By Kendra James
This was one of the more bearable (and by bearable, I’m only half-sure I mean “better”) episodes of Scandal this season. Meaning that, with that came the exposure of one of the major weaknesses secreted away in the show’s Writer’s Room: they’re having trouble seamlessly weaving in the procedural “Scandal of the Week” cases (that they, for some reason, feel obligated to produce) with the show’s main political intrigue-driven plot.
You can be a procedural-run NCIS or you can be a plot-driven Nashville. It takes a lot of talent and a primetime cable slot (or a neglected Thursday night 8pm blackhole on NBC) to pull off multiple genres. I’m not sure Scandal is there yet. Last night’s offering felt like two different episodes: one that dealt directly with the story and characters at hand and one that they just threw together to settle up whatever was left of Eric Maibus’ ABC contract from Ugly Betty.
SPOILERS UNDER THE CUT
We pick up finding Liv on a date with Jake, who may be the fastest-talking character on the show yet. “This is a date,” he insists, before sweeping her out of a perfectly serviceable-looking restaurant to take her for a picnic at–well, on, really–the much less comfortable the Jefferson Memorial. Let’s be real though: this is a date Fitz is probably kicking himself for not coming up with first, complete with Hemmings and Jefferson reenactment costume gear!
Knowing that Fitz would be super-jealous (because, surprise! They know each other), Jake doesn’t share the details of their date when he meets with the president in the Oval Office later that night. We do learn that Fitz is behind the Jigsaw-creepy camera setup Jake has in his apartment, once again marking Fitz as The Worst. Just. The. Worst. Ignore what your Thursday night Facebook feed tells you; none of this is romantic, and it’s worrying to see it interpreted that way by fans of the show. Olivia and Fitz are undoubtedly the show’s main couple–maybe even the Endgame Couple–but, until Fitz shows some major growth as a decent human being, we shouldn’t be rooting for it. Especially now that it’s moved from sexually abusive to outright stalking and privacy invasion. Unfortunately, the writers haven’t given viewers a viable, interesting alternative, so for those who are here for the romantic drama Olivia and Fitz’s “relationship” is the only place to turn.
The episode-within-an-episode starts once we leave the Oval Office with a jaunty retro song montage (this time, not to Stevie Wonder) about a gubernatorial candidate who’s slumping in the polls, seen as devoid of masculinity because he doesn’t have a spouse. Team White Hat needs to find him a wife. And they do but, as I mentioned before, it all seems so secondary to everything else that’s going on. That’s a shame, too, as there are some good elements in here. I enjoyed Liv’s initial breakdown of why his potentially being gay would be less of a problem than his complete lack of dating history either way. The interviews of the potential wifely candidates are chuckle-worthy. And Liv’s “Secrets” speech at the end? Definitely one of the better monologues of the season, even if she is obviously talking about herself. I just wish it hadn’t been placed in resolution to a plot that seemed so far away from everything else.
Ignoring the future governor, we check in on Fitz in the White House making very president-like decisions. Calling for drone strikes, for instance, after a video of an American hostage death is released by an ambiguous-yet-obviously-evil terrorist group of a Middle Eastern country. Despite the rather unimaginative (read: stereotypical) rendering of the Middle Eastern Terrorist Bogeyman, this whole incident gives a nice moment for Cyrus to lay out American foreign policy for the audience in layman’s terms. He doesn’t care whether he’s blowing up terrorists or civilian wedding parties, he tells Mellie, so long as the world knows something’s exploding. The trick now is to get the president to agree, and that task goes to Mellie with the understanding that she give Cyrus credit for the idea.
Yeah right, like that was going to happen.
In a scene that I found rather surprising, Fitz informs three of his advisers that drone strikes were his wife’s idea. I know Scandal is a woman’s world, but I definitely raised an eyebrow when the POTUS told three male advisers that he was making military decisions based on his wife’s advice. It could be that I’m too cynical, but that just didn’t strike me as something that would be shared within such an Old Boys club.
Of course, the most damning aspect of this is that Cyrus is in the room and knows that Mellie took the credit. We all know that you double cross Cyrus only on pain of death, so it’s no surprise when he goes and hands Mellie up to a reporter on a platter. By the time we get to the end of the episode the First Couple seem to have taken another ten steps (maybe even ten months) back.
The end also brings us another check in between Jake and Fitz (“No, sir, I’m not romancing the woman you have me Fatal Attraction-ing”) and the revelation that the director of the CIA framed David Rosen for murder. But how many of us are actually paying attention to the David Rosen plot?
Come on, be honest.
- Some friends have been debating whether or not Harrison is gay. I wasn’t really giving it much thought until his short defense of the Governor-to-be last night. Could he, like Olivia was later, have been talking about himself then?
- No one mentioned Gladiators or White Hats last night, while I found fewer nitpicky things to be annoyed with. I think there’s a correlation.
- Given Quinn’s relative uselessness, I’m convinced she should have been a six-episode guest star and vanished for good after that. This show has a lot of moving parts, and she never quite seems to be keeping up. Is it the writing or the actress?
- For all of its flaws, Scandal does have a knack for pulling in relevant topics of the day and working them into the story without making the viewer feel like they’re just reliving the year in current events (*cough* The Newsroom).
The effects of torture and veteran PTSD would be two of those topics. Huck most likely has PSTD due to being waterboarded, which should make for interesting television so long as it doesn’t actually disappear and never recur, along with the rain. That said, Shonda’s been writing medical dramas for almost a decade at this point, so I have to trust that this would be handled appropriately.