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'Law & Order' nostalgia recap: The business of death

Season 18 | Episode 9 | “Executioner” | Aired Feb 20, 2008

Law & Order seems to have a weird knack for making episodes about executions. First it broke our hearts with “Aftershock” (RIP Claire Kincaid!); then came “Executioner.”

The murder of a doctor during a conference gets interesting quickly, as Lupo and Green easily uncover that Dr. Burns was lying to his wife and trying to pick up random bored housewives on the Internet. Oh, Craiglist, has anything good ever come from you? The cops pick up Burns’ lady friend, who turns out to actually be a con artist, and discover that she taped their entire encounter. The video includes an unexplained knock at the hotel-room door, leading Van Buren to wonder if their perpetrator killed the wrong doctor. Awkward.

Who was supposed to be in that room at the Sheraton? (I mean, they may call it the Lennox Grand Hotel, but somebody didn’t scrub the Sheraton logo off the mat in the lobby when putting together that faux hotel surveillance tape.) That dubious honor goes to Dr. Garrison (the late, great James Rebhorn), who let Burns take his room and decided to go back home instead. Since his whole life is made up of golf and medicine, he can’t think of a single reason why anyone would want to kill him.

Maybe his incarcerated daughter holds a grudge. Maybe her drug-dealer friends believe he sold them out. Or maybe, just maybe, it has something to do with the fact that he helps carry out executions for the government.

That includes the case of Lionel Hartigan, who murdered an entire family but never actually managed to die, thanks to a screw-up with the lethal injection chemicals. Hartigan is now a “vegetable” in a South Carolina prison, which has ticked off people on both sides. One of those folks is Jamie Yost (Michael Rooker), a family member of the victims. A talkative hotel receptionist informs Green and Lupo that Yost had also been asking about Garrison, but when they pressure Yost, he lawyers up.

Hey, that’s Maggie Siff from Billions and Sons of Anarchy playing the defense attorney! She’s a pain in the behind, and Cutter isn’t too fond of his draw of judges either. But his first problem is working around the strict state laws regarding the anonymity of those participating in executions. He and Rubirosa prod Garrison to come forward, but the not-so-good doctor is more concerned about his plans for retirement. Cutter does his “Are you kidding me?” face, then wants to subpoena everyone who even so much as breathed in the wrong direction.

McCoy reels him back in, suggesting that instead they arrest Garrison for two counts of murder, since he executed two prisoners while their appeals were still being heard. For all the crazy things Cutter has done in the courtroom, this is what he chooses to split hairs on? Seriously, Michael, you’ve done so much worse than this. So McCoy decides to do it himself and gets Garrison to capitulate. You’re welcome, Cutter.

But as predicted, the defense turns the actual trial into a debate about the humanity of lethal injection. That includes wheeling out Lionel Hartigan to show off his current state, which squicks out Rubirosa, then causes friction between her and Cutter—who isn’t bothered at all, given that Hartigan killed children. It’s a point hammered home when Yost gets on the stand to talk about how terrible his life has been since the botched execution. He explains how he found out Garrison was going to be at the conference and went there looking for an apology, but had no idea that the guy he wound up whacking was the wrong man.

It’s up to Cutter to stop the pity party, and as he tries to get Yost to admit that it was revenge he was after, Yost reveals that he had tried to contact Garrison previously. That’s an interesting new wrinkle. “Dr. Burns died because you wouldn’t have a word with my client?” the defense attorney says, crowing only a little. She gives a closing argument that sounds like it belongs in a telethon, pleading with the jury to end her client’s nightmare. Her client, however, wants a deal, and so does Connie. After staring at his ADA for a second, Cutter gets Yost to agree to second-degree murder, on the condition that Garrison lose his license. So everyone wins—well, except for the dead guy, and the one who has to spend at least 15 years in prison … Okay, wait, nobody really wins.

Who knows what it is about capital punishment that brings out good stuff in Law & Order, but “Executioner” is another one of those episodes that resonates because of how truly uncomfortable it is. No matter what side of the death-penalty debate you’re on, that opinion gets challenged a little bit. Mix in a bunch of veteran guest stars and the shock factor of its courtroom stunt, and you can’t get to the end of this episode and just forget it. Law & Order is at its best when it leaves an aftereffect, and “Executioner” definitely accomplishes that.

Law & Order is now airing in syndication.

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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