Scandal: Randy, Red, Superfreak, and Julia

A rare photo of Fitz brooding while facing away from a window.
“Are we gladiators or are we bitches?”

After a roller coaster last season that had me screaming both “I love this show!” and “I hate this show!” at spectacularly high volumes, what will the future hold for Scandal and its legion of adoring gladiators?

My honest opinion? This was not a bad season opener. It got Liv back to Washington (like she’d ever stay away) and reestablished our characters as having changed after last season’s events but still being familiar. That’s what it had to do. But did it go above and beyond the minimum requirements for a season premiere?

My big problem with Scandal has become that Olivia Pope doesn’t act, she reacts. I don’t want to say “total lack of agency,” but... A large part of that comes from her father being in the picture. Before he emerged as a force last season, Olivia was still embattled at work and involved in an occasionally problematic affair with an occasionally problematic married man/the leader of the free world. But then Daddy Pope showed up and Olivia ended up being batted between two ultra powerful men like a fluffy little cat toy. A fluffy little cat toy who didn’t realize that she was being manipulated and ran to Daddy every time she got scratched without the acknowledgement that he was the one who scratched her.

I liked this episode because Olivia made her own choices. She went against the wishes of her father and Jake when she left the island and when she refused to leave Washington again. She made a decision to take on Senator Vaughn’s case, and later, Kate’s case. If the show can keep up with Olivia’s independent womanhood, I may just be willing to let it back into my heart.

My big criticism of the episode is less of a criticism and more of a question. Why was so much focus placed on Harrison’s death? He was the least of all of the Popeheads, to be sure. He was generally just...there. Last season it looked like they were going to give him something serious but they never really followed through with that promise. The reason Harrison is gone is that Columbus Short chose to leave the show at the end of last season (or was fired...) after some legal trouble earlier this year.

My question is why draw so much attention to their little...personnel problem. Reminding us that Harrison died offscreen over the hiatus just reminds us that Short was fired (or chose to leave) and takes us out of the Scandalverse to ruminate on the real life scandal surrounding Short and then uncomfortably forces us back into the Scandalverse and asks us to bewail the loss of Harrison Wright. Who we are now thinking of as Columbus Short. Who is accused of domestic assault. It takes away from the death of character, or at least it did for me. If Harrison had died last year I might’ve been sad in passing but now all I can think is, yeah, I know Short left, can we move on? They could’ve written him off with so much more grace.

And then the sheer volume of stuff that occurred unseen over the hiatus boggles the mind. I hate when TV shows tell us what happened rather than showing us. That’s one reason large time jumps don’t agree with me. When Scandal’s used them previously they’ve worked because they’ve marked periods of relative inactivity. But here we’re being told that while we’ve been away Abby and David’s relationship imploded, Huck and Quinn broke up, Huck decided to leave his family forever, Harrison was killed (presumably by Tom) and disposed of in the desert, Harrison was found, Olivia was found, the president tried to kill himself, there was a major political shake up in the White House...you get the idea. It really is sloppy storytelling to drop so many important plot points in expository format. I suppose the writers wanted to keep Olivia away for as long as possible to make sure her return had a real impact and it would’ve seemed weird if everything had been exactly the same as when she left. I wonder if we’ll eventually get one of Scandal’s wonderful flashback episodes going over everything, or at the very least the personal drama in the White House.

Speaking of, Tom is still protecting the president, leading me to believe Fitz is still not aware of the true identity of his son’s murderer. Do we still have to worry about Tom or has Shonda played her hand there? Is Chekhov’s gun still loaded or will he just hover like a malevolent presence in the background of shots? If that’s what’s going to happen, it will be extremely distracting. As I recall, the only characters who know about Tom’s real allegiance are Rowan and Harrison, who, as this episode has made extremely clear, is dead.

Does Josie’s Law apply to Harrison? We didn’t see the body but I think we can safely assume the characters did, right? After Columbus Short chose to leave (or was fired) they could hardly ask him back to lay on a slab for a few hours while they shot a scene. So is it safe to say he’s really dead? This isn’t Alias, so I’m going to go with yes. Also, if he did come back from the dead after an entire episode dedicated to mourning him, that would be extremely annoying.

Rowan lied to Olivia’s face about his involvement in Harrison’s death. Although, to be fair to Rowan, all we saw was his operative with a gun to Harrison’s head. Quite possibly Harrison escaped only to decide to hike through the desert where he died of dehydration conveniently close to the body of Adnan Salif, who was killed by Rowan (via Tom) at the end of last season. Rowan also lies about killing Maya, in this case informing Olivia that she’s dead when, last the audience saw of her, she was in the hole. He told Fitz the same lie at the end of last season.

It seems to me that all the Popeheads were better off without Liv around. Well, maybe not Quinn, but she certainly wasn’t worse off. Abby at least is doing very well, breakup with David aside. She has a high profile job working in the White House, even if Cyrus won’t call her anything but “Red.” For a minute I thought Scandal had committed a continuity booboo. In the first season, Abby was staunchly liberal and disliked all Republicans with a real fervor. I’m not saying that would necessarily keep her from taking an awesome job, just that I’m glad her disapproval of her boss’s politics was at least noted. As for Huck, I really don’t care about Huck. He is irredeemable after his actions last season, at least to me. It disgusts me that Quinn so badly wants to see the man who tortured her and then sexually assaulted her and then became her boyfriend. That entire dynamic. Ew.

But Abby. Abby deserves everything she has now. She worked tirelessly for her best friend (“over a cliff!”) only to be abandoned by her in last season’s closer. Abby started out being my least favorite character but at this point she’s pretty much the only character who I want good things for. Well, also David. And Mellie. Oh, Mellie. I really lost track of how many times I said that out loud while watching. Oh, Mellie. When she laid on top of Jerry’s grave I almost cried.

The White House scenes were the best this week. Bellamy Young once again knocks it out of the park. From her first appearance, she is obviously changed. Control freak Mellie with not a hair out of place has devolved into a truly defeated woman. She wears pajamas all day (which some might consider a valid lifestyle choice), eats cereal straight from the box, and openly drinks during the day. She is washing her hair, though. Not brushing it, but she’s washing it; it’s clean.

Fitz is holding it together surprisingly well. He did have “one bad night” and he tried to kill himself. Since then, however, Fitz seems to have kicked into political gear to do some honorable, Jed Bartlet-style work. Working with the other party, appointing qualified people to important positions regardless of their politics, passing bills that are designed to make the American people’s lives better, you know, the kind of stuff that only happens in movies and TV shows.

Bits and Pieces

I have once again added an Oxford comma to the title. Yes, it bothers me that much.

“Julia Baker” sure dressed a lot like Olivia Pope. Everything elegant and in black and white. Sweetie, you’re on a private island, you’re allowed to let yourself go a bit.

It may be worth noting that Kerry Washington just had a baby and still looked amazing in a swimsuit.

David’s ambition to be Attorney General was mentioned very early in the series. It may even have been the pilot, come to think of it.

Ironically, this episode, which features a vacancy in the position of Attorney General, originally aired on the same day real life Attorney General Eric Holder resigned. Life imitating art?

Senator Sterling was apparently known as “the Lion of the Hill,” a nickname quite possibly fashioned after real life Senator Ted Kennedy’s “the Lion of the Senate.” Although if so, I think that shows questionable taste given Sterling’s history of sexual harassment and assault.

Whatever faults this show has, its soundtrack is not one of them. The song selections, in this case “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” are always perfect.

Quotes

Mellie: “You wanna get our party of good ole boys to admit that the possession of a vagina doesn’t automatically mean that a sister should get docked 32 cents on the dollar?”
You know the expression ‘the lights are all on but nobody’s home?’ Reverse that. Mellie’s mind is clearly as sharp as ever it was, she’s just no longer interested in putting on the First Lady show. And, after all she’s been through, can we really blame her?

Olivia: “I can never tell when you’re lying. I can never trust my gut when it comes to you.”
Well, yeah. He’s a spy. That’s his job.

David: “I own blue boxers with little donkeys on them.”
I feel that this quote benefits from a lack of context.

Abby: “I have red hair!”
David: “You have a colorist!”

Mellie: “Are you afraid I’ll jump? It’s not that far down. I’d maybe sprain an ankle. I could dive, land on my head, but those two sweet Marines would run over and try to catch me and I’d fall on them and end up breaking their necks and the lawsuits...”

Fitz: “Don’t ever bring that up again.”
Mellie: “I will add it to the list. Dead kid, missing mistress, Mellie’s rape, Fitz’s suicide.”
I feel like it’s important that Mellie referred to herself in the third person here.

two and a half out of four boxes of super secret, color-coded files

sunbunny, who considers wearing pajamas all day a valid lifestyle choice

5 comments:

sunbunny said...

Just thought I'd add that this review should not be taken as a promise to review the whole season. My plan is to do reviews for now, but if this season makes me as angry as the last one, you'll probably only see sporadic posts from me. I think it borders on self-indulgent to repeatedly post reviews that are nothing but me bitching for 1000+ words. It's really not what we do here.

Billie Doux said...

Well, I enjoyed your review more than the episode, so there's that.

Yes, I definitely agree that it's promising. I really enjoyed Mellie lying about the White House in her pajamas, probably more than anything else. Abby was fun, too. And I would very much like it if Liv's return doesn't un-Bartlet Fitz.

Why couldn't Huck and Quinn just disappear the way Harrison did, over the break?

Nadim said...

Sunbunny the actress who plays Mama Pope is Khandi Alexandre! Hehe not Queen V from Orange is the New Black!
They do both have the evil vibe going on though so I can see why you confused them!

sunbunny said...

Ah! Of course! Can you tell my knowledge of the Scandalverse is rusty? :)

ChrisB said...

The best part of this episode was Cyrus telling Fitz that "this is a movie we have all seen a hundred times." It certainly is.

Although none of the characters particularly appeal to me any more, I keep watching. Mostly for Mellie. I love the new Mellie.