Hosted by Joe Lamour and Kendra James
Welcome to our (semi)inaugural Scandal roundtable! How timely.
It looks like the people in this group are chatty–but also rather astute. Fabulous combination, if I do say so myself. If you need to reacquaint yourself with last week’s plot–Scandal 2.10 “One for the Dog” take a read here. This roundtable is to serve as an insight into the actions of the previous episode, so you go in refreshed and omniscient as I feel when I finish editing these.
In addition to Kendra James and me, joining us we have Loree Lamour, Zach Stafford, T.F. Charlton, Johnathan Fields, and Jordan St. John. And boy, we have quite the analysis for you, so I’m going to let you, the reader, get to it!
And remember! Spoilers lie below the cut. Spoil-y Spoilers.
Loree: Hello everyone! I’m so excited to be joining The Scandal Roundtable!
Zach: Ditto, Loree! I now have a better excuse to tell my roommate when he wonders why I keep watching episodes on repeat…not that I need to explain my love to him.
T.F.: Thirded! Super excited to get to dish with y’all about Scandal.
Johnathan: I won’t mention how my ears perk up each time I’m eavesdropping and hear the word ‘scandal’ pop up. Why does Shonda Rhimes have me in a perpetual state of distraction?
Jordan: Oh guys. I am so obsessed–the show, the characters, the clothes… This show had me sifting thru after Christmas sale racks thinking “Is this something Olivia Pope would wear?” The answer was usually no. Also, I am still on the hunt for a discount version of her wrap coat that fits me right although I have no illusions that I will look like Kerry Washington in it.
Joe: Welcome, sister of mine! And Zach, Johnathan, Jordan, T.F., and Kendra (even though Kendra helps host this, I’m welcoming her. I’m nice like that.) I’m pretty excited to get our Scandal related conversations down on paper! Or…down on screen…I guess. This Roundtable has quite the roster. Now, on to the episode! Which should have been named Huck Presents: The Guantanamo Bay Hour.
Kendra: Oh wait, was it Scandal we were watching? I assumed we were reviewing Homeland. My bad. That explains the strange amount of color on my screen.
Loree: It was a great episode…minus the torture to Huck in the beginning. But he took it like a warrior.
Joe: Regardless, that torture porn served as part of what I felt was this week’s theme: how fleeting power can be.
Jordan: I was intrigued by Rhimes’ decision to show the explicit nature of the “enhanced interrogation” scene and hope it is something the producers talk about in the future. They could have shown the aftermath of the interrogation or placed it all on the Hollis Doyle and Sally Langston characters, but only David Rosen seemed to have issue with it fundamentally. Everyone else’s only concern was that it was Huck. I wonder what that spells for our dear “Becky,” but I am getting ahead of myself. Rhimes also allowed for a pretty convincing counterargument to Rosen’s little speech which essentially boiled down to “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth! Etc., etc.” Power was certainly a storyline but for me, there was definitely a through-line of the price paid for it. As Harrison says later, when you are making real decisions and dealing with real power, no one gets to stay clean, and everyone plays a price.
Johnathan: Right on with the power theme. I was fascinated by the definition and contradictions of what it means to be American. On the one hand, David Rosen constructs America and our values based on how Americans are treated, namely Huck. On the other, a government agent challenges David with an alternative understanding using all the people who fight and die so he can uphold these values as a reference point.
T.F.: I thought David was pretty darn naive for a US attorney, but I guess the point was that someone had to be the moral center.
Loree: And, the episode focused more on saving the Fitz’s place than anything else.
Joe: Yes, and the major storylines, and most minor ones, dealt with power in flux: all of Huck’s rights being taken away under the Patriot Act–which were then returned to him by David Rosen, using Sally Langston’s temporary power; The Evil Southerner Brigade–as I like to call Hollis Doyle and Sally Langston–plotting in the Oval Office while Mellie pulled an Edith Wilson to return her husband’s place; even Harrison using his power of seduction to get the keycard. But to me, the major characters all were orchestrating rather nebulous attempts to score a wealth of Washington power. Also, another thing about The Evil Southerner Brigade: Why are they the only two main characters with southern accents the villains?
Jordan: Speaking of power, I found Verna’s speech to the Knights of the Fitzian Roundtable more than a little self-serving. She says that ever since their first meeting, Hollis has been out for brute power he has “lied for it,” “cheated for it,” and “killed for it.” I hate to break it to Verna but there are nothing but killers in the room with her. Everyone at the table has done what he’s done and, as Mellie proves a couple scenes later, is willing to do it again. It seems like the cost of running with the big dogs Harrison references later. I have no love for Doyle for shooting Fitz (especially since the show positions Fitz, adulterer that he is, as just about the least corrupt character of all of them), but Doyle saw a means to an end and took it. He’s no better or worse than Cyrus with his intern/aide murdering and all of them with the explosion cover-up.
Joe: I’m truly waiting for the moment where Fitz finds out that all this assassination, poll-tampering, and general lie-telling (oh, and Amanda Tanner being murdered for him) is happening behind his back because of not just one, but both, women he loves. And his best friend. And that nice US Supreme Court Justice he appointed. And one half of The Evil Southerner Brigade.
Kendra: Better the southerners than those evil foreigners every other political show seems to want to scapegoat. I wasn’t overly thrilled with this episode (it didn’t pack the punch–sorry, Huck–that I like my return-from-hiatus episodes to have), but I like the idea that in Scandal’s political world, the Big Bads spawn from within. Who’s plotting to kill the president? A white American. Forging signatures to stage a government coup? That’s the First Lady. The two just flat-out couping? Those aforementioned Southerners. Torturing an innocent man? America. This episode was filled with Americans doing horrible things in the name of homeland security and their own self-serving needs. An episode made even better by the fact that the characters were allowed to go on about their business without too many scripted apologies and excuses from some sort of Leo McGarry equivalent.
All that said, I think of my favorite parts had little to do with intrigue. Cyrus and James are adopting a Black baby…domestically!
Joe: Yeah, gays! Even though there’s absolutely no way that couple is going to stay together, let alone parent a baby together. Especially since one husband is plotting the “next Watergate” which would definitely put the other husband (and all of his friends) in jail. I’m sure, however, James met his beauuuutiful daughter in this episode.
Jordan: I remain unclear about James’s endgame. He’s trying to expose this whole election tampering/rigging situation, and he knows his husband is involved. He lacks the innate cunning of Cyrus, but he’s a smart guy. How exactly does he think this will play out I’m not sure, and I surely hope he doesn’t think this baby (that Cyrus got to essentially keep him barefoot and pregnant at home) will keep them together when Cyrus finds out he is making moves against him. On this show, whenever there is a choice between love and work, everyone picks work.
Loree: I wouldn’t underestimate Cyrus’ and James’ relationship. I mean, when it looked like Cyrus was giving up on the possibility that Fitz would ever wake up, he was willing to throw in the towel and settle at home with his husband. I think there’s real love there and, as they always say, a baby changes everything.
Zach: I am sorry, but I am uncomfortable with the fact that the gay men are this unhealthy, kind of corrupt couple and are the only one’s that are getting a black child–it is just so unsettling to me. You give the black baby in a DC hospital to the evil, corrupt political gay men so the baby can act as bartering tool for them both to get what they want? Ugh. That just gives me bad feelings. But, hey, this isn’t the first time–nor the last time–that we see a primetime television show with a gay white couple getting a baby of color.
Joe: It looks like you watched Brothers and Sisters, too! Although it was the Republicans who got the black baby and the gay couple got the preteen Latina with some pretty stereotypical minority-in-the-system bonding issues…I’m going off topic. Someone say something relevant–
T.F.: I will! I definitely see that concern, Zach. At the same time, there isn’t a single healthy relationship on this show. It’s unfortunate that the optics of it are that this horribly dysfunctional gay couple are adopting, well, any child, but especially bringing a child of color into their home. But “horribly dysfunctional” is the show, basically. Less catchy than “Scandal,” though.
Kendra: It wasn’t so much the adopting of a baby of color that surprised me so much as it was the fact that they were shown doing it within America instead of going somewhere on the African continent. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with international adoption (when it’s done morally and through the proper channels), but it doesn’t seem as common to see it portrayed in the media–fictionally or otherwise. And, certainly thanks to celebs like Angelina Jolie and Co., it’s not as glamourous. That said, this is the second show I’ve seen it on this season alone (Parenthood being the other).
T.F.: Worth pointing out that this is (at least) the third time Shonda has depicted a transracial adoption on one of her shows. Meredith and Derek have a black African baby on Grey’s, and Naomi adopted Betsy (who’s white) on Private Practice. It’s a pity that happened at the same time Audra MacDonald exited the show–it would have been really interesting to see a black woman as mom to a white girl. In any case, you could make the case that transracial adoptions are as much a theme in Shonda Rimes’s shows as interracial relationships.
Jordan: I don’t know if I would call James evil and corrupt. As I said before, he’s hell-bent on uncovering the truth without worrying if it destroys his life or his husband’s. He’s fairly tolerant of Cyrus’s general ridiculousness, but that seems to be the nature or their relationship. That conversation about the baby between Cyrus and James was horrible. Cyrus was certainly in his monster mode in trying to talk his husband out of looking into the miraculous awakening. Then again, evil people have spouses all the time and, at the end, James put the baby first.
Johnathan: I don’t know that evil and corrupt are how I see Cyrus’ and James’ exchange either. Certainly, they could communicate more, but I think that would undermine the overall plot here. There is a huge secret everyone is intent on hiding. Cyrus is no exception. Of course, there is going to be tension when his man knows he is withholding. In spite of the phenomena of white folks adopting babies of color, I did find James’ immediate love and affirmation of his daughter endearing.
Loree: I agree with you, Johnathan, when James held his new daughter for the first time… honestly, color wasn’t even a factor. It was a love between a baby and the person who’s obviously going to protect and love her for life.
Zach: I guess evil was a little too strong of a word, especially for James. But I do see Cyrus as corrupt, but what politician doesn’t walk this line sometimes? Especially on a television show. However, James holding that baby did pull at my heartstrings.
Joe: I mean, let’s not forget the Cyrus had a woman killed for sleeping with the President and wanting to talk about it. The man’s kind of a rat in my book.
T.F.: I have to mention this–did anyone else catch Perd Hapley of Parks and Recreation fame’s cameos in this ep? It was kind of hilarious. Distractingly so, actually.
Joe: I’m on a Netflix binge of Parks and Rec at the moment, so I’m nowhere near the point where he comes up. Womp womp. Good catch, though!
Jordan: Can we talk a bit about Liv (sometimes I call Olivia Pope “Liv”–in my head, we’re girls like that) and Edison? I like that he’s there in theory. I am tired of seeing work-centered black women on TV where singledom seems to be this unspoken default. I like that they have a history: dated years ago, were engaged, etc. I also like Rhimes populated Olivia’s orbit with a black man who runs in her circles and can be right in step with her at parties, but can they give this poor dude some purpose and teeth? I give credit to the writers for having him call Liv out because, as much as I like looking at him, I have been questioning his role outside of holding up the last leg of the love triangle (square?) for a minute. From the end of this ep and next week’s previews, it looks like he’s putting the pieces together, but I would love to have him do something other than be the safe alternative to Fitz. He’s playing what I’ve always thought of as James Marsden’s signature role (from X-Men, The Notebook, and Superman Returns): Mr. I’m-Hot-But-I’m-Not-The-One-You-Really-Want.
Joe: Ooh, Jordan, you must not have seen Bachelorette. I guess no one really did, but if you want to see James Marsden not be the nice guy, I suggest it. Actually, everyone is a terrible person in that movie.
Anyway, I do agree that Edison seems to be able to call her out so succinctly. I didn’t like the fact that he basically turned into a villain over one episode. It made him look, like…super sexually frustrated. And also powerless, ’cause with all that Chinese wall stuff, it just showed that her side of the wall is much, much more interesting.
Kendra: I tend to agree with Joe in this one, and I think that with Edison we may just have a case of a badly (or lazily) written character. Characters with motivations that seemingly change over the course of an hour are one of my major peeves.
T.F.: Absolutely agree with this. I don’t buy Edison turning into the jealous spurned lover overnight. Edison coming at her sideways like that doesn’t seem in keeping with how he was written in previous episodes. I’m also pretty creeped out by the fact that Olivia now has two men in her life who keep tabs on her in a way that shows they don’t really really respect her autonomy, with Fitz keeping tabs on her interactions with Edison and Edison trying to sniff out her relationship with Fitz. None of this is romantic or healthy.
Johnathan: Let’s talk about how Olivia put the ‘G’ in “Goodbye [Edison]!” The look in her eye as Edison tried to intimidate her. She was giving easy, breezy gangsta in that scene, right before the camera pulls back and we go to commercial.
Joe: I made that the header image cause it was pretty sweet. I kind of wanted a nurse to walk by and just give her a high five.
Jordan: What I liked there was the fact I felt like Olivia wasn’t doing it because it was Fitz she was protecting, she was doing it because it was a client she was protecting. Yes, it was Fitz, but Edison was trying to get in the way of her doing what she had to do and she had to let him know “I’m Olivia Pope, dammit. Don’t try to play me.”
Johnathan: Definitely. But client or no client, it can stop at, “I’m Olivia Pope, dammit.”
Zach: ”Super sexually frustrated”–good one, Joe! I agree. He is becoming a darker character lately, and it seems to all hinge on the glaring fact that he’s not getting any from Liv. I am just afraid at what’s on the horizon for Rhimes, I am seeing the usual trope of “angry black man” coming soon, but in a different light. This black man is super-powerful and has it out for the president and Liv. And he will use the “law” (remember when he said something along the lines of “I make the law!” when he and Liv had their moment in the hospital?) against Liv due to her involvement in Operation Lie to America carried out by the First Lady.
Jordan: I do wonder if that is a racial choice. If Liv’s man was Asian or white would the writers have him going along, or is it more about the character of who Edison is rather than the race of the man playing him (if you can ever truly separate the two)? I am curious about tonight’s episode. With Fitz awake, seems like the smart move would be to get with the program, put on your Team Fitz shirt and stand silently next to Liv hoping all is forgiven and forgotten but, from the trailers, it looks like Edison is digging his heels in. Angry black man or spurned suitor, regardless of color? As I said, if he puts his emotions before his job and the prospect of further power, he will have little company among these folks.
Johnathan: The scene where Olivia asks Mellie to forge President Grant’s Camp David paperwork caught my eye. Yes, the First Lady concocts and carries out this treasonous lie. Yes, Olivia is caught in the middle of this love triangle. But Rhimes poured so much authenticity into the writing when she had Olivia call out Mellie’s white-girl moment. Despite these ladies’ history, Liv tells the First Lady to “pull it together” because she’s (Olivia) doing everything else outside of distracting Sally. It read less Superwoman, more reality check. Get a grip, Mellie.
Jordan: I don’t know, it felt like a bit of a Superwoman Moment to me in part because I kind of like Mellie. Mel (I call her Mel because we’re not down like Liv and I, but I consider her cool) is sharing her husband, and half the secret service knows it. She puts a smile on her face and the sting of that aside because Olivia is better than anyone at her job and, like the Clintons, the glue in the Grant marriage is power, not love or fidelity. Yes, (as Rhimes put in Olivia’s mouth) it evokes images we remember from slavery, but Liv is no slave. Everyone here is a consenting adult. I love that this show allows Liv to cry and be weak sometimes. Sometimes she is a hot mess sobbing on the floor holding someone else’s husband’s sweatshirt, but then she pulls herself together. Mellie was having a private, half-breakdown moment with just the two of them. She put aside her (quite justified) resentment towards Liv and reached out to a fellow woman, the only woman, who knows what she is going through. I didn’t want them to start a beautiful friendship, or sit and cry together–Olivia is not Mellie’s shoulder to cry on–but I would have liked a moment between them. Just a look or a word. Instead, Olivia acted like a “strong black woman” even though she was falling apart, too.
Johnathan: I wonder how much of that is due to our pre-exposure to and perseverance of these types of representations for Black women. If all we ever see on television are images of “strong black women,” how do we make sense of a character that echoes the familiar without necessarily falling into that same trap? There’s a depth to Olivia’s emotion, albeit clouded by the fact the man she loves is lying unconscious in a hospital bed. Her emotions weren’t reductive, which is rarely afforded within myths of Superwomen. We’ve seen Olivia worried. We’ve seen her ecstatic. We’ve seen her attitude. We’ve seen her impassioned. Why can’t we see her shut down her emotional side and remain professional with someone she probably has little concern for? Sure, we’ve seen Olivia guarded before, but Mellie is the beneficiary to something Olivia feels invested in. She is a roadblock–or perhaps even representative of–something Liv grew to desire. Let’s not forget this isn’t the first time Olivia is cleaning up a disaster that Mellie created. While I’d eventually like to see a reconciliatory moment between the women, this wasn’t that moment.
T.F.: Was I the only one who thought Olivia had a lot of nerve to talk to Mellie the way she did? Whatever one thinks of her relationship with Fitz, Mellie is still his wife, and they have (magically invisible!) children together. It just seemed a little…bold of her to pull the “I’m keeping it together, why aren’t you?” card on Mellie. And to make matters worse, it was right after Mellie–very kindly, I thought, given their relationship–asked how Olivia was holding up. Olivia didn’t reciprocate the concern. I wasn’t amused.
Joe: What is up with TV shows not casting the kids! In Ringer (RIP) they would mention a character’s kids every single episode being at school or on a trip or at a friends house for the night. If you’re not going to cast them, Scandal, stop talking about them.
Jordan: I just have to say that having talked big and bad about how I understand why Hollis shot Fitz and how Mellie and Olivia should just accept each other, et cetera, I squealed and clapped my hands like a small child when Fitz woke up and called Olivia. I even did a “Fitz is awake” chant around my room. Just because I think about it critically doesn’t’ mean I don’t get sucked in.
Zach: Jordan, I did the same thing! But can I back up a little from that moment and talk about Liv laying on Fitz in the hospital bed? I have never wanted my name to be Olivia Pope so badly in my life. I love that for some reason, every time I see them together, I don’t find myself wanting to yell, “Cheaters!”, at them like I have done during other shows and movies. It may be because they just love each other so much that I really don’t care that the “sanctity of marriage” is being challenged.
Loree: Zach I’m torn, too. Yes Fitz is married but that chemistry he has with Olivia is just…amazing. I mean, who doesn’t want that? I understand the commonality of wives who stay with their cheating husbands in the political world, but I’m finding that recently these wives do end up leaving in the end once they are basically out of that world. I think its obvious that Mellie loves the power more than she loves Fitz. Fitz’s and Olivia’s love for each other is intense, but their love for their country is priority. As it was said earlier, Fitz is the most innocent of the bunch, and the “secret society of the Washington Elite” is really running things. Of course, the sanctity of marriage should be of top importance, but you never know when and who you’ll fall in and out of love with. There’s but so much we can and cannot control.
Joe: I think Shonda is…sort of challenging that notion that cheaters are adulterous, lusty hellhounds. Especially when your lead character is one of two in the affair. Olivia is a woman who’s proven time and time again to be flawed but virtuous where it counts. So calling her, or Fitz, terrible people (in totality) for cheating doesn’t exactly fly. They did the same thing in The Good Wife: [spoiler alert] when Peter Florrick cheats, it sends their world into a tailspin, but Alicia Florrick chooses to stay with him. But then, while Peter Florrick is in jail (his character isn’t exactly a spotless politician), Alicia cheats on him (sort of, they’re like, half-separated at this point) with her boss Will Gardner. Then, Peter gets out of jail, and he and Alicia reunite. And clearly you can tell Will and Alicia are better suited for each other but, for now, she remains in the arms of the wrong one, remaining the title of the show. For now.
T.F.: I have to say the quiet “hi” Fitz says to Olivia was the first time I was really moved by any of their interactions. It was touching. But most of the time I’m not here at all for Fitz and Olivia.
Kendra: Am I the only one who thinks the show could have been that much more interesting if they’d taken the risk of having Fitz actually die? Given the full cast of characters they have, it definitely could have moved on without him, and hey…there’s a season’s worth of plot without Cases Of The Week right there. I don’t know how well this team of writers would be able to handle that much political intrigue, but I would’ve kinda respected them for taking the chance.
Loree: Honestly, one of the main reasons I watch Scandal is because of the passion between Fitz and Olivia. Killing Fitz would not have saved the show. I think that’s what drew people in, and people continue to watch because of the other storylines and fantastic actors. People love drama: I think killing Fitz would’ve killed something in Olivia. I think she needs him in her life as part of it with or without her.
T.F.: Shonda would never let that happen. Olivia and Fitz are tru wuv and that’s that–they have to end up together. Like Derek and Meredith (another star-crossed couple where the dude is stuck in an unhappy marriage). That’s my theory, anyway.
Joe: I never caught on to that Shonda theme, T.F. Probably because Grey’s Anatomy deprives my brain’s entertainment center of oxygen. I wonder if any of her other shows are like that.
Johnathan: I’m watching to see if Fitz and Liv decide to reignite the flame, at least to a flicker. Tragedy has a way of bringing people back together.
Zach: Or it has a way of destroying relationships. So, we shall see.
Joe: So! Now that this whole assassination thing is basically over, after Fitz stumbles around a bit and touches his head dramatically but still gets the job done (I really hope that’s what’s happening tonight), will the polling issue take full attention, will it go back to a “Scandal of the Week”, or is something else horrible going to happen to the Grants and Liv? What do you, the reader, think?