So, in tonight’s episode of Scandal, “Mrs. Smith Goes To Washington,” a mild-mannered Chicago woman named Mary Lawrence goes into her congressman’s office wearing a suicide vest and threatens to blow herself up unless she gets answers about her son’s murder.
Scandal has done a lot of ridiculous things over the course of its run, from murdering a supreme court justice to rigging an election. But throwing its major players into the mix of domestic terrorism is a whole new ballgame. I typically enjoy Scandal’s delightful psychosis, but “Mrs. Smith Goes To Washington” feels like the train jumped the tracks.
Maybe it’s just that a suicide vest in a Washington-area building reminds me very strongly of a main plotline in Homeland, and maybe it’s that roping Olivia, Rowan, Fitz, and Cyrus’ mutual manipulation together with a thinly veiled plot device feels a bit too convenient. But I know that as hard as Scandal is trying to sell me on caring about Remington, or B613, I’m less interested in conspiracy theories than I am in the ever more complicated relationships between our established characters. “Mrs. Smith Goes To Washington” only develops its characters on the sidelines, in a few short, powerful scenes that are worth more in their five short minutes than the rest of the episode put together.
Mellie drinking hooch with Fitz has shot right to the top of my list of the best Scandal rage-speeches of all time. She’s horny and restless, and she reaches out over the table for Fitz’s hands, because she’s celebrating: Olivia lives. Fitz is, as usual, cold and vicious to her, maybe deservedly. But love or hate Mellie’s ruthlessness, you have to agree that she has some of the best monologues in the business: “As long as she’s still alive, well, she’s your flaw. Your Achilles heel. Which makes her my weapon. She’s the strings that, if need be, I will pull to make my puppet husband dance. So cheers, baby, drink up. I live to fight another day.”
In tonight’s episode, it seems more than ever that Scandal’s third season has gotten lost in the weeds of conspiracy theories. In trying to raise the stakes—to maintain that hectic pace of revelation that fueled season two—the show has to constantly find more and greater secrets to unfold. The problem is that it started so high, it’s hard to go much higher, and a suicide bomber in the Capitol is crazy enough that it offends our willing suspension of disbelief. At the same time, I understand why Scandal wants to continue to invest in its procedural elements, the case-of-the-week structure that has served it so well. If there’s always a new client coming in, there’s always a potential piece of more story that can get woven into the narrative. It’s just that this week, the formula doesn’t work. Mary Lawrence’s story never quite feels important enough, and the deus ex machina of Fitz explaining that everything needs to be classified to save innocent lives is too neat and at least a little predictable.
That plotline gets muddied by the drama unfolding around Cyrus, Rowan, and Huck, in which a B613 agent, who apparently went rogue, strongarms his way into the Oval Office to try to tell the president about something called “Remington.” I don’t think we get any more information than that—it seems important, and there is a lot of handwringing, and Rowan gets Huck to kill the rogue as a result, but that’s it. Which is again frustrating, because it just confuses the whole plot around Mary the suicide bomber. At first, they seem connected, but it’s in fact just chaotic convergence. It’s hard to follow. Scandal is always complex, but that double-assault on Washington is overkill.
More intriguing is how emotional Huck is after the encounter: After spending years trying to find and kill Rowan, he discovers that Rowan has just as much control over him as he ever did. That hold of behavioral programming and psychological manipulation hasn’t eased up, and maybe never will. I didn’t buy the extended suspense about Huck killing Rowan—it seemed too obvious that the show wouldn’t do that just yet—but the emotional fallout feels real.
It brought the episode to end on an unsettling note—are all of our characters trying to break free of the shadows of the past that control them, only to find they are helplessly entrapped? Olivia and Jake sit alone in the last scene listening to their phones ringing; it’s Rowan, but it could just as easily be anyone who has a claim on Olivia’s sense of duty. Fitz, for example, or Mellie, or Abby, or Huck, or Cyrus. It feels like none of our characters are really free. That’s a much stronger plot element than the suicide bomber, because it suggests a long way forward for our characters. Olivia seems to be realizing, last week and this week: “This is not a fairy tale. This is not the happily ever after.”
What I can’t quite understand is—what does Olivia Pope want, at this point? I think once she wanted to be with Fitz; before that, it might have been doing good. More recently, it was doing good, in a far more limited way. Now? I really have no idea. As usual, Kerry Washington looks fantastic in a blue-gray suit for the whole episode, and I was struck by her actually inhabiting a shade of gray.
- As cliché as Olivia running into the line of sniper fire was, it was also rather stunning and dramatic. From the peanut gallery on my couch, this observation: “That was very dramatic hair flipping.”
- “How many presidents have had sex on this table, do you think?”
- “Call it old fashioned, but my boss, the attorney general, like totally hates it when I aid and abet a terrorist.” I miss David Rosen.
- Many thanks to Gwen Ihnat for stepping in to review last week’s episode.