Ernie Hudson as Warden Leo Glynn
Terry Kinney as Tim McManus
Harold Perrineau, Jr. as Augustus Hill
Eamonn Walker as Kareem Said
Kirk Acevedo as Miguel Alvarez
Edie Falco as Correctional Officer Diane Whittlesey
Leon as Jefferson Keane
Rita Moreno as Sister Peter Marie Reimondo
Tony Musante as Nino Schibetta
J. K. Simmons as Vern Schillinger
Lee Tergesen as Tobias Beecher
Sean Whitesell as Donald Groves
Dean Winters as Ryan O'Reily
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Simon Adebisi
George Morfogen as Bob Rebadow
muMs da Schemer as Arnold "Poet" Jackson
Jon Seda as Dino Ortolani
Jose Soto as Emilio Sánchez
Desiree Marie Velez as Jeanie Ortolani
Lauren Vélez as Dr. Gloria Nathan
O. L. Duke as Paul Markstrom
Goodfella Mike G as Joey D'Angelo
Tim McAdams as Johnny Post
Steve Ryan as CO Mike Healy
Philip Scozzarella as CO Joseph Mineo
Derrick Simmons as Billy Keane
The events and narration of this episode are centered around the introduction of the Oswald State Maximum Security Penitentiary (nicknamed as "Oz").
Narrator Augustus Hill (Harold Perrineau, Jr.) (who is also a wheelchair-bound inmate in the prison) introduces the viewers to Oz and its new experimental Cell Block E, commonly referred to as "Emerald City" or "Em City" (after the fictional city from the Oz book series). Emerald City is designed to maximize the monitoring of select inmates and promote their resocialization and reeducation. The violence of Oz is demonstrated right away as one of the new inmates, Miguel Alvarez (Kirk Acevedo), is shanked before even being brought to a cell, while fellow new arrival Tobias Beecher (Lee Tergesen) is horrified by the incident. News of the violence upsets Em City's idealistic unit manager, Tim McManus (Terry Kinney). He asks Warden Leo Glynn (Ernie Hudson) to allow the cannibalistic parent-killer Donald Groves (Sean Whitesell) to be brought to Em City as well, believing no inmate is a lost cause. Glynn reluctantly agrees but only on the condition that drug dealer Paul Markstrom (O. L. Duke), his own wayward cousin, similarly be brought there.
Correctional Officer (CO) Diane Whittlesey (Edie Falco) informs the new arrivals to Emerald City about the cell block's particular rules, and introduces the inmates to their "sponsors", inmates who at least nominally look after the new ones and make sure they integrate appropriately. Donald Groves is assigned the older, kindly Bob Rebadow (George Morfogen); Paul Markstram's sponsor is Jefferson Keane (Leon), a fellow "homeboy;" while Tobias Beecher is given Dino Ortolani (Jon Seda). The last pair is immediately not a good match, as Beecher, a lawyer convicted of a child's manslaughter and DUI, feels genuinely guilty about his crime and anxious about doing time in prison, whereas Ortolani is a seasoned mobster who makes clear that he doesn't want to babysit anyone. He does give most basic pointers to Beecher, though, such as to never smile and "get a weapon."
Arnold "Poet" Jackson (muMs da Schemer), Oz's resident inmate street poet, gives an impassioned delivery during mealtime. As he finishes, Beecher tries to sit with Ortolani, but is refused. Instead, Bob Rebadow allows him to sit with him, but then offers the disturbing news that Beecher's wife Genevieve is thinking of divorcing him. Beecher asks why Rebadow knows who Genevieve is, and Rebadow very seriously replies that God told him, indicating he may have a history of such statements. Their conversation is interrupted when Warden Glynn announces that due to new state laws, cigarettes are now contraband in prisons, and all inmates' cigarettes will be confiscated. This provokes a riotous food fight.
At 5 pm count, Rebadow explains to Beecher that from 5 to 10 pm, they basically have nothing to do, and Beecher is further alarmed to find his cellmate Simon Adebisi (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) rifling through Beecher's possessions. Adebisi threatens Beecher when he tries to stop it, and sexually threatens Beecher later at bedtime. The next mealtime, an unassuming-looking Vern Schillinger (J. K. Simmons) approaches Beecher and says that if Adebisi is bothering him, all he has to do is ask Tim McManus to switch him to another pod, implying that Schillinger will gladly take Beecher into his own. Unfortunately, Beecher has been seriously duped, as he soon finds out Schillinger is a white supremacist/neo-Nazi Aryan Brotherhood member and, after becoming his cellmate, is informed by him he has just become Schillinger's own "livestock." That night, Schillinger tattoos a swastika onto a petrified Beecher's buttocks.
The following morning, there is much disagreement between McManus, Warden Glynn, and the COs about drug and cigarette policies. McManus complains that banning cigarettes will make the inmates even less cooperative and curses the corrupt and ruthless Governor Devlin. The new arrival of the day is Kareem Said (Eamonn Walker), a well-known radical black Muslim leader convicted of arson. Although Glynn and McManus talk to Said personally, in order to make sure he doesn't cause problems in Em City (or "gen pop," where he will go if he does), Said proudly warns them that 78% of the inmate population in Oz are "men of color" and that there are 9 inmates to every CO, so they could take Oz at any time. Said is welcomed by Em City's Muslims but the Homeboys' leader Jefferson Keane, together with Adebisi, try to intimidate Said out of his anti-drug preaching. They fail as Said purposefully injures himself to display his determination, making Keane dub him as a "crazy motherfucker."
Hill narrates that it is the incredibly monotonous daily routine of prison life that ultimately breaks the inmates. Dino Ortolani is suffering from insomnia and having frequent flashbacks to the events that led to his life-sentence for murder and assault with a deadly weapon, and he has put in a request for a conjugal visit with his wife. The prison psychologist Sister Peter Marie Reimondo (Rita Moreno) gets the request authorized by McManus. Later that day, Ortolani is furious to find out that the actual victim of his deadly weapons assault, Irish hoodlum Ryan O'Reily (Dean Winters) is coming to Oz. O'Reily himself, once in Oz, immediately goes to meet Jefferson Keane in the kitchen and asks that a hit be made on Ortolani, but Keane says that his people "don't kill wiseguys." So O'Reily tries a different method, getting friendly with CO Mike Healy (Steve Ryan), a fellow Irish-American. Healy assures O'Reily that Ortolani is on a path to self-destruction, which seems supplemented by how Ortolani soon gets into a bloody fight with gay inmate Billy Keane in the shower, on dubious grounds at best. While in the infirmary, Ortolani tries to flirt with Dr. Gloria Nathan (Lauren Vélez); afterward, McManus reprimands Ortolani in his office, pointing out that if Ortolani continues to act up, he'll probably be killed by another prisoner. Ortolani claims it doesn't matter because he's in prison for life anyway, but McManus tries to make Ortolani see that his life can still have purpose. His punishment for Ortolani is to assign Ortolani to work in the AIDS ward and deal with gay inmates, rather than get put in the hole. When an enraged Ortolani appeals to his boss Nino Schibetta (Tony Musante), he gets little sympathy. The one person similarly dissatisfied with McManus' choice is Dr. Nathan, who hates working with Ortolani because of how flirty he is, and who thinks McManus can't change people like Ortolani. Nonetheless, McManus successfully asks Dr. Nathan to dinner with him.
After another conversation in the kitchen, O'Reily finally manages to get Keane to agree to take out Ortolani, as Ortolani's victim in the shower was Keane's own brother. Meanwhile, Schillinger congratulates Ortolani on attacking a black and gay inmate, but Ortolani is not interested in neo-Nazi's opinions. He continues to brood and be of little help to the AIDS ward, mostly harassing his charge Emilio Sánchez about why he has AIDS. Sanchez reveals that he did heroin, and Ortolani says he never did heroin but dealt it, and Sanchez ironically suggests that maybe he got AIDS because of Ortolani. That doesn't go over well, and later, Ortolani angrily tells McManus that his job in the AIDS ward is not going to change him. McManus speaks to Sister Peter Marie and vindictively cancels Ortolani's conjugal visit, replacing it with a behind-the-glass visit between Ortolani and his immediate family. When Ortolani and his wife speak through the glass, he asks her to make sure she can take care of the kids, but that she needs to go on with her life as though he were dead, which upsets her greatly.
During Ortolani's next round in the AIDS ward, he seems to be much more compassionate and understanding with Sanchez, but the patient then informs him that he wants to die, even pleading for Ortolani's assistance. Frustrated, Ortolani goes to the restroom, only to be accosted by Ryan O'Reily, who says he's coming to join "lasagna boy" in Em City, provoking Ortolani into a fight which ends with O'Reily's face in the toilet. That night, Ortolani removes Sanchez's oxygen mask and suffocates him. Once this is discovered, Ortolani is savagely beaten by the guards, thrown in the hole, strapped down to a cot and tranquilized. As Ortolani is sleeping, a bribed CO lets one of Jefferson Keane's henchmen, Johnny Post (Tim McAdams), into Ortolani's cell. Post pours lighter fluid on Ortolani and lights him on fire with a match, burning him alive to death. A dejected McManus examines the photos of Ortolani's corpse.Emilio Sánchez- Suffocated by Dino Ortolani when he asked him to euthanize him and end his suffering (late stage AIDS with multiple terminal infections).
Dino Ortolani- Burned alive in his solitary confinement cell by Johnny Post on orders from Jefferson Keane to avenge Billy Keane's (his brother's) severe beating.
More prominent prisoners in Oz are given a stylized "crime flashback," narrated by Augustus Hill, depicting the crime for which they were incarcerated. The flashbacks of the debut episode were:Tobias Beecher - driving while intoxicated and vehicular manslaughter of a minor.
Kareem Said - arson in the second degree.
Dino Ortolani - murder in the first degree and assault with a deadly weapon (Ryan O'Reily wounded).
Creator Tom Fontana pitched the idea of Oz to the cable channel HBO after years of dissatisfaction working within the constraints of network television and their expression-limiting censoring requirements. Executive producer Barry Levinson had visited penal institutions, such as the Baltimore City Jail and the Maryland House of Correction, before when researching for his previous TV series and felt that the prison was an intimidating and scary place with many stories to tell and that a dedicated TV series about the subject matter had never been done before. HBO felt that they had had success with their previous prison-themed documentaries and decided to commission Oz as their very first hour-long dramatic series. Fontana felt extremely liberated and satisfied writing for Oz, developing graphic scenes and breaking taboos with which, he says, he would have never gotten away in network TV. HBO constructed prison sets inside a warehouse near the Manhattan's Meatpacking District. The opening credits of the show feature Tom Fontana himself getting the "Oz" tattoo.