I am torn right now between reviewing this episode just like any other episode of Scandal, and critiquing it as one of the worst things I’ve ever seen on television. Just writing it out like that tips me one way over the other, but let’s take a stab at it anyhow.
We know what director Tony Goldwyn was trying to do. The dream sequences, the flashbacks, the Stevie Wonder music, all served to indicate that Olivia was still not over the consequences of “Run,” when she was taken hostage, causing the president to go to war, culminating in her auctioning herself off on the open market for her freedom. The architect of this heinous plan, former vice-president Andrew Nichols, surprisingly reappears this episode, having recovered somewhat from the stroke administered to him by Huck. He wants to reveal all those past events, especially the part where the president went to war over his mistress. Which, along with a few other factors, is enough to unnerve Olivia completely.
One other factor is the short-lived reign of Abby. It was a nice note in the secret meeting when Olivia had to witness Fitz now being at the mercy of whatever Abby said, when she used to be the one to pull those strings. Then Abby and Olivia talk over wine after Fitz decides to throw himself on a sword to get everyone out of the Andrew mess. Olivia is all charged up that Fitz is finally taking responsibility like a true leader. Except, and here’s just one in about 37 instances where this episode lost me, when Abby wonders what she’ll do when Fitz goes down, and Olivia chirps, “You can come back and work for me!” Even those in the cheap seats can see that the last thing in the world Abby wants to do is go from running the Oval Office to being Olivia’s lapdog again, but Olivia Pope, a trained negotiator and reader of people, misses it. Then Mellie gets thrown under the bus, and Olivia, walking into Abby’s office, can tell just by the look on her face that Abby’s the one who did it. The scene where Abby stakes her claim in front of Liv was great, and I was momentarily hopeful that we were seeing the dawn of a new, show-defining rivalry.
Yep, that was a fun five minutes all right, because soon after that we get the scene that changed everything. After last week, we should have known not to leave Olivia alone with someone she’s mad at and a chair. I thought that was bad, that Olivia would frame an innocent person for more jail time to get what she wanted, leading him to suicide. Oh, last week, when I didn’t know how good I had it.
When Joshua Alston and I discussed that episode, he sagely pointed out that “Shonda and company are vastly overestimating the audience’s goodwill toward Olivia.” What do you think, America? I think he’s right. I think any goodwill we have for this main character, who we have now seen beat a disabled man to death with a chair, has been extinguished. Goldwyn tried to make a case with the flashbacks and the taunting and the name-calling, but come on. Most of us, in our daily lives, hardly ever throw chairs or use them as threats or weapons, and here Olivia has done this twice in two weeks. It’s hard to relate, or root for her, or to know who else to root for. Last week, Olivia veered toward the Dark Side, and Huck, who murdered a bunch of jurors on a bus, among many others, emerged as the voice of reason. Now, she’s reached the point of no return.
And so have the rest of us. That was the grossest thing I’ve ever seen on network television. Somehow this was all supposed to revolve around a presidential campaign, but there was really nothing compelling about this episode, unless it was all those warnings from ABC letting us know we were about to see something horrific.
You know what this reminds me of? Anakin’s struggle in the Star Wars prequels. Olivia is Anakin, and Papa Pope is the Emperor, trying to lure her in, and welcoming her aboard the Death Star at the end. Fitz is Padme (hey, she’s also in politics!), and there it gets fuzzy, but I think I’m on to something here. Olivia has gone full Dark Side. Which means more Papa Pope, who is hardly on anyone’s wish list of “cast members who should get more screen time.”
So what does this arc really mean: The Seduction Of Olivia Pope? We first tuned in to watch a smart, capable woman pull strings and make things happen and make scandals go away. Now we’re watching: what exactly? A woman who has completely lost her way, and the worst part is, she lost it after her relationship ended. Olivia, for all her complaining about not wanting to be the First Lady, only really faltered after she and Fitz broke up. Wouldn’t planning Rose Garden tea parties be better than bludgeoning a man to death?
As I’ve mentioned before, every character we once liked, possibly even loved, is now irredeemable at this point. Olivia as lead (and Kerry Washington as actress, who deserves so much better) was our last link, and even that has now been destroyed. Ratings are sinking and comments are shrinking and the show is sucking, and has steered so far afield, I don’t even know how it could ever get back on course. So long, Scandal. Never cross me again.
- Goldwyn got a nice shot of Abby in shadows as she’s off to make her final deal with Andrew, entering a bit of the Dark Side herself.
- I like how Jake just eats now.
- From a practical standpoint, how long could they keep Andrew in that bunker? Don’t they have to give him food? Where’s his colostomy bag?
- What in the world is in this for Marcus? How much does he get paid to get kicked around and dismissed everyday? Why wouldn’t he just quit?
- I couldn’t understand everything Andrew said, but I don’t think I wanted to.
- Hey Olivia, there are smart people in Indiana.
- “My fair share. One dollar.” Thank you Cyrus for my only laugh this episode, possible ever again in my entire life.
- Another brief bright spot: Vargas’ brother spilling the beans on Cyrus and Tom to Cyrus’ fake husband.
- The writer of this episode, Zahir McGhee, also wrote “You Got Served,” my only Scandal A this season, as well as “The Lawn Chair,” which Joshua refused to even dignify with a grade.
- Just caught up on The Catch: If you want a Shonda show that’s fizzy and fun and y’know, enjoyable to watch, check it out. It’s like a Scandal antidote.
- I believe this is my first F in my three years at The A.V. Club.