Author: Frelling Tralk
Spoilers: For entire series
Keller: I'll see you.
Keller: Back here. Or in heaven.
Beecher: You really think we're gonna get into heaven?
Keller: Ah... you and me together? God doesn't have the balls to keep us out
"Is it wrong to love somebody too much?"
This is a question that Tobias Beecher asks himself. His relationship with Chris Keller is not a fairy-tale romance. It is a relationship that began with one partner deliberately breaking the others heart (and his arms and legs). So what is the appeal of this ship? And why do the two of them keep going back to one another?
Both characters in this ship are emotional messes.
Toby is a former lawyer who was convicted of drunk-driving and send to Oz. He was given the harshest sentence possible because a little girl was killed. He is our focal point in Oz from the beginning as he is introduced to a whole new world. A world in which Christopher Keller is intimately familiar.
When Toby is first introduced to prison life he is "pragged" by Vern Schillinger and we see Toby humiliated in Vern's parody of a loving relationship. Vern is a sadistic Neo-Nazi who repeatedly rapes Toby, brands him as Vern's property (with a swastika), and dresses Toby in drag, forcing him to sing love songs to Vern.
Toby later admits that he feeds off the self-loathing and allowed himself to be punished as penance for him having destroyed his own family, as well as Kathy Rockwell's. This martyr complex stays with Toby throughout the series.
Toby also proves to be a very self-destructive and needy person, who is addicted to feeling, and he is constantly looking for positive reinforcement outside himself. His first drug of choice was alcohol. Once in Oz, he becomes addicted to heroin for a time. His relationship with Chris can be classified as an addiction. While he is on the rebound from Chris, we see Toby become involved in indiscriminate sex with a number of men within the prison. When caught having sex in the toilets, he happily admits to being a "slut" because feeling something is better than feeling nothing.
Christopher Keller is introduced to us in season 2 as an experienced conman, whose own addiction is to manipulate the emotions of others. His family history is fairly enigmatic. We do know he shared Toby's experience of being Vern Schillinger's prag. He was at Lardner prison at the age of 17, and Vern rescued Chris from the sexual advances of another prisoner, and offered his protection to Chris. Chris will later claim that he only let Vern believe he was forcing Chris into sex, realizing that Vern enjoys the power part of sex, but in actuality Chris insists that he was more than willing.
Chris is someone who is aware of his inability to form true emotional attachments. He is a self-confessed sexual predator who was married four times and has uncontrollable sexual urges. He will quite happily turn his charms on either gender. He is used to people lusting after him, but he admits to having a compulsive need for people to fall in love with him. When they do, he will test them to stay if they will stay and keep on loving him. He describes his pattern with one of his ex-wives, Bonnie:
When I met her she was all alone. Very unhappy. So I knew it would be easy to get her to fall in love with me. But what I didn’t know was, after I broke her heart would she still love me. You see I am a piece of shit. I am worthless. As bad as they come. And to have someone keep loving me, no matter how bad
How they first came together
At first glance you might wonder why Toby and Chris would ever feel any kind of attraction to one another, because they are just so different. Chris was a serial killer who killed to get what he wanted, and used his body. Tobias was an upper-middle class lawyer who used his brains, and had previously abhored any kind of physical violence.
Yet Oz pushed Toby beyond his civilized boundaries. "I'm not the man I was. Or maybe now I'm the man I always was and never knew." After taking a bad batch of Angel Dust, Toby becames mentally unstable, which stays with him on and off throughout the series. Toby does become corrupted by the evils of Oz, and becomes part of Chris's world.
Both Toby and Chris themselves had their doubts about the relationship and whether it could ever work. Toby has a huge debate over his initial feelings for Chris. He tries to talk to Sister Pete, a counseler for the inmates, and when she mentions sex he dismissses it, "I'm not talking about sex. I had Schillinger and it was brutal". He's talking about whether men are capable of loving one another and if it's morally right. "Two guys shouldn't *love* each other, right? I mean, that's not love..."
Chris clearly found something compelling about Toby from the beginning; Toby was not just another of Chris's victims he was conning and lacked respect for. Toby got to him. "At first I wanted unconditional surrender. Then I wanted unconditional love." Throughout season 2 we get the suggestion that Chris may have started to like Toby enough that he no longer had to fake the friendship. Still Chris didn't admit to himself how he felt until "Operation Toby" had been followed through. We see just how much Toby got to Chris when, having broken Toby’s heart, Chris trails after Toby asking forgiveness and desperately trying to win back his trust.
Neither man had ever felt love like this before. Toby's feelings for Chris were far more complex than in any of his previous relationships. It was a real paradigm shift for Toby to acknowledge his relationship with Chris to his family and everyone in the prison. Toby refuses to believe that Chris was responsible for torture and murder, and announces "He’s my lover” in front of his parents and the FBI.
The doomed nature of the relationship
Now, as this was Oz, the love shared was by no means a healthy love for the people around them. People that got between them were, more often than not, murdered. Chris was pathologically jealous of anyone who appeared to have a bigger influence over Toby than he did. During one of their seperations, Chris was killing any man who Toby became involved with.
Keller: You should take care of where you stick your dick. That baby is lethal.
Beecher: You know, I liked it better when we weren't speaking.
And of course it all ends tragically once Toby finds out that Chris purposelly ruined Toby's parole. He tells Toby, "I couldn't face living the rest of my life in here without you. Don't you see? I did what I did out of love" and "The only thing that matters is you and me." At that point the relationship is well and truly over as Toby unequivocally tells him, "I loved alcohol. I loved heroin. But I had to put them behind me because they were poison. Death. You…are death. Let me live". The relationship goes out with a bang with Chris refusing to consider life without Toby, kissing Toby a final time, and then leaping over the balcony to his death.
They both knew that Toby would make parole sooner or later, and return to be with his children. Their relationship was on borrowed time. But that fact couldn't keep them apart or change how they felt about one another. The relationship was doomed, everybody knew it, and still they fought for many years to hold onto their love. It was never about the future, which realistically they knew they could never have together. It was about making the most of the time they did have. And knowing that they will never will be free of one another, even after Chris died. When he was on Death Row, Chris asks, "After I die don't forget me", and we know that Toby never will.
Why I ship them
Beecher/Keller explored many aspects of a relationship. In some ways it was like watching a married couple. They were two men attempting to adjust to living together in Oz. We saw them sharing meals, showers, sleeping in the same pod. Toby saw the darkness in Chris, and he was able to look past it and still love Chris unconditionally. Indeed Toby's own primal nature comes out around Chris.
We see them offer one another emotional support. At one point Chris broke down and wept in Toby's arms over his fear of hell. And Chris provides Toby with comfort when Toby's young child is kidnapped and brutally murdered on the orders of Schillinger. The show went from depicting them sharing true love as a somewhat functional couple to exploring all their pent up jealousy and angst as the relationship fell apart. (On two occasions Toby attempts to shank Chris). Even when they're no longer a couple, each always knows exactly where the other one is, even when they pretend not to care. A true love hate relationship that in every installment had me glued to the screen because, whether there was love or hate, there was always intense feeling there.
Another reason for shipping them is the sizzling chemistry they have. A scene where Chris teaches Toby to wrestle takes full advantage of the sexiness of the men, with the camera lingering on Chris as the two gradually strip off their clothes.
Tom Fontana, the creater of Oz, has said that the storylines on the show were meant to explore every human experience. The Beecher/Keller storyline was an exploration of love. Ultimately, their love story, two men finding love in such a harsh environment, was one of the few redemning features of the prison. This is particularly true for Toby, a man who was brutalised at the hands of Schillinger, and went through a crisis over his love for another man.
Ryan O'Reily asks another prisoner if the thought of love flourishing in Oz is so unbelievable. And Miguel Alvarez says, "not in Oz". And yet, for a short time, Chris and Toby did make it work. They were dysfunctional, but there was still so much love and loyalty there that it was worth fighting for. It was by no means all angst, there were some incredibly sweet scenes. Particularly the tender kiss they share on New Years Eve, which represents their forgiving one another and committing to a fresh start.
Everyone in the prison knew they were in a relationship, knew they were in love. We see it in other prisoners reacting to their various tiffs. Not only the inmates knew about them; the hacks did too. It was love that briefly triumphed against all possible odds.
Tom Fontana, the creater of Oz:
Keller loved Beecher so much that when he realized he had lost him ("let
me live") he killed himself. Beecher loved Keller but realized the
relationship was ultimately too destructive.
Interview with Christopher Meloni, who plays Christopher Keller:
D: During one period of conflict,Keller was responsible for breaking
Beechers arms and legs. Can you shed any more light on why these two
keep going back for more?
CM: I don't know- you can never estimate what the strength of their
real love for each other is.
Toby And Chris
Toby and Chris in the love pod
Fan Fic recommendations
Forgive Us Our Trespasses is a season 3 fic looking at the reconciliation.
Covenant is an AU season 3 with the reconcilation happening in a different way
The Lockdown Series fills in the gap for the season 3 hiatus. Fourteen stories for each day of lockdown.
Detente is another post lockdown fic which describes their first sexual encounter
Dirty is PWP from Keller's perspective, with him talking dirty to Beecher
Ardente has Keller encouraging Beecher to release his inner beast *g*
Dead Souls is a very dark and angsty fic. It's Beecher's perspective about how I've got you in me, and I'll never get you out.
Pomegranates is written as a fairy tale.
What Not To Say looks at what Toby is thinking, after having been paroled in season 6, on his visit back to Oz and Keller on Death Row
Rough Trade is an AU series with heavy BDSM, as well as drug use.
Dori's fan fic site is very good. Especially Death Becomes Him and the WIP, 23 Leroy Street
lierdumoa has made an excellent video, Pretty When You Cry
There are some videos at Cellblock 5.
And I made some videos here
If anyone knows of any other videos, please mention them in the comments.
rowanfairchild has written an overview of the series, complete with pictures, here
There's the Beecher/Keller Asylum
The official site has some interesting video clips, one of which discusses relationships in Oz
Twisted Sisterhood is a yahoo group for B/K fan fic discussion and recommendations
Unit B is a general fan fic archive, which is run by rowanfairchild
hardtime100 is a challenge fic community. Entries are Beecher/Keller focused, unless the challenge says otherwise.
My thanks to this site for the pictures. And thank you crossbow for the beta.