“I am not the bad guy.”—Fitz
In the annals of Scandal history, which will be recorded in the upcoming, eventual biography Shonda Rhimes: International Woman Of Mystery, it seems to me like this third season will be universally acknowledged as the one that enthusiastically goes off the rails. I see no other way to interpret this season, which sort of started out being about Olivia’s dad and is now a story about… you know, I don’t really know what it’s about. Re-election? Marriage? Conspiratorial groups at the top of government? Scott Foley’s naked upper half, as contrasted with Kerry Washington’s strategically draped upper half?
If it does, as tonight’s bombshell last line suggests, end up being about the final days of President Fitzgerald Grant, then I suppose I’ll accept it. The normal reaction to finding out Maya and Adnan have put a plan in motion to kill the president is probably consternation, but it seems to me like a potential victory for the show—one of the smartest moves it could make in the right direction.
This could be a controversial opinion, though somehow I find it hard to believe: Fitz, as a character, no longer has much value for the show. In the first half of “The Fluffer,” Olivia and Fitz have a conversation that peaks when she angrily asks him what he needs in order to be the guy she wants him to be, nay, needs him to be. Fitz, craven to the core, says the one thing that will hurt Olivia: He needs Andrew to stop screwing Mellie. Just to clarify: He asks his mistress to intervene in his wife’s affair, so that he, Fitz, isn’t a cuckold.
Months ago, I made the argument that Fitz isn’t really a character—he’s instead a stand-in for every other white man in a suit. He’s the embodiment of power. It makes him capricious and craven, as well as noble and good-hearted. It’s astonishing, in this episode, just how totally self-centered Fitz is in everything he does. He is a man who has been given everything in his life—who has been staffed by women from cradle to grave, whose job it is to give him what he wants. Fitz is spoiled and selfish—and he can’t really help it. He’s theoretically his best self with Olivia, but lately, that best self is punching his running mate and screaming in the halls of power.
Fitz is infuriating, then. A sympathetic character, but infuriating. His callous treatment of both Mellie and Olivia in this episode is hard to watch; especially when he caps it, as he would, with “I am not the bad guy.” Who else would be the bad guy, if not Fitzgerald Grant III? What is the last positive thing he has done? I am honestly curious.
In a more perfect world, Olivia’s arc this season would be understanding how flawed this man is, and beginning to move away from him. She is a fixer—a handler, really. She handles everyone in this episode very nicely, Fitz, Andrew, and Jake, in particular. But she hates herself. “Men like you always, always choose power,” she informs Andrew, giving him the ultimatum to leave Mellie. “What did he do to you?” he responds. Isn’t it obvious? He’s the bad guy. Fitz chose power.
And he wields it, upsettingly, which leads his wife to march into the Oval Office and slap him across the face—one of the finer moments in Scandal history, surely. He deserved it; he does take everything from her. He’s the bad guy.
I don’t know what game Scandal is playing here, though it’s following beats it’s set down in the past. Scandal likes to make a big political problem a personal crisis, and it usually does that by putting pressure on an important relationship—or all important relationships, if it can. This bomb scare hits Olivia/Fitz, Olivia/Jake, Olivia/Maya, OPA/B6-13. But I would love it if the game Scandal was playing was one where it outright assassinated its president, threw Sally Langston into the hot seat, and let its characters form new alliances. Kill the goddamn bad guy.
Dramatically, it would be a shot in the arm. Mourning Grant would put the characters in really interesting positions that would become worth watching, and the absence of the president creates a power vacuum that would send our heroes into overdrive. Would it be melodramatic and desperate? Sure. But what are they going to do otherwise?
The thing is, Scandal has already toyed with the idea of Fitz dying, with that assassination attempt last year. And if the show’s announced it this baldly, there’s no way it’s going through with it, right? Scandal trades on secrets and shock value; it milked James’ death through a week-long cliffhanger, after all. So my hopes are likely to not be answered—and indeed, that could be a goal of the show, to make the man in power, the Bad Guy, essentially unkillable. There’s no beating him, so you might as well join him.
While we wait for that cliffhanger to resolve, let’s turn to our other white man: Jake Ballard. Where Fitz seems satisfied on the top of his mountain, Jake hates his power. In that way, he has a lot in common with Olivia. Here’s a man who is more powerful than Fitz, in his own way, and he’s showing up drunk at Olivia’s door, asking her to save him. I don’t even really think Scott Foley is that great of an actor, but his reading of “I asked you to save me, and you said no” is maybe my favorite line of the season. It’s one of the most operatic-tragic statements on this show.
Why doesn’t Olivia love Jake? Why is taking down B6-13 and saving Fitz so important to her? Because for some reason, she still thinks that Fitz is a good person. And more than just that—a hero. A good guy. A guy who should be president.
I have no idea why.
- Many thanks to Ryan McGee for filling in for me last week. I’m with you guys till the end, which is (according to the splashy promos) in two weeks.
- Dinner with the Popes looks dangerous. Khandi Alexander walking up to the dinner table was my biggest shock of the night.
- Mellie in curlers is my everything.
- Abby’s Olivia impression and Olivia outfit were highlights of the episode for me. As was Cyrus’ snide little “nice coat,” as he left her alone in the campaign office.
- Isn’t Daddy Pope’s promise to Olivia easily misinterpretable, with like a big loophole that allows for him to get someone else to kill Fitz?
- Sonia’s Speculation Corner: I’d put money on this: Maya and Rowan are in on it together. Only Mama and Papa Pope could pull off an assassination this insane—and they’d find a way to work together for their baby girl.