Raise your hand if you care who the mole is.
Right. Didn’t think so.
We’re two episodes away from the finale of this overall very strong second season of Scandal, but this antepenultimate episode had the primary job of getting the pieces in place for those final two installments. As an episode unto itself, “A Woman Scorned” had something of an identity crisis, unsure how to balance the serialized search for the mole in the White House and the ongoing Olitz crisis that threatens to devour the entire show whole at this point. At its best, Scandal makes the emotional and the procedural move in lockstep with each other, either dancing to the beat of the same drummer or playing counterpoint with one another like a slick jazz number. Tonight, there was more of a dissonance, with the two parts not particularly playing well together.
If I were to make a comparison between the first half of this season and the second, I would make it to the second and third seasons of FX’s Justified. What was a lean, mean, unexpected leap from “good” to “holy shit” great in Justified’s second year turned into an overstuffed endeavor in its third. The FX drama provided a treasure trove of riches, but was so jam-packed with characters, plots, and shifting alliances that everything suffered as a consequence. Part of the reason I don’t care about the mole story is that mysteries of this nature are by and large not why I care about particular shows. How characters I care about react to those mysteries is why I watch them. The external (narrative, plot) reveals the internal (motivation, fear, desire). The Defiance arc worked as well as it did because it forced most, if not all, characters on the show to look inside themselves and assess their own moral worth. Here, most characters (save Huck) are chasing a boogeyman.
Well, technically, they are chasing Charlie. Good ol’ Fifty Shades of Grey-hatin’ Charlie. He’s been with the show since it’s Amanda Tanner days, and the program’s name check of her tonight suggests a program attempting to weave a deep mythology that into its everyday DNA. But there’s a difference between going deep and simply going wide. (Jake knows all about going deep, but we’ll get to that eventually, I promise.) Charlie’s near omnipresence at this point doesn’t give us insight, but rather more obfuscation. I’ll admit I’ve essentially tuned out the specifics of his goals, but I gather that they revolve around someone digging in to grand jury testimony about the Defiance scandal. But they also involve a black ops organization, the dude from Felicity, the dead head of the CIA, and Lord knows what else at this point. Tonight’s revelation helps explain why the plot started with a dead woman in David Rosen’s bed, but little else.
Not understanding the plot is something of the point, with its twists and turns meant to engage viewers and elicit attempts to solve the mystery. But in an episode that continually points the finger at one person (in tonight’s case, Cyrus) as the mole, is there any really shock that it’s in fact not him? Had the assertion actually been true, I might have fallen off my couch and entered a catatonic state due to the shock that such a revelation would have incurred. Scandal, which is so good at pulling the rug out from audiences at the peak of its power, made its characters look almost uniformly stupid for all coming to the same incorrect conclusion tonight. We’re really no closer to understanding anything related to Charlie’s actions in this back nine after tonight’s episode, which makes a lot of the time spent on chasing him feel like the show spinning its wheels rather than flooring it Fast And Furious-style down a busy road, pedestrians be damned.
Speaking of damned, let’s ask a question here: Are we in fact supposed to be rooting for any of the romantic relationships on the show? I ask this not to intentionally cause a riot in the comments. I ask since it’s occasionally unclear how Scandal views the health of the couples it portrays. The ghosts of The Spice Girls hangs heavy over “The Woman Scorned,” with both the Fitz/Olivia/Mellie triangle and the Cyrus/James estrangement dealing with finding out what people want. (What they really, really want.)
People are by and large fairly good at wanting things on this show, but are often piss poor at expressing that desire. That’s not to say they aren’t good at talking about them. But they are horrific at times at expressing it. The flood of words that Shonda Rhimes and other members of the show’s writing staff suggests these people are excellent at filling silence with noise, but not as successful as making that noise meaningful. The rest is often Macbeth-esque: sound and fury, signifying nothing (except maybe a funk music-laced montage).
So it’s striking, and significant, that tonight’s script gives a pivotal moment in the relationship between Olivia and Fitz no words at all. Cyrus spends most of the episode trying to stave off the ticking time bomb that is Mellie, but Fitz is sure that she will fold before speaking to the press. What he’s REALLY sure is that he’ll never be with Olivia as a result of that folding, which makes his inaction throughout the hour less about calling Mellie’s bluff but praying to God (or at least his Scotch) that she DOES go through with it. When Fitz learns of the presence of the BNC news van, he’s actually relieved, rushing to Olivia’s side not to talk… but simply wait. I both loved that wordless montage and simultaneously wanted to Mystery Science Theatre 3000 the living shit out of it. (Admit it: You totally put thought bubbles above the heads of each character.) For a show that deploys something around 3,000 words per minute, having 60 seconds of verbal silence felt downright revolutionary. And it was all in service of a simple dictum: Give the person you love something they want.
Which returns us to my earlier question: is that impulse inherently flawed as a general rule, or just potentially misapplied within the world of this show? Remember, the impetus for Fitz’s reasoning comes from Cyrus, who didn’t really give James want he wanted (a plum on-air job at BNC) so much as decide he didn’t have time to fight his partner on it. Had Mellie not been at DEFCON 1, there’s no way he would have given permission to James to take the position. To be sure, Cy happily discovers that a decision he probably forgot all about earned him a place back in his marriage bed. (Tailored suits turn James on something fierce.) But it’s a temporary balm at best, a band-aid soon ripped off upon learning that James’ newly-acquired position allows him to interview Mellie and get the scoop of all scoops. (That James landed that interview is another thing the show telegraphs from moment one, but the anticipation of that clusterfuck helps rather than hurts.)
Is the Olitz Orgy that ends the hour a similar, temporary fix to a problem that is far from solved? I’m honestly unsure. I know all too well that some people ship the everloving shit out of this pair. But I don’t know if Scandal views this as a tragic romance or two people that continually fuck each other up and over. I think you could make a compelling case with either reading, but I do worry about those that think this isn’t a romance without some deep, disturbing emotional stuff lurking under the surface. It’s not just about two people who need to be with each other. These are two people that bring out the worst sides of themselves, expose major vulnerabilities in the other, and leave those honestly (if imperfectly) interested in their well beings drowned in the wake of their interactions with one another. Mellie might be the titular woman scorned, but the countryside as a whole is scorched. Yes, this is a soap opera, and the aches that come with love are par for the course. But there are bruises here as well, bruises the show leaves exposed for the audience to see, observe, and analyze.
To be sure, this is a feature, not a bug, of Scandal. Trying to figure out what the show is trying to say with its romantic pairings makes for compelling viewing. It’s far more compelling than its serialized mystery, even if that has been more or less on point for the majority of both arcs this season. Once the mole is revealed, there’s still the small matter of a Presidential scandal that will rock both the White House and Pope & Associates. Seeing how the members of those respective edifices react to Mellie’s revelation should make for a juicy end to this year. It’s just a bit unfortunate this episode had do so much heavy lifting to make that happen that it suffered somewhat under the weight of all that work.
- Always good to get a scene in with Olivia swimming. Let’s just hope we don’t get a Scandal/Splash crossover episode anytime soon.
- I love that Charlie finds the violence in Fifty Shades off-putting.
- “Book Lovers Never Go To Bed Alone." Shit, I need to learn to read, and learn fast, I guess.
- Never play “Who’s That Ear?” with Huck. Because you will lose.
- “‘Done’ done or ‘heavy phone breathing’ done?” Cy is the best.
- “Yay, multi-lateration?” I keep waiting for the show to actually do something with Josh Malina. I assume he’ll be working for Olivia by the end of the season, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a meatier role for him.
- Jake watching his sex tape in which Charlie watches the sex tape was the most straight-up M.C. Escher shit Scandal has ever done. That’s deep, indeed.
- For an episode with a title that promised a lot of Bellamy Young, we really didn’t get a lot of her tonight. That’s a shame.
- OK, fine, the mole: Let’s say it’s Vice President Langston, because I don’t know who else it could be. I hate that guess, since I hate that character, but why not.