Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

John Oliver can think of a motherfucking good reason to ban lethal injection

Frog, John Oliver
Frog, John Oliver
Screenshot: Last Week Tonight

John Oliver is a champion ranter. The Last Week Tonight host isn’t just a hilariously excitable British person, he’s a surgically accurate excitable British person, with unerring comic timing. He feints, he bobs and weaves, he takes his viewers down seemingly silly cul-de-sacs of mock outrage, only to hurl them right into the actual point he’s been making all along, leaving them stunned and breathlessly laughing simultaneously. The guy’s just good at making his points.

And that’s on a regular night. On Sunday’s Last Week Tonight, Oliver took on the subject of the adorably furious peeping desert rain frog. No wait, he didn’t, although that ludicrously inflatable little amphibian with his dog toy squeaking war cry kept popping up. (He’s the mascot of wikileaksorwhatever.com, the latest domain Oliver’s spent HBO’s money on—click on him and he peeps in righteously precious fury!) As you’ve no doubt discovered after inevitably clicking on that link (you’re only human), Oliver’s actual main story was about lethal injection. Partway through his even more than usually tight presentation on the topic of the most popular execution method in the United States, Oliver pulled up short to smack his audience with the chilling warning, “So far in this story, I’ve held off.”


That despite him already explaining in terrifying detail how the three-drug “cocktail” favored in executing prisoners involves no actual doctors in its administration. And how, should the first step be botched—as it frequently is—the second and third steps become the sort of Jigsaw-worthy exercise in mind and body torture the Saw franchise was built upon. How the main anesthetic used in executions has been banned in the U.S., causing kill-happy states to illegally purchase it from Indian party drug manufacturers, and some guy in England who operates out of a driving school. How, without that drug, states have resorted to transparently absurd legal arguments based on the testimony of one unqualified not-doctor who looked up most of his court testimony on drugs.com, and the argument that death row prisoners can just go ahead and purchase and bring their own execution drugs (somehow) if they’re so worried about gruesome body horror. Or how one Wyoming Republican cites the capital punishment of one Jesus Christ as justification for continuing the practice. (“Let’s just keep rolling the dice, papa needs a new pair of Jesuses!,” logically extrapolated Oliver.)

No, Oliver head-faked on all that only to veer right into the onrushing truths contained in one particularly gruesome and farcical botched execution—and his central argument, a simile so airtight in its queasy horribleness as to snap his case closed with rare authority. Even if you believe in the death penalty (like the now-fired-for-being-a-sex-creep federal judge who makes the case on 60 Minutes that the guillotine would be more humane), Oliver’s case against rests on some pretty irrefutable moral and logical whiplash that you should really experience for yourself.

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.

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