This is the start of Stephen Colbert’s last week hosting The Colbert Report and it seems he is tying up a few loose ends. In last night’s segment “Formidable Opponent,” he not only debated the CIA torture report, but he killed off imaginary debating opponent Stephen Colbert just in time for the last week of the show. After nine years, he finished up the segment where he began it in 2005, discussing torture. It was a fitting end to a formidable opponent and a sad one.
The satirical conservative host started the show by introducing his last week and paying homage to another public figure who is leaving the political arena, Michelle Bachmann. At the same time that he is making his graceful exit, conservative politician and “wax figure of Michelle Bachmann” is also leaving. He saluted her for her service and for keeping up “that crazy conservative character” for the last eight years. They have much in common, it seems, and with both of them leaving at around the same time, they will leave a huge gap in the arena of conservative caricatures. But before he officially leaves the stage, Colbert had to kill off another character as part of his last week on Comedy Central.
The CIA torture report has been a hot button issue and people have debated its meaning for America since its release. Bill O’Reilly has been a staunch American defender, noting that there are many facets open to interpretation, including the definition of torture. He even believes that the Geneva Convention is up for debate because terrorists are not included in the pact. Still, there are people who say that nothing could justify torturing people, not even when it is done in order to protect America (which the torture report points out did not happen). Obviously, the only person who can clear up this muddle is the host of the Report and the only person worthy to debate with him is himself.
In the final segment of “Formidable Opponent,” Colbert debated himself about the report. Differentiated only by the color of their ties, the guest debater wore red and defended America’s actions. He had not read the report, choosing instead to tear it in half instead. He had to ask what was so disturbing about it, to which blue-tie Colbert replied, “The words!” Ultimately, though, it was all okay because America is still the good guy, except it was not when it tortured people. Red-tie Stephen noted that America is a little bit like the Incredible Hulk. People cannot hold Bruce Banner responsible for what Hulk does, which is why people cannot hold Good Guy America responsible for what Hulk America did when it tortured people.
The red-tied opponent also explained how Hulk America could have taken control like it did: the fog of war. Obviously, decisions made in the fog of war can be questionable but because of the unknown and scary nature of the conflict, they cannot be held responsible for their actions. Except there was no fog. The torture was a premeditated and calmly deliberated regime and the only fog there was was the fog that America created on its own, just like the fog that red-tie Colbert created with his fog machine. Ultimately, red-tie Colbert decided to live in the Idea of America he had in his head because that was the place where none of this mattered. Sadly, if he lived in an imaginary place, then he must be imaginary, too. As red-tie Colbert faded from the screen, the host congratulated him on being a “Formidable Opponent” for nine years.
The crowd “awwww-ed” as a beloved imaginary Colbert faded away, but they might as well have been crooning for the host himself. This was a preview of what will have to happen later this week. Imaginary Stephen’s farewell was just the precursor to the final farewell. That was enough to make the segment sad for fans of the show, but the content of the argument was faithful to Colbert’s high standards of critique as well. Poignant and powerful, despite having to kill off a well-loved character, Colbert is not letting his standards slip in the last week of the show. He is putting it all on the line and viewers will no doubt appreciate it as the week goes on.
Review By Lydia Bradbury