On the surface, I think “Say Hello To My Little Friend” feels like a good, smooth-sailing episode of Scandal. There are a few solid twists, and the characterization builds on what we already know about most of our cast. The episode has a certain sense of humor about itself built-in—Harrison does a priceless little dance in the first few minutes, while Cyrus and James have a conversation that’s staged to look like sex but isn’t, wink wink. The case-of-the-week is a take on the Anthony Weiner dick-pics scandal, with a dead girl thrown in for good measure. It’s splashy and hectic, like Scandal always is.
But upon further examination, it seems to me that tonight’s episode is deeply flawed—an episode relying on smoke and mirrors to obscure some major problems at its core. There is major dead weight in this episode—Fitz’s scene with Foster’s mother at the funeral, for example, fell so flat that I felt like I was looking at the hole it left in the ground.
Olivia Pope is at a major crossroads in her life, and it seems that narrative is mirroring reality. I’m not convinced that Scandal has a handle on Olivia’s character at all, and this episode makes me feel less sure than ever. Olivia’s character—and her steadfast relationships to the people around her—are what has kept this show from drowning in its own slick set pieces and camera-shutter sound effects.
Case in point: Why did Olivia answer the phone call from Fitz? She’s making out, drunk, with a handsome, protective Jake Ballard. He’s never been the most complex character, but he seems to be devoted to Olivia, and for that I am willing to tolerate his presence. He is committed to protecting her, even against the threat of her all-powerful father and her ex-boyfriend, the commander of the free world. Jake presents a future, which is more than I can say for any of the other men she’s been involved with on this show. She spent the final few minutes of last week’s episode ignoring her ringing phone as she sat with him. Over the last few episodes, she has grown so frustrated with him that she has yelled at him on the phone and told him she was going for blood after her career. So what makes her stand up and answer a call that she knows is from the president?
I think we’re supposed to believe that Olivia loves Fitz so much that she will always answer his calls. But I don’t buy that anymore. I think instead that the show doesn’t know who Olivia is, and the only thing it can use to anchor her character is this love affair with the leader of the free world. As long as Olivia has romantic entanglements, she’s a lead character—but that does a great disservice to her, and to us, the viewers.
After all, it really isn’t like Olivia to be this reckless in relationships. She broke up with her handsome fiancé after her father staged a car accident to incapacitate him, several years ago. The impression I got was that she was trying to protect him. She has, up until very recently, distinguished herself with her intense sense of responsibility for everyone around her. Now she’s endangering Jake by making him a bargaining chip, muddying the name of her firm by representing a philandering congressman, and answering calls from the one person who honestly did the most to derail her life than anyone else.
I find myself blaming the writers because I can’t find a clear reason in the plot that she would be so unraveled. Having her name in the media isn’t great, but the scandal about Fitz and Olivia’s affair seems to have blown over. She appears to have no psychological scarring from (or, indeed, any memory of) the suicide-bombing incident from last week. The main thing is the revelation about her father, but guys, that revelation about her father happened five years ago. He’s a control-freak super-spy, but this isn’t news to her, it’s news to us.
Which is all just a fancy way of saying, I have no idea what is going on. Olivia seems to have lost her bearings entirely, and as a result, Olivia Pope and Associates as a whole seems a bit off-kilter. Now that we’ve revealed the secret of Quinn, I have trouble justifying her existence on the show. Harrison is still woefully underused, and Abby’s thrown back with David Rosen in a desperate attempt to stir up some plot. (I love Abby with David, but there is no reason why it’s just happening again, except that they don’t know what else to do with either character.) My only reasoning for why Olivia answered the phone call from Fitz is that she took her own advice to Shelly, the congressman’s wife, a little too much to heart: “We all deserve a second chance.”
Given all of this muck, I found the emotional payoff of the final scenes pretty minimal. Olivia’s confrontation of the congressman’s wife Shelly is pretty good, and feels a little more like the Olivia we used to know. Huck’s freakout at Quinn is also good, though unfortunately Guillermo Diaz has never been my favorite actor on the show. Darby Stanchfield is always reliable as Abby, and Bellamy Young is always heartbreaking as Mellie, but “Say Hello To My Little Friend” lacks that essential, hooking quality that so much of Scandal has had until now. Did the show go too far in season two? And is it too late to recover?
- “I’m not crying. I’m trying not to scream.”
- Lisa Kudrow guest-stars in this episode as Josephine Marcus, a congresswoman from Montana threatening Fitz for a presidential run. Not a lot happens, but she’s coming back next week, as Olivia’s client.
- Nina Simone playing in the background at Foster's funeral. Kinda saves the whole scene.
- The promo for next week! The dress.
- So there’s a cliffhanger of Fitz meeting Rowan. Not sure what to do with that just yet. But apparently, it’s a reunion. They knew each other already. Cool!