Well… that happened.
I laughed through most of this episode, and not because it’s comedic. Somehow, eight weeks later, everything Scandal does has become very funny. Perhaps that’s because it’s so predictable—predictable in its insanity. Even if we can’t always guess the details of the twists, we know they’re coming.
Scandal returned tonight with the predictable amount of lip-quivering monologues, eyes filled with unshed tears, shutter-clicky noises, and fabulous white coats. The show has gotten better and better at hitting the reset button without letting on that it’s hitting the reset button. In every way that matters, tonight is just a reboot of the series—again. Nothing has really changed. The actors are all still singing their tales of woe, and even the notes are the same.
There was only one thing that truly surprised me: Olivia’s monologue to Jake in the closing minutes of the episode. In the midst of an episode that seemed to have lost track of its characters, Olivia expresses the feeling that she has lost track of herself. That purpose that has so driven her—the call to service that has given her meaning—has so utterly destroyed her.
I think that if Scandal is willing to admit that this story is a tragedy in many acts, then I am willing to go along with Scandal. Up until now, I’ve had these vague ideas that someone or other in this show would end up happy. Maybe Fitz and Olivia would actually move to Vermont and make jam together. Maybe Mellie would take a hot young lover and start her own political career. Maybe Cyrus would, I don’t know, not be terrible. Something about this season has made me give up on a happy ending, though. I only realized it tonight, watching all these lost characters running around in circles.
There’s an old adage that all television is aspirational, and maybe that’s true. But more than that, Scandal is a cautionary tale. All of its characters are drunk on the idea of their own importance. And though the narrative is a little too implausible, even for Washington, that feels all too recognizable. This is a group of people so attached to their own power that they are destroying their lives just to keep having it. And more, they derive all their personal meaning from it. This is the greater good, Olivia keeps telling herself. But even she’s beginning to realize that the greater good is just a convenient excuse.
Season two felt, in many ways, like a deconstruction of the idea of the president—Olivia, Mellie, and Cyrus ran Fitz’s life, and he couldn’t do anything about it. The president was the least powerful person in the room. That’s changed in this season. Fitz has regained some kind of terrible control issues, and now that the big secret has been buried again, the cabal of six has less power. Now it seems instead that everyone is trapped in the same hallucination about what really matters in life.
Sally Langston has a super weird, totally nutters speech to her campaign manager Leo Bergen in the middle of the episode that I think fits in with this. It sounds like the ravings of a lunatic—a moment of Protestant revival-tent revelation about how the devil moved her to murder her husband because she switched her stance on abortion. It’s a caricature, to say the least. But the level of self-delusion it expresses is breathtaking. Sally has somehow entirely absolved herself of guilt in the matter of her husband’s death—and has found convenient political rationale to keep her going. Forget regret or remorse—Sally has swung toward running for president, because she’s convinced she needs even more power. I wish this felt less familiar than it does, but these overwrought scenes from Scandal’s government feel like they could exist in the dysfunctional political sphere in this reality. And it’s hardly new—Shakespeare knew all about power corrupting humanity, and I hear the Bible has some choice words about it, too.
It’s not a great episode of Scandal—the characters are scattered and all over the place, and the show is just settling into the story it wants to tell in these eight episodes. But it always makes me think.
- Welcome back to the weekly reviews of Scandal! Looking forward to hashing out these eight episodes with you guys!
- Weirdly, in the last few months I’ve flipped my opinion about both Jake and Fitz. At first I was resistant to move away from what we professional ‘shippers call the canon ‘ship—the romantic relationship that the narrative is clearly invested in. Jake seemed like a narratively convenient distraction—the Jacob to Bella’s Edward. But now I like it. Jake is a fixer, like Olivia. And Fitz has become more frustrating than ever. He’s a toddler with an Oval Office, and he doesn’t listen to anyone who cares about him.
- Harrison has a plot! The plot is that he sleeps with his mortal enemy, who is the very pretty (and quite talented) Nazanin Boniadi, who also starred in this past season of Homeland.
- Kerry Washington is pregnant, which is why Olivia is wearing baggy coats and holding purses in front of her stomach all the time. It’s a clumsy way to hide it. I’d rather they wrote in the pregnancy—Olivia and Fitz are having a baby! (Named Olitz!)
- I WILL BE VERY HAPPY IF MELLIE CHEATS ON FITZ. With whomever. But that guy Nichols will do nicely. (I called the twist there, so I wasn’t too impressed by it, but some of my co-viewers were really surprised.)
- I would also be fine if Quinn and Charlie just died. I just don’t care about them. And Quinn kidnapping that little boy? Disgusting. She is the worst.