Scandal has an opportunity to define its legacy. A few months ago, I wrote that it was time for the show to end. While Scandal is still a ratings hit, recent seasons were lost in convoluted drama and twists that distracted more than they entertained. If “Watch Me” is any indication, Shonda Rhimes saved Scandal by giving it a firm end date. “Watch Me” is one of the show’s best premieres and it sets the stage for an intriguing season with our favorite characters.

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Season six faced issues because it tried to introduce a new Big Bad Villain in the place of B613. Samantha Ruland and Theodore Peus are minor footnotes in Scandal’s overall history and they weren’t convincing as actual threats against Olivia’s all-knowing gut. With the end of the show now in view, Scandal can’t afford to waste time with new enemies or secret organizations. “Watch Me” pits everyone against each other and sets the tone for the season. Scandal has always worked best when it focuses on its characters. Even though the episode does feature a minor case-of-the-week plot, it mostly brings us up to speed on our gladiators.

ABC/Richard Cartwright

The writing feels lighter. This is particularly evident when it comes to the scenes at OPA. I’m sorry, QPA. Abby and Quinn haven’t had much luck bringing in new clients. Watching them badger David Rosen feels reminiscent of his earlier relationship with Olivia. Quinn and Abby are the new underdogs. Huck is mostly stable (for now). Charlie is a loving, loyal partner and future father. When Quinn, Huck and Charlie aren’t being disgusting together, you can’t help but root for Team Gladiator.

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While they’ll definitely have some bigger issues with the White House down the line, I hope we get to see QPA work a few more cases before they’re pulled into Olivia’s drama. Watching Quinn come into her own power against Olivia is going to be fantastic. Hopefully we get to see her develop her own gut by figuring things out without Liv. Quinn was way too ready to trust that Olivia would do the right thing for our kidnapped CIA agent. She didn’t even consider that murder was an option. After everything, Quinn is still naive to darker realities.

ABC/Richard Cartwright

Naiveté is a major theme in “Watch Me.” Cyrus is one of Scandal’s best characters because he legitimately could be up to anything at any time. They’ve created a perfect vacuum in Cyrus that allows him to be nearly any character they need him to be. Over six seasons, we’ve watched him continuously reach for power and fail while suffering major consequences because of his actions. You would think losing your child, two husbands, and going to prison would rid you of your need for power, but this is Scandal and people never learn. So, when Cyrus rejects a senator’s offer to make him president in four years, it almost seems like his character has grown. Maybe, Cyrus isn’t a power hungry monster anymore!

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Until we find out Olivia was behind the senator’s offer. It’s a clever move on Olivia’s part to figure out Cyrus’ loyalty, but it seems amateur. Cyrus knows Olivia’s game better than anyone and could tell the senator was bluffing. Cyrus is playing into it for now, but I firmly believe the old Cyrus is in there somewhere. He’s slowly plotting his revenge and seducing married men for leverage. Cyrus is clearly not happy with the new order of things and that is very clear in “Watch Me”

ABC/Richard Cartwright

And what is that new order? It’s Olivia Pope’s world. This season premiere lets us know who’s in charge. From the jump, Olivia is blackmailing senators and threatening the lives of small children. We’re supposed to believe this is “White Hat” Olivia who just wants to give everyone free education, but Liv’s gut hasn’t been particularly sharp these last few seasons. She isn’t the moral compass she used to be. Liv helped QPA out this time, but she’s clearly willing to do anything if they end up on opposite sides. Huck is the only person who knows just how far Olivia has fallen, but everyone else still seems to buy into the idea that she can make them into a “monument.”

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Which, well, is a pretty silly thing to believe. Olivia spent two terms promising Fitz she’d make him into a legend, but we don’t even seen him in the premiere. Presence is how “Watch Me” tells us who’s in charge this episode. There’s figurative presence. We don’t even see Fitz in this episode and we spend very little time with our new “president.” When we do see Mellie, she’s completely undermined by Olivia and a country’s delegate. That’s because it’s not about Mellie, Olivia is in charge. Then, there’s actual presence. When Olivia is putting Mellie in her place, she stands tall in a black pantsuit. She’s an unstoppable pillar of power and Mellie’s red blazer just puts her vulnerabilities on display. Olivia knows how to destroy this woman and Mellie knows that.

“Watch Me” is a stellar season premiere and an amazing episode of Scandal. It gives us the sexy political manipulation we’ve loved about Scandal for six seasons. But, “Watch Me” gives us something else we wanted: an alternate reality where the world is run by a woman. It ups that fantasy by making that leader a black woman. Scandal is an escapist fantasy where anything can be fixed with the right threat or sexual encounter. Season six tried to address the reality of Trump, but it slowed things down and didn’t make sense in the show’s world. The season seven premiere leans into fantasy and the resulting monologues and fights are already an improvement. If every insane moment on this show had to happen to get us to Olivia’s world, maybe it was all worth it.


Stray Observations

  • I love that we just jumped right back into things in this premiere! Luna is dead! Cyrus is VP! Let’s get going!
  • Also, hey! Let’s get going with weekly Scandal coverage. We’ll be doing discussion posts for the rest of them.
  • That Papa Pope scene was delicious. Watching Olivia do her best Eli impression is cute. He’s going to gloat so hard when he inevitably has to help Liv out.
  • “You don’t play team sports” - When Papa Pope said that, it really felt like it was to remind us that Olivia really doesn’t care about her “band of gladiators.” In the end, she’s used all of them for her own aims. Olivia would probably eat Quinn’s baby before she’d let anyone take her power.
  • Oh, yeah. Jake. Hey Jake. Still married? Still desperately in love with Olivia even though she uses strictly for the D? Welp, glad we got to check in. Hope your wife is still a drunk this season!
  • Also fine with Fitz being a minor presence this season. I am sure we will get plenty of Olitz by the time this thing is done though.
  • Seriously, I want a spin-off with Charlie, Quinn and their baby solving crimes.
  • “This is why you never listen to a man over me.” I know that speech was supposed to be empowering and feminist and awesome, but it just felt manipulative to me. Poor Mellie. She’s just a little old puppet.

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