That was a very painful episode of television.
I wonder if "Everything's Coming Up Mellie" is overloaded—you could say that about any episode of Scandal, compared to every other show on television. But this episode is two pounds of shot in a one-pound cannon—explosive. There are two major reveals in this episode, and the structure can barely hold both plot arcs up.
It tries. Shonda Rhimes and her team of writers are really doubling down on Operation Remington as a thing worth caring about—bringing it into Mellie's flashback with Fitz as well as to Olivia Pope & Associates, where the team goes into overdrive to try to solve the murder of Olivia's mother. If you watched Alias (or have a flair for melodrama) you may have guessed the episode's big reveal: Olivia's mother is alive and well and in prison, and Rowan goes to hang out with her, sometimes. I'd be more enthusiastic about this if I were surprised—or if I thought that Olivia needed even more earth-shattering news in her life. At this point, she's already a walking zombie; how many more shaky-voiced revelations does this show need?
Honestly, that's what's so fascinating about the real reveal of the episode: that Mellie was raped as a newlywed, by her very own father-in-law, Fitzgerald Grant II. No one says a word about it, ever again. Mellie never told Fitz; and aside from obliquely manipulating daddy Grant into being nice, she doesn't confront him, either. There are no tears and there is no confession. There are no raised voices of outrage or frustration. Mellie just takes it and then just moves on. That stoicism by necessity, rather than design, is painful to witness—painful and powerful.
So far, purely through Twitter, I've heard criticism of this plotline, calling out that it's using rape as an origin story for Mellie's character and as yet another plot twist to throw in our way. That is definitely true, but for me personally, it didn't diminish the episode. Too many women are shaped by rape, and too many of those women find their best recourse is to say nothing. The problem with something like sexual assault is that there is no good way to deal with it on television—in some ways, it's so awful that it comes off melodramatic, and the horror of it is used so often to manipulate audience reaction that the crime can begin to lose meaning. But, speaking for myself, I'd rather see a television show acknowledge that it exists than not do so—and this is a situation where a character with three seasons of back story reveals one more piece of herself that goes a long way toward explaining the complicated, tragic, and fierce figure she has become. It was heartbreaking and very hard to watch. Bellamy Young's face during the scene is still haunting me. But I cannot deny that it was powerful, and it makes me root for Mellie all the harder, because she is over and over again telling stories of how even women with the most privilege can be so systematically beaten down by the world around them.
If I could split this episode into two and grade them separately, there's a huge gap between the two halves. Mellie gets an A. The entire plot arc in Melanie Grant's half of the episode is nearly flawless, from the opening, with the cameras rolling as the crew comes into the East Wing, through the flashbacks, the discussion of the art on the walls, Mellie's wail to Cyrus about giving up her career, and then the end of the first act, which has Mellie walking into the Oval Office with baby Teddy on her hip, expecting a family reunion, and instead greeting empty air. Bellamy Young plays naive, younger Mellie off of her later turn as older, cynical Mellie really well—capturing an enthusiasm and affection that in the present day only shows up when Mellie is playing First Lady in front of the cameras. She's trying to spin gold out of thin air, and it's not coming, but wow, it is not for lack of effort.
Mellie's impassioned speech to Fitz is one of the highlights of this season for me—her desperate plea that he "show up" to their relationship, which is not about love or marriage anymore, but is instead about running a country together. It's striking to see Fitz realize that despite Mellie's manipulation over the years, she's always been on his team—turning a blind eye to his affair with Olivia, pushing him to succeed politically, and raising their children. My main issue with this plotline is that I don't quite know Mellie's endgame. Why is she so ambitious? Why does she want power, if she's not going to govern? Does she want to influence policy? Does she want to command troops? But even those doubts can be put to rest. It's entirely possible that Mellie is just deeply ambitious, and she has learned to wield the power that the world lets her wield. That means leveraging her gender, her family, her behind-the-scenes power. Once again, Fitz is the white male vehicle of many other people's desires. I don't feel all that sorry for him, because he knew what he was getting into, with Mellie. But I feel for him, as I feel for her. I am really happy that they began to reconcile in this episode, as Mellie wore a stunning purple dress to the gala and the two of them stood up to the interviewer for asking impertinent questions. I don't know how it could possibly end well for either of them, but at least right now, they're finding a way to be partners.
The biggest detraction is not the hooker red herring (which, what?!) but the insane paternity subplot, in which we learn that Mellie's oldest could be either Fitz's or his father's. Okay. Great. What the holy hell are we supposed to do with that information now? It's a plot twist worthy of a seamier episode of Days Of Our Lives.
The other half of the episode, in Remington la-la land, is a lot less compelling. Olivia's mother seems cool, but there are too many questions about her to have feelings about her being alive. Quinn should never have trusted Charlie? Tell me something I don't know. Fitz is still in love with Olivia. He's having her tailed. He discovers Rowan's her father. This all feels too repetitive, and Olivia's unchanging mask of despair isn't helping. Show me the good stuff, Scandal.
Mellie's arc: A-
Operation Reming-yawn: C-
- Hey, let's kill Fitz's dad!
- "You're way better at picking out hookers than china patterns."
- Is Cyrus really using his husband to gay-bait Sally's husband? I'm a little sad I even typed that sentence.
- Bellamy Young does kinda look like Snow White.
- "I love you." "So what?"