By Arturo R. García
The thing about requiem episodes is, they serve as a way for a show to reset itself while exploring how the characters doing so after a particularly noteworthy loss. In the case of Scandal, last week’s clearing of the decks also showed the show bumping up against its own self-imposed limits more visibly than usual.
SPOILERS UNDER THE CUT
You can see some of that in the photo above: Look at Olivia’s face as she finds herself with calls for help from each of her merry misanthropes. It’s not hard to imagine her realizing that she cultivated this by forging such a tight bond with her Gladiators and making sure she is the go-to person for them. At least, she probably should after her latest chat with Eli.
See, we know why Olivia has to be in this position: it’s because Kerry Washington’s the star and she’s reliably compelling to watch, etc. But Eli’s “That is the point of you” remarks add another layer to the lack of agency that has come to define her; Olivia exists as both a point of leverage between Eli, Fitz and Jake and one of refuge for her team.
As we see in her investigation of James’ death, she’s at the center of everything, yet connected to no one. But, because she is who she is in both our world and the Scandalverse, there’s no chance of her doing the sensible thing and packing up for a career in Hollywood, saving the Justin Biebers of the world from themselves. At least, not yet. The upside to this latest bout of O-nnui is, the show may be offering both her and us a new wrinkle on the Vermont scenario. Maybe her great escape doesn’t have to be with Fitz, after all.
Unfortunately, Jake’s actions in the aftermath of his killing James don’t show that level of nuance. Because, for starters, the guy kills a White House correspondent and a National Security Agency employee and his first thought is … burying them in a field in broad daylight? As espionage smarts go, that puts him closer to Dwight Schrute than James Bond. Here’s to hoping that more people start asking what happened to Vanessa Chandler and Shelby Moss, not just because they were part of the show’s bloodiest single scene yet, but because to not have any subsequent investigations requires too many people outside of the core cast to carry Idiot Balls. And that’s the kind of thing that allows people to dismiss this show as “kitsch.” (Also, how sad is it that Vanessa and Shelby weren’t even around long enough to get bios in the Scandal Wiki?)
Put it this way: House of Cards digs up a bit of Senate procedural trivia and, because everybody loves Kevin Spacey’s Boss Hogg-meets-Shere Khan act, it’s held up as a Serious Show. Meanwhile, losing characters like Shelby, Vanessa and Rep. Marcus costs Scandal chances to dig deeper into what the Grant administration means outside of the bubble the show has created around the Gladiators, the Grants and B-613.
Those types of missed opportunities undermine the feeling of loss that this episode was able to create otherwise. Because James’ death does mean something, and it should. But the way the show is structured right now, there’s no indication that Jake will be forced to pay for that in any meaningful way, nor that his crime will impact the Republic he supposedly tried to protect by killing him.
- I had some of the same concerns watching Cyrus and James’ romance bloom in the flashback sequences — the ballroom scene makes it almost wholly implausible that nobody would use their relationship as a political weapon against Fitz — but give credit to Jeff Perry and Dan Bucatinsky for conjuring up a mini rom-com that was actually romantic enough to rise above my issues with the plotting.
- Speaking of politics, it was interesting to watch how the show shaded Fitz and Sally as different types of conservatives here, and not just because Sally is an antagonistic figure. It’s Mellie, for example, who delivers the boilerplate “gun lobby” talking points, and the look on Fitz’s face as James and Cy started dancing put him closer to center-left (and thus, Acceptable TV Liberalism) than ever.
- To back up an extra week, it was utterly ridiculous to see Sally already debating Fitz and Gov. Reston out of the blue. If the show weren’t so close to wrapping this season, seeing Sally actually have to earn her political stripes — debating against Constitution Party and Green Party candidates, for example — would have added more steel to her character’s journey.
- Who’s going to be the first person to use a Camelot reference regarding the impending Fitz/Mellie/Gov. Nichols triangle?
- Huck’s gushing over Quinn’s skills should be filed in the Unreliable Narrator dossier ASAP, because it’s been tough to buy her Special Agent Power-Ups. Also, wouldn’t it just be easier to say she slipped up in not noticing the camera?
- If Olivia is serious about taking B-613 down, why doesn’t she just ask Fitz to begin trimming its funding? If he was able to install Jake as Command, he should be able to do that too, right?