Warning: This review may contain slight episode spoilers. My summary of the first episode (the following paragraph) and the final paragraph are safe to read if you have not yet seen Oz season five.
The first episode, "Visitation", focuses mainly on the return of normalcy to Oz after the gas explosion in the season four finale. Whilst the prisoners are reassigned pods, Father Ray Mukada (B. D. Wong) travels with the first group of people to visit inmates at Oz after reopening its doors and converses with several of the passengers. Due to complications with the air vents in the solitary unit, Miguel Alvarez (Kirk Acevedo), Omar White (Michael Wright), and their fellow prisoners are returned to Oz for the time that it will take to repair the ventilation system in their unit. Sister Peter Marie Reimondo (Rita Moreno) talks to Tobias Beecher (Lee Tergesen) about having him take part in a group counselling session between him, Kareem Said (Eamonn Walker), and Vern Schillinger (J. K. Simmons), which does not start off well as one can imagine due to past conflicts, religious differences, and flaring tempers. Zahir Arif (Granville Adams), unable to keep his guilt to himself any longer from seeing Ryan O'Reily (Dean Winters) kill Patrick Keenan (Dylan Chalfy), unknowingly starts a chain of events that leads to an investigation of Keenan's murder.
Episode two, "Laws of Gravity", focuses a great deal on newness. One example is that Alvarez, who knows if he stays out of trouble has one last chance to stay in Oz instead of going back to solitary, adopts a new way of handling his issues with Carmen "Chico" Guerra (Otto Sanchez). A second example is of Ryan's mother, Suzanne Fitzgerald (Betty Lynn Buckley) arriving at Em City to complete her community service. She begins to have music lessons with the prisoners, the highlights of which are Omar and Cyril O'Reily (Scott William Winters), who due to these lessons forms a bond with Suzanne. A third example is The Governor of the mystery state Oz exists in (Utah has been ruled out as a suspect) appears to form a liaison between the prison and the government and of course she happens to have some history with a certain womaniser who will remain blatantly obvious. This is also the first episode in the season that Bob Rebadow (George Morfogen) begins to take a larger step toward centre stage due to his grandson's fight with leukemia. The investigation into Keenan's death continues as Ryan continues to thwart any attempt made to prove him the guilty party. Meanwhile, Tim McManus (Terry Kinney) comes up with a plan to not only to help Omar, who he does not want to give up on despite all that Omar has done to him, but Said as well whose barely suppressed rage worsens with each passing episode until he reaches his breaking point later on in the season.
Episode three, "Dream a Little Dream of Me", includes a questionable truce between Alvarez and Enrique Morales (David Zayas) and an alliance between Burr Redding (Anthony Chisholm) and Morales that is unbelievable to say the least. Just as Ryan is returning to his smug attitude, difficulties arise when Jia Kenmin (Michael Delmare) returns to Oz and Sister Peter Marie arranges for a victim/offender counselling session between Kenmin, Ryan and Cyril. Chris Keller (Christopher Meloni) returns to Oz only to be sent to protective custody within moments of entering the building. Whilst all of this is happening, Rebadow continues searching for a way to save his grandson, and despite its rocky start, Said continues to try and save Omar from himself through the sponsorship, which is not an easy task.
Season four, "Next Stop: Valhalla" introduces a programme that gives three inmates the ability to take care of three dogs whilst training them as guide dogs. Katherine McClain (Sandra Purpuro) agrees to be Chris's lawyer, but due to her feelings for Tobias and her personal belief system it is evident that this will, thankfully, be a short-lived arrangement. Tobias is temporarily distracted from the knowledge that he is being kept from seeing Chris when an old family friend is brought into Oz and needs his protection from the Aryans. Augustus Hill (Harold Perrineau Jr.) reverts to his old habits and Omar finds release in music.
Episode five, "Wheel of Fortune", was possibly one of the least interesting in the season, in my opinion, although the O'Reily brothers' storyline definitely hits new levels of intense emotions. Said loses his patience with Omar. Schillinger attempts to get Tobias to trade the chance to see Chris for the man Tobias is trying to protect from the Aryans. Rebadow discovers that his idea of getting money for his grandson's cure was successful, but complications arise. Augustus ends up in the infirmary and Redding searches for the one responsible.
Episode six, "Variety", contains segments of some of the stars of the show singing, including a very interesting solo by Wong and a truly frightening duet with Tergesen and Schillinger, instead of the usual narrative by Harold Perrineau Jr. due to the fact that he was needed on the set of The Matrix Reloaded. Omar and Said become closer although Omar chooses to secretly betray McManus and Said when he needs to come up with the courage to stand up in front of his fellow inmates to sing. McClain, fed up with Chris's lies and Tobias's feelings for Chris, leaves Oz and drops Chris's case. Tobias, growing more anxious by the day to see Chris decides to take Schillinger up on his offer but circumstances beyond his control proves the entire thing to be a huge mistake and Tobias is confronted (literally) with the consequences of his actions.
Episode seven, "Good Intentions", is another rather slow episode in this season, again, in my opinion. A few highlights though from the episode includes McManus trying to help Rebadow find some help for his grandson whose condition is getting worse and worse with each passing day. James Robson (R. E. Rodgers) is dismissed from the Aryan brotherhood upon his return to Unit B after dental surgery leaves him forever changed in their eyes. Tobias has a conversation with Said about his guilt over accepting Schillinger's offer and arrives at a fair but displeasing conclusion.
Episode eight, "Impotence", brings the entire season to a head, and I did not at all mean for that to seem like a bad pun but you may take it as one if you wish. Robson makes up his mind that he will get the brotherhood to accept him once again despite however they feel about it. Omar tries to protect Said against a prisoner in Unit B who is looking to join the Aryan brotherhood. Busmalis finally receives a visit from the woman who left him at the altar but it does not go as he would have preferred. Thanks to Tobias who has proven once again that he is a good man despite his many flaws, justice finally prevails. The Latinos and Sicilians form an alliance that proves deadly after Augustus returns to Oz after recuperating.
The greatest aspect of Oz is the relentless intensity of human emotion ranging from grief to love to fury. The actors and actresses that make up the cast are all incredibly talented men and women. This season through all the emerging and unfolding storylines, there were a few actors who particularly caught my attention with their talents. For instance, Kirk Acevedo, Michael Wright, Eamonn Walker, and Dean Winters all had very challenging scenes in nearly every episode that with the wrong actor, just could not have caused the viewing audience to care so much for their individual predicaments. What continually attracts me to this show is not the drama, violence, or full frontal nudity shots, but the characters' relationships with one another and their personal developments. There are a lot of good shows either currently on air or on DVD but there are very few truly great shows. This just happens to be one of those "truly great shows" that more people should watch for the refreshing, fast-moving episodes that are brimming with intensity, intrigue, and emotion.