easy meat for the attentions of Vern Schillinger [J.K. Simmons], leader of Oz's Aryan Brotherhood, in for five to eight for beating up a (black) pusher who sold drugs to his sons. After switching cells ostensibly to *avoid* getting raped only to end up with a swastika branded on his ass, Beecher spent most of Season One as Vern's "prag", his chosen jailhouse punk/"wife"--bullied, humiliated, forced to lick Vern's boots, dress in partial drag and give up most of his straight masculine self-image. Eventually, Beecher's downward plunge ended when cellblock Machiavel/self-proclaimed Lord Of The Dance Ryan O'Reily [Dean Winters] slipped him some angel dust; Beecher accessed his inner rage and threw a chair through Vern's (plexiglass) cell wall, leaving him scarred and partially blind in one eye. Later, he confirmed his escape from pragdom by knocking Vern down and taking a crap on his face. The vendetta between them has been on ever since.

     The big development in said vendetta came in Season Two, when Vern sicced Keller--then a new arrival, but one who also happened to be one of Vern's former prags--on the now tough and crazy Beecher, arranging to get him assigned as Beecher's new cellmate. Keller worked his seductive wiles, leaving Beecher freshly confused about his sexuality and ripe for a re-descent into alcohol, then capped the deal off by helping Vern break Beecher's arms and legs. As Season Three began, however, Keller decided he really *did* love Beecher, and spent most of the rest of that arc trying to get Beecher to believe it by aiding him in his continuing feud with Vern. By the end of Season Three, Keller had helped Beecher (inadvertantly) arrange for the death of Vern's son, Andy--granted, the kid actually died from overdosing on drugs *Vern*, Oz's resident postmaster, had sent to him through the mail...but it was still Beecher's FAULT, at least in Vern's eyes--and Keller and Beecher consummated their courtship during an extended New Year's lock-down, becoming publicly acknowledged lovers.

     With the first part of Season Four, the V/B/K mate-or-murder-go-round has continued to twist and turn, spiralling steadily outward--much like the rest of OZ's intertwined storylines--in an endlessly unfolding moral and psychosexual fractal pattern. Vern still wants Beecher: Supposedly dead, possibly back--*his*, either way. Beecher still can't go more than a few episodes without taking an energizing, hate-filled pull off the old Vern-pipe. And Keller is still enmeshed with both of them, obsessed with proving he's a better "Daddy" than Vern ever was by retaining his hold on Beecher; the New Year's honeymoon was basically over in episode one, when Keller called Beecher a bitch for wanting--albeit momentarily--to forgive Vern his trespasses. Since then, the fallout has cost Beecher a son himself and left he and Keller estranged, for the moment. Vern, meanwhile, just gloats...and waits.

     The "why" of me writing OZ, therefore, should be obvious. The show's a winning combination of modern-day revenge tragedy and full-bore homoerotic soap opera which  provides almost journalistically accurate insight into today's burgeoning "penitentiary culture", yet still remains innately theatrical, hyperkinetic and addictive--no good deed goes unpunished in Em City, while the pros and cons of institutionalization vs. self-revelation are carved out daily in flesh, blood, sweat, tears and every other bodily fluid imaginable. Some people find the particular trip down the Yellow Brick Road too assaultive to bear, others exhilarating beyond belief; I find it both, and am continually inspired by and fascinated with its underlying message that people placed under inhumane pressure inevitably find themselves mutating into the most clarified, polarized version of whatever--good OR bad--they already had the most potential to become.

     Even my most devoted fellow Oz-watchers, however, are far more likely to focus on the gorgeously dysfunctional dynamics of the Beecher/Keller melange than they are to spend much time trying to figure out what makes a "monster" like Vern tick...or what conflicted impulses keep he and Beecher locked in their decaying mutual orbit, for that matter. B and K are youngish, comparatively conventionally attractive guys who've been actually allowed to kiss and fondle on national TV, after all; Vern's just a formerly fat, middle-aged man with a disproportionately sonorous voice and ugly "beliefs", a ruthless and hypocritical career predator who's done horrible things and never implied he was sorry for any of them. Never mind that Beech, for all his cute initial helplessness, is more and more looking like the skanky, cross-addicted prison version of the cold corporate viper he must surely have been on the outside, or that Keller's already confessed to considering himself "a piece of shit" whose emotional choices can only embrace either unconditional surrender or unconditional love, serial marriage or serial murder...

     Well, this may be an apologia, but I'm definitely no apologist: I've never wanted to "justify" Vern, or his actions. I've simply always been fascinated by the slim, slim margin separating people who self-identify as "good" from everybody else--my true slasher roots lie in the tension between action-movie heroes and villains, all the way up from STREETS OF FIRE through RICOCHET through FACE/OFF--as well as the truly amazing lengths people of every possible stripe and stamp will go to in order to justify their own actions to themselves.

     When I began writing MY WIFE AND MY DEAD WIFE, my first piece of OZfic, I knew that the main thing I wanted to do was get deeper into the fucked-up "relationship" between Vern and Beecher than Tom Fontana's sense of pacing could really allow for. I remember being inspired by a comment/question posted by another visitor to Susan Hudgens' Unofficial OZ Website Forum: "What would life under Vern"--so to speak--"really have been like, 24-7?" Not just during rape, or violence, but during those pauses where you're just two people linked in grotesque intimacy, sharing a pod [Oz slang for cell]. I remember replying that I thought it would probably have been most like a really bad arranged marriage, where--no matter the circumstances--there would always be these little moments of detente and teamwork, a confusing occasional feeling of being less owned than joined at the hip. Of being...partners.

     Around the same time, I started doing research on prison "romances", especially the traditional Daddy/punk relationship model Vern and Beecher's vendetta evolved from: Physical protection in return for sexual satisfaction, with one person retaining the status of a Man (a "pitcher" or "jocker", understood to be just a horny heterosexual getting his wick dipped any way he can) while the other becomes a sort of substitute woman or "catcher", a rare and much-sought-after prison commodity, and can never escape that label as long as he's still inside the system. As OZ narrator Augustus Hill [Harold Perrineau Jnr.] notes in episode two, Season One, if you make a man your prag, "you own him for life."

     Life, a four-letter word, much like love, or hate, or fuck. Or wife.

     Most articles on the subject, however, do stress that punkdom is usually a quasi-consensual arrangement--in that, after an initial coercive turning-out, Men will compete between themselves for a punk's undivided loyalty, cutting deals as elaborate as civillian pre-nuptual agreements to get it--and can even be reciprocal, mutually sexually satisfying, or emotionally rewarding. Vern's methodology therefore seems deviant from the norm, as presented in canon; by going into his arrangement with Beecher in a purely antagonistic way, he essentially sets himself up for a resultant string of disasters. Why?

     Personally, I think the answer has a lot to do with Vern's own shaky sense of his essential sexuality: He's smart and experienced, but he's been in jail for so much of his life that he's having a hell of a time maintaining the illusion that he's NOT functionally bisexual. So he goes overboard to maintain his unbendable alpha-male self-image, requiring an imitation of femininity from his prags that's almost satirical, rewarding "girly", submissive behavior, and only slamming down hard whenever he's contradicted.

     But with Beecher, constant submission seemed to make Vern disengage entirely, leading directly to the angel dust episode: Vern tells Beecher he's through with him even though Beecher's always done everything he's ordered him to, sends him off to find another Daddy or (possibly literally) die, so Beecher goes straight to O'Reily for a shot of instant courage, and lashes out at Vern for breaking their "deal" by changing the rules mid-game. Essentially, no matter what Vern says, I think he knows Beecher isn't really cut out to be a "woman"--and essentially, I don't think he wants him to be. Thus the unnecessary coerciveness, as though he *wanted* to put as much pressure on Beecher as possible, just see what would happen.

     Season One Vern had no RESPECT for Season One Beecher, but post-Season One Vern has real evidence that Beecher was always smarter and has a lot more spine than he ever gave him credit for--in a fucked-up way, getting publicly screwed by Beecher may have finally gotten Vern truly interested in him as a potential mate, rather than a simple sperm depository. Not that he can ever say that right out, mind you, considering that--at this point--reciprocation would look like weakness on his part, sheer perversity on Beecher's. And so the beat goes on.

     Beecher's hatred for Vern is the one true constant of Oz, far more than his "love" for Keller--which is why, though I'm glad for Beecher/Keller in that I applaud anyone having good, hot sex (especially two good, hot guys), I still maintain that Vern is definitely the person Beecher has real "issues" with. Their combat/chemistry is what really keeps Beecher going; it's a root addiction, as all-consuming as any of Beecher's other little habits...not to mention being both cheaper and more available than booze, to boot.

     Meanwhile, whenever I look at Beecher, I continue to see him as a far more loose and slippery person than Vern--not only because he's learned the hard way that it's in his own best interest to bend or be crushed, but because I think the buttoned-down surface he had to maintain on the outside was the primary reason behind his drinking problem. Drunk, or high, or crazy, Beecher inevitably gets this nasty sexualization thing going--flirtatious, "bitchy", out of control, aggressive, as though he's accessing a whole hidden section of himself--and Vern is *definitely* the trigger. And because there's no softer side involved, no real emotional vulnerability (as there IS with Keller), he can go further with Vern than with anyone else-- each comes to the table loaded with intelligence and need, neither will back down, and they're both equally inventive. It's like they HAVE to keep picking the scab, to make sure their shared wound stays open and unhealed.

     For me, a big component of Beecher's continued guilt/self-hatred around the whole Vern issue can also be traced back to a talk he has with Oz's resident nun/psychiatrist Sister Peter Marie in episode six or seven of Season Two, during which he makes a clear distinction between sex with another man and love with another man (ie, Keller) by saying: "I HAD sex with Schillinger--it was brutal, UNloving." *Not* "unfulfilling", or "I couldn't come 'cause it hurt too much", or whatever. Which really hints at a pattern of complicity-through-unexpected-pleasure which only something like fanfic can ever really explore in full, eh...detail.

     Part of Beecher's problem, to me, seems to be caught up with his closeted sensualist nature--boring on the outside, open-all-access on the in-. In a very real way--though this condones nothing--I think he WANTS, on some level, to be "forced" to respond, either by alcohol, drugs or someone else who can read his mind and give him what he's too outwardly straight to say he wants or needs: Keller, now, for certain. But maybe--Vern, then?

     And granted, I'm working (by now) as much from my own fanon as from true Oz canon anyway, tending to interpret things in the light of the background I've made up for "my" Vern, but even in canon, though, I think it's been pretty much established that Vern--who enjoys "the power part" of sex so much--always finds ways to treat his intimates as badly as he does himself. Obviously, what he wants is a kind of make-believe family, with Beech playing wife *and* child, to be petted or corrected at will--and why? Because his family's the only thing we've ever seen him get passionate about, and he NEEDS an outlet for that passion beyond the usual cold, calculated, jizz-gettin' and -keepin' machinations of the A.B. in specific and Oz in general.

     Thus, to my mind, his Daddy-like benevolence towards Keller, even though prags aren't really supposed to "outgrow" their cum-rag status; Chris gave him what he wanted, then graduated, but still accords him his proper respect (or did, 'till he started poaching on Vern's long-distance property). And for all that he said he was going to make Beecher suffer, then kill him, his setting Keller on him still highly stinks of trying to restart their former "relationship" by going in through the back door (so's to speak). It's about doing by proxy what he couldn't do in person: Getting Beecher to depend on HIM for sexual *and* emotional intimacy, the way it should have been from the start--a "normal" relationship, or as close as Vern's capable of coming to one.

     Vern's curse is that he can only "love" what he perceives as an extension of himself--his family, his property, his gang, his race, his Cause. But his version of love is hollow, even on this level, because--though, again, he'd never admit it--he doesn't really love himself, or consider himself worthy OF love. Canonically, this is highly hinted at, though never directly confirmed; one look at Vern's less-than-amicable dealings with his father Heinrick certainly raise a few theories as to why. And that's where he and Beecher meet, time after time after time: A tangled, punitive web of mutual self-loathing made flesh, impossible to re-make, running its course as an eternally shared will to mutually assured (self-) destruction.

     That's what I see, and that's what I like. So that's what I write about, mainly, switching my monster-masks back and forth to play predator or victim or victim/predator in turn. A small, twisted specialty, yet mine own.

     Now: You wanna just stand there watching, or do you wanna play? Your choice, 'course...




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