Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Scandal: "Icarus"

Illustration for article titled Scandal: "Icarus"

I wasn't expecting "Icarus" to be good, but this episode is aces. Scandal is at its best when it's firing on all cylinders, and there seem to be about 18 cylinders at present, at least. I haven't loved where this season is going, in part because there's been some inconsistency about the importance and relevance of B6-13 and Operation Remington. Both of these secret things have had flash without substance, and that's been hard to latch onto. But all of a sudden, it's sort of clicked, and it's doing that by focusing on character, which Scandal does with aplomb.

There is a lot of wonderful insinuation in "Icarus"—a kind of vocabulary of meaningful glances and dropped hints. I noticed it in particular in the episode's final scene, when Jake and Fitz have a little chat in the Oval Office. Jake says that getting to the bottom of Operation Remington is his only shot to sleeping with… his eyes open. But I immediately jumped to the conclusion that he was talking about the other kind of "sleeping with"—and that meant I was perfectly primed for Fitz's snarky comeback. "You mean sleeping with Olivia?" My boss Todd VanDerWerff often says shows teach us to watch them, and "Icarus" is a teaching moment for Scandal. There are a lot of moments that allow you to get into the head of each character—when Josie loses her temper with Olivia, any regular viewer of the show can guess that Olivia and Abby are going to manipulate Josie into losing her temper on-air. It's Scandal's logic.

Scandal is making us comfortable with the characters as it throws more and more curveballs at them, which means viewing is both predictable and stochastic. That means the plot gets unwieldy at times—I feel like we've been overly saturated with B6-13 conspiracies, which are convenient plot devices but don't satisfy. But Scandal is also responding by throwing more characters onto the screen, which is making each new episode a delicious foray into someone else's headspace. Last week, we had just met Josie Marcus; now, she seems like a reliable character. Sally's always been on the fringes, and now we see her flexing her political muscle. There's some alchemy at work that is beyond me, at times—how does Scandal keep us all entertained?—but there's no denying that it works. Scandal functions as a hybrid between a soap and a procedural, which makes the television nerd in me super excited, because those are both such classic forms of programming. From a critical standpoint, what's wonderful about Scandal is that it's working off of a tried-and-true template with very fresh material. It has an addictive quality that television can excel at, if it's done right.

There is a lot going on in this episode. Melly gets hit on by Sally's husband and seems to be kind of into it? Sally is plotting. Cyrus is counter-plotting. Olivia is on her white-hat wagon again, which, good luck, girl. Fitz is looking banal and clueless per usual. Quinn is being groomed by some combination of Rowan and Charlie to become an agent, Jake is flirting with and then defending himself from a CIA operative, only to be saved by Fitz's hired gun. And—Harrison has a plot! He's worried about some guy coming to America to kill him, and Cyrus is trying to get that guy to show up, probably to do just that. And Josie Marcus meets with a whole bunch of lobbyists and loses her temper on-air about implicit misogyny. (That scene is so great. Lisa Kudrow hits her stride in this episode playing Josie, and the speech is so dead-on accurate that I have lost my critic hat and am instead just fangirling about it.)

In any other show, it would be too much. On Scandal, it feels like a relief. Yes, this is the show we want—a thousand things at once and lingering pauses and electricity whenever Olivia Pope is in a room. I'll take it.

Stray observations:

  • For those of you who watched Alias, this whole plotline with Olivia's mother is right out of that playbook. I would put money on Maya showing up for this season's finale.
  • Melly's Cleopatra reference is wonderful. Cyrus' Icarus reference is okay.
  • "I know you're not a hugger. But screw it!"
  • Kate Burton is just wonderful as our double-crossing vice president.
  • Interesting to see Olivia working for the Democrats for a change.
  • "Is there a line we won't cross?" "We'll let you know when we find it."
  • Did Fitz kill Olivia's mom?! The look on his face when she tells him suggests no; he's just too shocked. But then why is it still a secret? What game is Rowan playing at?