Look, just because you get into an elevator with the same person that killed Amanda Tanner, it doesn’t mean that same assassin is going to kill you. I thought we’d been over this like, a dozen times, you guys. So it shouldn’t be THAT much of a surprise to see a certain someone from season one suddenly show up out of nowhere (and seemingly from the dead) to be revealed as the mole in “Any Questions?” tonight’s penultimate episode of Scandal. But it’s still fun, and not just because that someone looks like a damn Bond villain ready to scorch the earth along with his unlikely assistant. Simply because none of this makes a lick of sense doesn’t it make it any less fun.
I should take a step back here, because when I say it doesn’t make sense, that doesn’t mean the show doesn’t have a fully developed plan for where one Billy Chambers has been since we last saw him at the end of the first season. As a reminder: After a season as Vice President Sally Langston’s Chief Of Staff, during which time he singlehandedly arranged the Fitzgerald/Tanner scandal, he ended up killing Gideon Wallace (remember HIM?) after Wallace deduced the true nature of the arrangement and was last seen getting into an elevator with Charlie. Since then, it’s possible that Chambers has been working with B613 as part of a long effort to defend the “republic,” to steal a word used by Rowan. Although he was no longer in Langston’s service, it’s possible he still knew back ways into her servers, which explains how Albatross could get information that only she and a few others were privy to. It seems a bit weird that he would be working with B613, since they are working with Cyrus who is part of the very Defiance conspiracy they are seemingly trying to uncover, and oh look my nose is bleeding from trying to figure this all out. (Just assume all of this is wrong. Also, I’m not sure I care, since this is all starting to make the book House Of Leaves seem like a pop-up book in terms of complexity.)
His accomplice in this, David Rosen, makes more sense from a character perspective if not a plot perspective. The reveal of his involvement is one of those OMG WTF *insert proper emoji here* moments that the show does so damn well, mostly because the show has lulled us into this general sense that they actually forgot Josh Malina was on the program at all. Because let’s face it: This back half of the season hasn’t been particularly kind to his character, in terms of screen time or overall development. His announcement tonight that he was part of the team came out of left field, since we’ve seen him eating cereal at inappropriate hours within the confines of the office but never saw the moment at which he either bought into their system or was even offered a job in the first place. Also, it seemed super weird that he would just throw in his lot with the firm that ruined his life. But his casual toss-off upon seeing the Cytron card wasn’t poor writing but another example of patient planning. Rosen’s another man who believes in nebulous concepts, just like Rowan, the leader of B613. And the idea that the most powerful man in the world didn’t earn that seat has been eating at him since his conflicts with Olivia Pope got him fired in the first place. Justice must be served, not unlike the Chinese takeout that initially helped him out the identity of Quinn Perkins.
Would all of this fully track upon a rewatch? That’s hard for me to say, especially since next week’s finale has the burden of tying up all these loose ends and providing a satisfactory way to tie all of these theories together. It’s tempting to think that Rosen has been in on this from the second that he woke up covered in someone else’s blood. But his reaction in that moment, where no one from Pope and Associates could see him, betrays this theory. It’s even MORE tempting to think that he is, in fact, either working at cross-purposes with Chambers (which would spin this cliffhanger into a new context the way Huck’s sniping Fitz turned out to be something else altogether) or someone who was approached halfway through the season by B613 after initial attempts to use him indirectly proved less than fruitful. In either case, he stole the card while everyone else was out getting lunch, then either called B613 in order to use Charlie as a distraction or came across a really bad bit of luck before ultimately slipping the card to Chambers.
I’m talking about a lot of plot this week because “Any Questions?” is chock full ‘o plot tonight, with little real room for emotional histrionics. There’s a Game Of Thrones quality to this episode, in that a lot of people are doing a lot of things in a lot of different places. That gives this week’s episode a lot of scope, but not a terrible lot in the way of depth. That’s not to say that there weren’t some good, emotional moments. Quinn turning into The Huck Whisperer was a fun moment (albeit one that I thought was going to reveal her as the mole, given the creepy lighting upon her entrance), and Cyrus trollin’ James’ naiveté was one for the freakin’ record books. But this was something of an overly structured episode, more interested in pushing everything evenly towards a single point rather than messily dragging everyone alone in an operatic maelstrom to parts unknown.
It might sound curious to penalize an episode for being too well-structured, but “Any Questions?” was a case of an episode being overbuilt. Where a simple bookcase would have done, this episode is a solid, heavy, ornate, gilded cabinet. Each act starts off with a Cyrus press conference, and spools off to the various realms of Westeros by way of Pennsylvania Avenue. Seeing John Barrowman show up as a rival fixer sounds great on paper, but his scenes with Bellamy Young’s Mellie felt largely inoculated from the episode as a whole, almost as if it were a more somber version of the type of talk show that Chris Hardwick specializes in hosting rather than something organically within the world of the show itself. Barrowman and Young can both chew scenery from here to kingdom come, but their scenes commented on, rather than contributed to, the episode as a whole. We didn’t learn anything particularly new about Mellie, which rendered Barrowman’s fixer as someone articulating her Albatross arc instead of adding to it.
After an episode in which the toxic allure of the Pope/Fitzgerald romance finally overwhelmed both, the pair spent curiously little screen time together as they sought to close off loose ends before heading on down the road, Thelma & Louise-style. That means Olivia spent more screen time with Harrison this week than Fitz, which made Harrison more than happy. (Come on: The dude probably owns the web domain GladiatorsInSuitsNotThatSheEverNoticesMySuitOrMe.com. Let’s not kid ourselves here.) But Scandal is a show that would die, or at least radically change, once happiness for this pair is achieved. So their separation tonight felt like a waiting game for the other shoe to drop, and it did so in the form of unsigned forms to run for a second term.
Fitz made his decision to choose Olivia over a second term seem like an impromptu, romantically-based one. But Olivia and Cy now realize that he never intended to run again, regardless of his extramarital affairs. The deadline to sign papers seeking reelection came and went during the months between the two arcs in season two, meaning Olivia wasn’t even around when Fitz started to ignore this largely ceremonial but still legally necessary step towards reelection. Revelations around Defiance broke Fitz’ spirit, leaving him vulnerable to the ghost of his father and feeling as if the people who supported his run never really supported him at all. That repositions Fitz’s declarations (and subsequent shower sex) as less of a romantic gesture and more of a nothing to lose gamble. If she said yes, great. If not, well, he was living on borrowed time (and power) anyways. “We’re not even supposed to be here,” he tells Cy, both men exhausted from living a lie and too tired to do anything but laugh about it in the Oval Office.
But exhaustion isn’t really an option in Scandal, which treats stasis as tantamount to death. No matter how tired, beaten down, or defeated people become on this show, they still have to pick themselves up and push forward until they are six feet under. (They are like Rocky Balboa, if Rocky Balboa spoke like Shonda Rhimes. Try to unsee THAT. You’re welcome.) David Rosen only appeared to be inert, but in fact was creating a plan from within the walls of the enemy, planted there like a fast-talking Trojan Horse. He’s a man tired of constantly being shit on by the gladiators. And let’s be frank: If Scandal were told from the POV of Rosen, we would probably HATE these assholes at Pope And Associates. But these are our assholes, and so we get furious when Rosen does a logical and moral thing like “reclaim stolen evidence that reveals a rigged election.” Maybe Charlie has an equally tragic and compelling story as Huck does. But since Scandal spends more time with Huck in cars scoping out families unaware of their admirer on the curb, we root for his success over Steve Martin’s son-in-law from the Father Of The Bride series. It’s just how these things work.
The point is this: Olivia and Fitz can’t simply ride off into the sunset anymore than Huck can overcome his demons anymore than Rosen can abide the miscarriage of justice anymore than Mellie can stand being second-best to Olivia anymore than Jake can stand getting cockblocked by the President Of The United States. But there are moments in Scandal for these characters in which the possibility of achieving those out of reach goals suddenly feels within reach. These slivers of opportunity are almost blinding due to the intense glare. But they occasionally pop up all the same. On the other side isn’t a mirror reflecting back loss, but is rather a window into another, better life. Through that window is the chance for grace, for love, for peace. But the characters in Scandal are haunted precisely because they catch a glimpse of that possible life. Burying one’s head in one’s work and being unable to see anything past one’s nose is something of a curse, but also something of a blessing. In Jake’s case, he has literal video evidence of the type of life he would like to live. But he’ll never get the opportunity, since that imagined life is nothing more than leverage in someone else’s game. Next week, the final moves in that game will be played. We’ll learn who the pawns really are. And the curtains on some of those windows may be drawn permanently by a man for whom many of us thought it was already curtains.
- “Jesus is not me! Jesus forgives! Jesus saves!” Cy would make one hell of a preacher.
- HDTV is great for picking up subtle things, like Presidential stubble the morning after an epic shag session.
- Seems Rowan and Cyrus have been cooking up something for a while in order to flush out Billy “Mole” Chambers.
- “You think this was your lucky break! Isn’t that adorable?” File that little chestnut under “things to never say to your significant other about his/her career.”
- “I would slay dragons for him.” Oh fuck PLEASE let that be a hint about what’s happening in the finale. Honestly, if a dragon showed up atop the Washington Monument and started belting “Try A Little Tenderness,” would you bat an eye?
- Not sure the tracking powder B613 used to try and nab Charlie is a real thing, but it does reinforce my desire to use copious amounts of hand sanitizer every time I go to a public restaurant.
- “If I have to say the word ‘mole’ one more time…” Good call, Abby. I feel for those that have “mole” in their Scandal drinking game. I hope you’re enjoying this review from your phone in the emergency room.
- Charlie’s question about why Huck can wander freely without B613 feels like something the finale will address, and something that may carry over into season three.
- “Are you being bold and brave?” Well, I guess we know what flavor of Batman that Olivia Pope prefers.