Scandal: "More Cattle, Less Bull"
B+

Scandal: "More Cattle, Less Bull"

B+

Scandal

"More Cattle, Less Bull"

Season 3, Episode 5

The pacing of “More Cattle, Less Bull” seems a bit flawed to me, and the opening acts of the episode don’t quite strike the right notes. But the final few moments are about as delicious as Scandal has always proven itself to be, giving us a few whiplash twists to percolate as we wait for next week. I’m surprised, though, that Scandal is asking us to accept a fundamental truth that has been repeatedly undermined since the very first season—the unshakable reality of Fitz and Olivia’s love for each other, even amidst occasional murder, heartbreak, and media exposure. 

Is Olivia in love with Fitz? I’m a romantic at heart, so I want to believe she is. But it’s hard to find the proof in the show. Olivia sees Fitz’s flaws almost more than anyone else, and in his manipulation and secrecy, Fitz has not offered Olivia much to love. But more than love, what Scandal wants us to believe is that Olivia experiences a kind of destabilizing attraction for Fitz—one of those explosive passions that could bring down an empire. After tonight’s episode, I believe it (even if I may not necessarily like it). Watching Olivia maneuver Jake into being her date just so she could see Fitz at the White House Correspondents Dinner—watching her scrabble through the trash so she could fish out the secret phone Fitz calls her on—I saw a demeaned, struggling Olivia Pope. She’s so consumed by this thing that she’s reduced to manipulating a guy who saved her life, to crawling on her hands and knees to her garbage can. It’s not even subtle. Olivia might love him, but she’s taking the low road in the process.

Is Fitz in love with Olivia? That’s a better question. Scandal has had trouble fleshing Fitz out, I think—he’s always been a character that acts as plot convenience rather than a character that seems motivated by something internal. It’s not totally clear to me why Fitz does anything he does, and that makes me wary of believing in his love for Olivia. In tonight’s episode, he says himself that he’s turned into a version of his father—a philandering politician. I wonder if Fitz has a version of himself that is separate from what he’s made of—if he has any sense of direction toward what he wants to be. Part of Fitz’s vagueness is Scandal’s own vagueness about all of these characters, but part of it is quite deliberate, too. Fitz has no goals because he doesn’t need them. He’s a rich white man, so he manages to coast without being (as we heard from Rowan in the season premiere) “twice as good” for “half as far.” He’s easily pushed by Mellie and Olivia and Cyrus’ ambitions because he’s kind of an empty sack of meat, a straight white man that looks good for the crowds while two women and a gay man order him around. That’s a subversive message—more subversive than the notion that he’s in love with Olivia, anyway. Love implies volition, and Fitz has precious little of that.

Because I’m emotionally invested in the show, alongside both of the above questions is: Should Olivia be with Fitz? And I’m really not sure about the answer to that. There’s a part of me that wants to have faith in their crazy passion for each other. As frustratingly apathetic as Fitz is about most things relating to his job (which, wow), he shapes up for Olivia. Maybe he wants to be a hanger-on for Olivia’s life, instead of taking the spotlight—he’s certainly quick to admit how dazzled he is by her talent at all times. And Olivia seems to need him desperately, perhaps because he is so directionless and unambitious. He’s a breath of fresh air in her world of deadly rational politicking, even though he’s at the center of the storm. Somehow, despite being totally undependable, he’s become a point of stability for her.

But is that particularly healthy, or even desirable? I don’t love Jake as a plot device—I feel like he’s too obviously a wrench in the works of the Olivia/Fitz endgame, an obstacle designed to prolong that story for as long as possible. But he’s a good man, and a winning character. That’s not enough for love, naturally, but it’s an interesting question that someone who cared about Olivia might ask: Why have you fallen for the guy who treats you badly, whom you can never be with? How does that serve you?

Last week, I asked who Olivia Pope even is anymore. This week, I think Scandal tried to answer. She’s at sea. It’s only when she’s confident in Fitz’s love for her that she has any of that patented Olivia Pope swagger; nothing about her case this week with Josephine Marcus is all that interesting except for Olivia’s attitude in the final few minutes, when she curtly tells Marcus off. Her fantastic and slightly crazy dress at the White House Correspondents’ dinner is not gray or blended but a stark patchwork of black and white. It made me think of polarization and fracture, not harmony. She seems to be at odds with herself, but for what it’s worth, when she’s in that space, she’s electric.

Because I think the question that really needs to be asked is: Is Scandal a better show when Olivia and Fitz are in love? I think that the answer is yes. Even if we hate them together, the central dynamic of the show is this highly charged political and personal relationship between a white Republican man and an idealistic black woman. Within their relationship are so many mini-stories—Olivia remaking her own oppression through devotion to Fitz; political conservatism trying to dig itself out of its own hole of regressive racial politics; and the volatile visibility of the interracial relationship, for starters.

Scandal is offering us a love story, but it’s also offering us layers and layers on top of that. Olivia’s presented as a vulnerable heroine trying to balance success with her happiness; she has ideals and also passion, and those don’t always intersect. There was a point in time where much of her attraction to Fitz stemmed from the belief that he was a good president. Now that seems less and less important, replaced by the idea that Fitz is the man she loves, and so she’ll do whatever she needs to for him. It’s not that it doesn’t make sense, but it’s a loaded story that could fire any minute.

Scandal being Scandal, the show pulls the trigger almost immediately. Just as Olivia’s thrown herself back into passion with Fitz, she discovers that Fitz killed her mother (or at least, that’s the current story). I admit to being surprised. The show still needs to find its characters underneath all the drama, but I can’t deny that the drama is still enchanting.

Stray observations:

  • Quinn buys a gun, and the rest of the world asks, “Who cares?”
  • Mellie and Olivia both had awful hair at the dinner, but killer dresses.
  • Mellie’s face when she hears Olivia and Fitz laughing with each other on the phone is absolutely heartbreaking.
  • Lisa Kudrow is not bad as Marcus, but she chews the scenery just a little. I’d love to see the role better written for her big personality.
  • The team goes to Montana. I’d talk about it more, but it’s pretty boring.
  • Abby’s corner: Blah blah David Rosen drama blah blah blah at least they kiss more. Great hair as usual, girlfriend. Also, seeing her in action talking to Cyrus’ man in Montana was wonderful. I like her smooth-talking self-absorption—I can’t help it.