Bitterbuck’s execution goes according to plan. Before the execution, The Chief’s eldest daughter, a very dignified woman, helps him braid his hair. Under his daughter’s calm influence, Bitterbuck leaves his cell without protest, walks up to Paul’s office where he kneels to pray, and cries calmly. However, most of the witness chairs are filled and, when he sees them, Bitterbuck begins to falter. Paul has to tighten his grip on him and encourage him to continue, telling him to behave in a way that will honor his tribe. Walking toward the electric chair, Bitterbuck nods and kisses the hair his daughter has braided.
Both Paul and The Chief’s daughter attempt to make Bitterbuck feel dignified and fully human, worthy of care and encouragement. Bitterbuck’s tears and fear make the idea of execution seem like an unnecessary punishment for a man who seems so vulnerable and harmless. The presence of an audience brings shame and humiliation to the punishment, only adding psychic pain to the physical pain that Bitterbuck is about to endure.
The guards follow the ordinary procedure and, when Van Hay rolls on two, Bitterbuck’s body brutally leaps forward in the chair under the effect of electricity. During the thirty seconds of electrocution, an unpleasant smell begins to emerge. After this, the doctor listens to The Chief’s heart, hears a few random heartbeats, and Van Hay thus rolls on three to make sure that The Chief is dead. After the execution, most people in the audience hold their head down, either stunned or, as Paul suggests, ashamed.
While the execution goes well, it is far from a pleasant experience. The movements of Bitterbuck’s body and the smell that emerges evokes bodily phenomena that are highly disagreeable to witness. Paul’s interpretation of the audience’s reaction as shame only reinforces his sense that the electric chair is an undignified and inexcusably cruel form of punishment.
Harry and Dean load Bitterbuck onto the stretcher. The horrible smell is so strong that the men have to take off the man’s mask to determine its source. The men see that The Chief’s braid is on fire and, refusing Brutal’s fire extinguisher, Paul slaps The Chief’s braid to put out the fire.
Paul’s violent action is merely practical, aimed not at humiliating The Chief but at preserving his body as best he can, so as not to destroy it with the fire extinguisher. Even after Bitterbuck is dead, Paul is committed to treating the inmate with respect.
A few seconds later, Percy imitates Paul’s gesture and slaps the dead man’s cheek. Indignant, Brutal tells him severely not to do that, for Bitterbuck has paid his due. Percy cuts Brutal off but steps back fearfully when Brutal approaches him (which he does not to attack Percy, but to grab the gurney). After Harry and Dean cover Bitterbuck’s body with a sheet, the guards lead the body toward the end of the tunnel, where it will be put in a car by the highway.
While Percy’s gesture is exactly the same as Paul’s, it carries an entirely different meaning: a desire to create shame and harm, not to protect the inmate’s dignity. Percy’s utter lack of respect for another person’s death only emphasizes his callousness and his inability to see the seriousness of his job or think beyond his base, violent impulses.