This is an episode of Scandal that starts with Olivia's mom eating her own wrists to attempt suicide in her jail cell. It is a totally awful scene that I don't even want to write about, because it is that disgusting. I don't know why it was in the episode at all. "Vermont Is For Lovers, Too" got the "viewer discretion advised" placard, so I guessed something insane was going to happen, but you know, I can never truly guess what Scandal is going to throw at me.
I really do question the wrist-meat scene (I'm borrowing Joshua Malina's description from Twitter). I have been thinking about it since the episode aired, and I still don't quite understand what purpose the scene plays in the larger themes of the episode. It's not even that emotionally resonant: It's gross, and brutal, but it's not exactly harrowing. I think we're supposed to feel Maya's pain at not being able to see Olivia, but for me personally, I felt like I couldn't get there, because I don't know her yet. It's just insane. Now the feeling I have is scared because I think she's insane.
There's a lot of mess in "Vermont Is For Lovers, Too," but for the most part, I liked the mess. Scandal is a show that's almost entirely about how messy people's personal lives get. What's a departure from the last two seasons, I think, is how little any of our characters feel in control of what's happening anymore. Even in the depths of the voter fraud conspiracy, at least Olivia knew what was going on. She had her signature icy control over herself, except when she was monologuing passionately. This season? Olivia is veering outside the lines just as much as anyone else. There's an impending sense of doom in the whole episode—Quinn's life is unspooling rapidly; Josie Marcus leaves the campaign; Cyrus' marriage is on the rocks. They all kind of deserved it, but man, retribution was swift.
Of course, the biggest swing into doom is Fitz and Olivia having sex again. Look—I think it's cute. On some level, I ‘ship them, just a teensy tiny bit. They're clearly so nuts about each other (for no discernible reason except plot expedience, but they manage to sell it pretty well). There continues to be something romantic and powerful about the attraction between a privileged white man and a fierce black woman—because that relationship is one that inherently holds so much history of abuse and disempowerment. I admit that it is still astonishing and engaging to watch. But Olivia and Fitz are a total disaster together. Nothing about this relationship is healthy. Up until the end of season two, I thought they might have a chance. But the show has made it really clear that there is no future for Olivia and Fitz—no happy ending, nowhere they can leave their lives and really be happy and present with each other. Olivia and Fitz's romance is really one of escaping their lives, rather than building one together. I'm reminded of when they fell in love—on the campaign bus, which is like a college road trip, a space that is not really in space or in time. Olivia and Fitz are abusive and manipulative with each other. They're both getting off the thrill of intimacy with someone who feels like the enemy, but then the trap closes in again, and they're back to being enemies. Olivia in particular is so histrionic with him that it seems sometimes like she's going to have a nervous breakdown—that just the strain of caring about him is too much for her.
I wouldn't be surprised if Scandal went whole-hog classical tragedy on us—spiraling out this doom to encompass everyone and everything, so that only Horatio is standing in the castle when the King of Norway rides up.
It's kind of already beginning. Cyrus' subplot this episode is one of the strongest, which is good, because he hasn't had a lot to do this season. I don't know what kind of ego it takes to bait a honey trap with the guy you love—but Cyrus had an unshaken, blind faith in James, so he manipulated him closer and closer to the edge. The look on James' face when he realized what Cyrus had done was really awful, as was the entire subplot, to be quite honest. How could that end well?
But that's what I ask about every plot in this show. How could this end well? How could anyone do these things and expect to be happy? That's clearly not the goal. I'm never quite certain what is. But more than ever, Scandal is a cautionary tale against pursuing power.
- Mellie fell hard from last week to this week.
- Is Vermont for lovers, though? Really?
- "So we know the killer is a short woman in a dumpy suit and cheap heels?" (That's as close a transcription as I could get of Abby's sick burn.)
- Harrison, what is your plot? And why?