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H:LOTS – S05E03 – Prison Riot

September 10, 2010

It’s all hands on deck when shove and bump in a maximum security prison results in the deaths of two inmates: one white and one black. Once again, H:LOTS strips aside the obligatory and lip-service explorations of racial tensions inside our correctional facilities to get at the heart of the matter; the reasons why.

The riot brings reunites the squad with infamous killers such as the Sniper, Erica Chilton’s killer and a vigilante killer played expertly by Charles S. Dutton Unfortunately, both the Sniper (I see you, Steve Brady) and Erica Chilton’s killer have definitely adjusted to their surrounding and become assimilated into the prison’s Aryan Brotherhood. Not because they have any innate interest in the race war, but rather, there are no other options. H:LOTS, and the underrated, but often times too gritty Oz, provide unflinching analysis of male prison life. No cheap shots. No problematic jokes about soap dropping. Real, nuanced treatment of the ways in which male prisoners negotiate their lives, relationships, consensual sexual relationships and, unfortunately, rapes in prison. The only issues I found sanitized were oft reported guard condoned acts of violence and substance use.

In addition, this episode finally showcases Sgt. Kay Howard’s ability to effectively manage her detectives and run interference with Gee, particularly on behalf of Bayliss who believes there’s more to the prison riot than the inmates are willing to revel. Bayliss tracks down Elijah Sanborn’s (Dutton) son, who is about reestablish family ties in the prison. Melissa Leo shines in this episode, particularly when she has to cover for Bayliss who’s nearly unraveled the mystery of the prison murders.

There are also moments of humor, particularly this exchange between Bayliss and Kellerman. Kellerman tries to step into Pembleton shoes with comedic results. As Bayliss attempts to unpack his feelings around the case, particularly his own resolved feelings for his father Kellerman can’t provide Pembleton’s brilliant, profound quips, but he can provide…

    Kellerman: I just want you to know that I’m here for you. if you want a hug, I’d be happy to give you one.
    Bayliss: A hug?
    Kellerman: Yeah.
    Bayliss: Do you and Lewis hug?
    Kellerman: Yeah.
    Bayliss: A lot?
    Kellerman: No, not a lot.
    Bayliss: But enough.
    Kellerman: What do you mean?
    Bayliss: Well, do you want Lewis to hug you more?
    Kellerman: Forget I brought this up.

Speaking of Pembleton… He spends the bulk of the episode being ignored, his contributions diminished, meanwhile he struggles with his decision to stop taking his blood pressure medication (which makes concentration difficult) and qualifying for his firearms exam. Brodie gets one of his best moments (his actual best moment comes later in the season) when he tells Pembleton a seemingly unrelated story regarding his own mother’s stroke and her choices regarding medical compliance.

Another amusing thing is the presence of Kenneth Fink, who helms the next episode as well. But that’s not the funny part. Firstly, Roger Gaffney got in one really hilarious one-liner in the season premiere when he said, “You’re running the squad like it’s an episode of Nash Bridges!” A nod to the frustrated producers and fans who couldn’t believe that cheesetastic cop show was kicking H:LOTS ass every week. Well…this must have made things a bit awkward for our friend Fink, who directed two episodes of Nash Bridges! Okay, so maybe it’s only amusing to me. Besides, Kenneth Fink is probably better know for a little procedural that could called CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, where he is a producer and directed 51 of its eleventy billion episodes!

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. leviramsey permalink
    September 10, 2010 7:48 pm

    This episode, IMO, probably deserves credit for getting Oz greenlighted.

    The production code indicates that this is the first episode of season 5, before “Hostage”, but in the Pembleton stroke-recovery chronology it definitely comes after (unlike in the Crosetti arc where the production codes follow the chronology). The production codes are thus the order in which they were shot, which would put this episode as being shot in the summer of 1996, about a year before Oz premiered and probably well before Oz was greenlighted.

    Could HBO have been waffling about greenlighting an open-ended drama series (as opposed to, say, a miniseries)? Could there be a longer cut of this episode that’s not as sanitized that was shown to HBO execs to make them see the potential a less restrictive outlet could bring to the drama series? It’s not difficult to imagine such a cut existing.

  2. September 11, 2010 2:29 pm

    re: Oz. I totally agree. What this episode did so well was demonstrate how provocative, dramatic and interesting skillful presentation of prison life could be. Perhaps producers assume prison is the end of the story, or the story should only emphasize those who have “redemptive” potential.

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