By Tope Fadiran Charlton, Arturo R. García and Kendra James
After threatening to go out by blowing the president up, Scandal ended its third season by making him whimper, in an oddly melancholy episode that actually did seem to change everything for Olivia Pope and her associates — if not end them altogether.
Remember, the series has not been confirmed for renewal, even if signs suggest we’ll see a new season announced soon.
But do we even want to see the show return after a third season that was inconsistent at best? For this special edition, Arturo and Kendra were joined by friend of the blog Tope Fadiran Charlton, whose work can also be found at Are Women Human?
SPOILERS under the cut
So, what worked for you this season? Or was it a total write-off?
Tope: Rowan, definitely. He had the lion’s share of the best lines and the most memorable scenes. He’s the first character in a while that walks the line that Scandal at its best does so well: recognizably terrifying and thoroughly amoral, but still somehow a character that you (or at least, I) like and find yourself torn between rooting for and being appalled by. I especially love his unapologetic Blackness. I know I’m not the only Black viewer who found myself nodding along to his monologues about needing to be twice as good or how the white president is an entitled little boy. And nobody, not nobody, can tell someone about themselves like Rowan can. He must have been a dream for Shonda and the Scandal team to write, and so much fun to play for Joe Morton.
I have to confess I missed a few episodes in the second half of the season, so I didn’t get to see as much of Mama Pope. But what I did see of her had me a bit underwhelmed. She wasn’t as fleshed out or complex a villain as, say, Rowan or Cyrus.
Kendra: I have to agree with Tope. I’m still not onboard with the One Monologue Per Episode clause that’s clearly written into Joe Morton’s contract, but I found him to at least be one of the more consistent characters on the show this season. And he’s certainly the most intensely involved Black parent on television that I can think of since Sisko.
Tope: “Intensely involved” is a very diplomatic euphemism for Rowan’s parenting philosophy.
Kendra: Hah! As I said in one of the few recaps I wrote this season, I can at least believe that Rowan and Maya could have raised a child together. Neither of them misses an opportunity to remind Olivia that she’s made a career out of cleaning up after incompetent white men.
Other than Rowan’s (and Jake’s) character consistency I wasn’t overly enthralled with this as a cohesive season of television. Adnan, Maya, David, Harrison, and Abby all felt superfluous — like threads that weren’t properly woven in at the end. James’ death, while probably one of the better handled lines of the season, marked the departure of one of the few sympathetic characters left. Someone we’d actually been allowed to grow attached to through, amazingly, plot development, and screentime.
And finally: this marked a third season of dramatic tension overlayed with “Papa Was A Rolling Stone.” I love a show with a gimmick, but this has got to stop.
Tope: The music on the show, pardon the pun, is a little too one-note. Three seasons of funk is enough. Other music exists.
Arturo: I felt there were moments where various members of the ensemble did more with the material they were given than perhaps even the show desired. Kate Burton managed to take Sally’s descent into instability in a compelling direction before Sally was snapped out of it and shunted into the background; Khandi Alexander provided a stellar counterpoint to Joe Morton, with Maya and Rowan turning into this show’s agents of chaos and order, respectively. And against all odds, Tony Goldwyn and Kerry Washington managed to make it plausible seeing two people seemingly so wrong for each other continue to insist on giving it a go.
I’d still call “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” my favorite episode of the season, since it provided enough warmth to counter the encroaching darkness facing the Gladiators. But as I’ve mentioned throughout this home stretch, playing each of these elements against an election story blunted all of them too much for comfort.
We left Harrison in an open-ended situation, since, theoretically, he still had time to talk himself out of B613’s crosshairs. Obviously, this is more complicated when one factors in Columbus Short’s apparent issues. Your thoughts on how the show should approach this?
Arturo: I can’t say I support him continuing to be in the show in light of these multiple allegations of assault. At least not at the moment, and the show has ample opportunity here to write him out while a) these allegations are heard in court and b) Short gets the help he apparently seems to require.
Kendra: I think we should all mentally prepare ourselves for a Harrison v. 2.0 next fall.
Given that Harrison’s most developed character trait is, “I wear loud suspenders” the show isn’t going to lose anything when it’s revealed that he’s not emerging from that room next season (as I suspect is going to happen). Aside from Olivia and Huck* I find most of Pope and Associates to be pretty replaceable and his departure might even do the show some good. Even before his IRL issues, Harrison wasn’t getting that much screentime or plot. I’m still blurry as to the full nature of his relationship with Adnan and the other disposable woman they found dead at a bus stop a few episodes back.
*(And, to be perfectly fair, Huck isn’t earning any points either with this Huck/Quinn thing.)
Arturo: So Huck goes from not caring that Maya’s loose because he’s hooking up with Quinn to telling her off entirely because she told him about her family to going to his family after getting encouragement from Olivia. I get internal conflict and all, but maybe Charlie had the right idea packing up and ditching the whole situation (even if he was ultimately wrong about the result of giving Quinn the file).
Tope: I’m assuming Harrison’s number is up, and that the same goes for Columbus Short. Shonda Rhimes has to cut that sucker loose. I get the sense she has little patience for behind-the-scenes trouble with her actors since the controversy over Isaiah Washington’s use of homophobic slurs (have to note that he’s since been pretty visible as an ally) and then Katherine Heigl bad-mouthing the show while she was still on it … and none of that involved physical violence or being charged with a crime. Heigl and Washington were both let go and it’s likely Short will get the same treatment. Which is right and appropriate, in my opinion.
The episode also delivered — at least for now — on the thread that Olivia really would be better off away from the Grants, the White House and Washington. How long do you give it?
Arturo: You know what this episode reminded me of? The Buffy The Vampire Slayer finales where she left town, or the Angel Season 4 finale. It felt like a point of demarcation — like the show picked this point to end this story and I’m betting we’ll go back to something closer to a Case of the Week format if/when the show returns. Hopefully we’ll get through 2-3 episodes before Olivia’s inevitable return.
I will say, though, I was annoyed at Jake going from “I’m just gonna have a beer and collect my unemployment” to hitching a ride on Pope Air. Way to fight for your job there, Ballard.
Kendra: I was more confused that Jake would get into any plane chartered by Pope Sr. given, y’know, everything we know about Rowan and planes.
Tope: Jake has been pretty consistent about the whole wanting to be with Olivia thing. Then the opportunity presents itself for him to do that and not have Fitz around to compete with? I would have been surprised if he hadn’t asked Olivia if he could go with her. When it comes to “love” the man is nothing less than a glutton for punishment.
Kendra: Even with this season being shorter due to Kerry Washington’s pregnancy the serialized, season-long multi-episode arc didn’t work out too well. Something about the storyline wasn’t tight.
This felt like a series finale to me. It’s probably going to be renewed (even if all major players’ contracts are not), but it definitely seemed like it could stand on its own. And I think the show needs more episodes that stand on their own — maybe a few that focus specifically on character development for someone other than Mellie (or something that focuses on character development for Mellie that doesn’t center around her having a horrible life). Maybe a few episodes focusing solely on the relationships within the Pope family? Just something to pull the focus back in– not every episode needs to begin with a voiceover telling me I’m going to be on the edge of my seat during the last five minutes.
I think removing David, Abbie, and Quinn would help pacing a lot to be perfectly honest.
Tope: Oh god, the sooner RobiQuinndsay is off the show, the better.
I felt this episode could stand as a series finale. There isn’t a single major character—except maybe Cyrus—who doesn’t go through a huge game-changer or major transitional point in the finale, and it feels like resolution for most of them. And for all of the mayhem and violence in this episode, there’s something oddly hopeful about the end. Not just Olivia flying off into the sunset, but Huck going back to his family. Shonda basically hit a giant reset button for the show.
My favorite scene was Olivia and Cyrus’s conversation in the hospital. Finally Olivia realizes she’s not a white hat at all. That for her is the “price of a free and fair election,” letting go of her illusions of innocence. I hope that awareness is still there when she inevitably returns to OPA. Olivia’s conviction that she’s one of the “good guys” has been both increasingly annoying and one of the reasons why she’s worse and worse at her job.
Also: as much as the election part of this episode felt rushed (c’mon, saint Sally is television gold), I loved the arc from Fitz not being able to believe he was going to lose to getting the win he assumed he deserved at the cost of pretty much everything else. Now that is irony.
Arturo: It looked like the whole election story was set up just so we could see Fitz on his knees (again) when it was all said and done. Which, hey, nice shot and all, but now they’ve played themselves out of a solid story for whenever the show really is on its way out.
Kendra: Fitz ultimately losing the election would have piqued my interest a lot more. But Art, what I suspect they’ve played themselves into is the setup for an eventual impeachment plot. Defiance won’t stay silent in the second term.
Tope: I’m definitely ready for something different from Scandal, though, so maybe it’s for the best that they got this storyline wrapped up now.
Kendra: Removing Harrison from the cast would at least free up the money to bring Jasika Nicole in as a full time cast member. Anything to pull focus away from Huck/Quinn.
Arturo: I don’t see where they can really go with Huck/Quinn anymore; Huck’s apparently going to re-establish ties with his family, which is good. But Quinn’s in the wind again; we don’t know if she’s going to keep working for B613, and there’s little to no chance Abbie will hire her in this new incarnation of OPA. More crucially, though: Does anybody really care about Quinn?
Tope: That would be a no.
The Big Reveal, of course, was that Jerry Grant Jr.’s death was the key to Rowan’s plot to reclaim the mantle of Command. Your thoughts on how that played itself out?
Arturo: I thought the episode tipped its hand just a second too soon; when Rowan told Fitz he’d killed Maya, that’s when it came together for me. (Of course, it made sense for Fitz to believe that.) It also keeps the possibility of Eli and Maya teaming up open. Perhaps in time for the next sweeps period?
Kendra: Am I a horrible person for just not caring that Jerry died? It takes a lot more than what they gave us in that one episode (the Grant kids’ first introduction) to get me invested enough to care — especially given how detached that entire family is from one another. Fitz is already naming those two unborn kids he thinks he’s having with Olivia. I think they also had the unfortunate timing of airing less than a week after the other far more impactful death of child royalty over on HBO. Once again, I think it highlights the show’s weakness– the failure to cement emotional ties between the characters and the audience which comes back around to a lot of the characters being poorly developed.
That plot felt forced too — or perhaps it was just the staging and shooting of it. At first I assumed he’d been shot or stabbed, but finding out in the final few minutes that it was a rare strain of meningitis that they’d just found out was missing? That came out of nowhere.
Tope: We can be horrible people together, Kendra. The only thing that interested me about Jerry’s death was the total absence of Baby Grant. Where is the little rugrat? Mellie and Fitz should really look into getting some professional assistance with their disappearing children problem. Anyway, seeing Fitz grieve his son’s death was literally the first time in the entire series I’ve felt the tiniest bit sorry for him. But I was more torn up for Mellie—she’s just starting to deal with how she’d kept Jerry at a distance for fear that he wasn’t Fitz’s son, and then he dies. That’s especially tragic timing.
As for Rowan — I knew as soon as he said it that he hadn’t killed Maya. It was just too pat and tidy. But I totally did not see the Jerry reveal coming.
This will probably sound terrible…but it was kind of good to see Rowan back in top form? I never bought that Jake could take over as Command in a day. I loved the flashback montage of Rowan’s monologues, going back to the first time he tried to get Olivia on that plane. This is who Rowan has always been, the whole down-and-out act was just that, biding his time until he could make his move. Also worth pointing out: Jerry’s death is also a pretty ironclad way to keep Olivia and Fitz apart, which Rowan has wanted from the beginning. I wouldn’t put it past Fitz to leave his grieving wife, but that’s a line Olivia wouldn’t cross with him. And he uses it to catch Maya? It’s a win-win-win for Rowan. This is what happens when you underestimate Command.
I for one am SO THANKFUL that the trainwreck that is Olitz (please Jesus and Shonda) finally, finally over.
Kendra: Is it though? This is why I hate straight soap operas — this Olivia/Jake/Fitz love triangle has a good five seasons of “plot” left in it by soap standards whether there’s any meat left on the bones of the story or not. The show’s main relationship and the lack of likeable people is something I’m going to need see flipped around a bit if I’m going to consider tuning in next season. I know the antihero thing is very in right now and Scandal has them in spades– but they lack substance. This show is not going to be carried on Mellie’s shoulders alone.
Tope: I dunno, between Fitz’s guilt over Mellie suffering alone after being raped and burying one of their children … those are pretty considerable obstacles for illicit love. Maybe not for Fitz, but I think (I hope) definitely for Olivia. She’d have to be a truly horrible person to do that to a grieving mother. I also felt Mellie and Fitz’s reactions to Jerry’s collapse and death was reminiscent, in a kind of awful way, of how they came together when Mellie was in labor with Baby Grant. For the period that Mellie was in labor, they were a team again; it could be the same with the much lengthier process of coming to grips with the death of their child.
Kendra: I think all of that depends on the timing of when Season 4 dumps us back into the Scandalverse. If it’s a few days to even a few months later then they’ll get to spend the time they need dealing with the fall out. I just have the feeling that they’re going to pull another massive jump so they can deal with all of that in flashbacks and put most of their energy into the love triangle.
Tope: I’m putting together my prayer circle to rebuke that as we speak.