Scandal s4 ep 14

An African-American lies dead, shot by a Caucasian cop. It’s difficult to think of a more authentically hot-button issue than that at the moment, certainly in the American context. Olivia is called in by the Washington police to “handle the optics”, which isn’t easy: the deceased is 17-year-old Brandon Parker; a neighbourhood activist is on the scene, with the intention – quite properly, some might say – of using the incident to inflame tensions; and Brandon’s father Clarence (a remarkable turn by Courtney B. Vance) is standing over his son’s body with a shotgun, demanding to see the officer who killed his son.

The optics aren’t so good, as Olivia realises. Nonetheless, the cop (Michael Welch, also excellent) is a sympathetic character, who claims that Brandon had pulled a knife on him, and he was in fear of his life. Huck and Quinn get to work in the background trying to prove or disprove this allegation. Meantime, though, Olivia’s attempts to calm the situation – including trying to get David Rosen down to the site – are unsuccessful, and she’s confronted by the police chief, who poses a question that she’s evidently been grappling with throughout: “Whose side are you on here?” Not the cops’ side, she decides.

The tone is lightened a little by the B-plot, in which Fitz tries to find a new vice-president, on the basis that Andrew is now “a pumpkin” (Cyrus). There are another couple of nice Fitz/Mellie moments, and eventually it’s the garrulous but good-hearted Susan Ross (played beautifully by Artemis Pebdani. I love Pebdani in this. Actually, I loved her in Masters of Sex as well. Come to think of it, I kind of love her) who is identified; Tony Goldwyn’s droll, wordless reactions to Ross’s chattering are a joy.

But we can’t stay with the B-plot forever. I’m honestly not sure what I made of this episode. (I should at this point acknowledge personal privilege, and the good fortune to live in a country with proper gun control laws and a police force which isn’t routinely armed.) Allowing that a 45 minute long episode of a network drama sometimes needs to paint with broad strokes, I wonder whether the ending could have done with a little more nuance: did the position about the knife need to be so clear-cut? Did the shooter need to deliver a verging-on-racist monologue?

To be clear, though, I’m worrying about this from a dramatic point of view; I’m in no doubt, no doubt at all, that the points the episode was making are points which, tragically, need to be made over and over again. The penultimate scene – soundtracked by Nina Simone singing ‘I Shall Be Released’ – in which Clarence thinks he’s being taken home, but is instead taken into the Oval Office, had me in tears; and the final scene was like a slap in the face. ‘The Lawn Chair’ wasn’t a perfect episode of TV, but it was, I think, an important and worthwhile one.

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2 thoughts on “Scandal s4 ep 14

  1. CPS April 15, 2015 / 2:36 pm

    Yes, this was one of my favorite episodes of season four. I love Susan Ross and Fitz’s facial reactions were perfect (Tony Goldwyn is underrated as an actor). As usual the Susan Ross selection will backfire on (privileged and entitled) Melllie since she is underestimating Susan Ross. Also Susan’s comment about her daughter being safe from the police because she is white, upper middle class and the child of a politician was on point but she could still empathize with the father of the murdered child unlike Mellie who is focused on herself.

    All the performances in this episode were great (Fitz, Susan, Mellie, Olivia, David, the activist, the father, the cop and even the background extras). That activist was good but he had some nerve thinking he gets to decide if Olivia is black enough by his definition. I predict Olivia will have to save his ass at some point and he will become a gladiator at OPA.

    The cop’s rant was unconscious racism (those people owe me respect for being willing to work in their shitty neighborhood, etc.) so it just spewed out of him. The scene worked because we felt sorry for the cop in the beginning when he expressed remorse and then we find out the real story.

    Also, Olivia’s scene with David when she compared expecting to die while held hostage to the daily existence of black people when dealing with life and the police was powerful.

    Then we get to the ending scene and I too was in tears – Nina Simone’s beautiful song and Courtney B. Vance’s breakdown in Fitz arms – two father who lost sons from two different worlds.

    This episode did polarize the audience and I saw comments from viewers mainly white and pro-police who said they were offended and would not watch the show any longer. Then the ratings for Scandal starting falling. However I felt this Ferguson inspired episode was way better than the episode on The Good Wife where they attempted it in a heavy handed method from a rich white viewpoint.

  2. Jed Bartlet April 15, 2015 / 6:06 pm

    Agree with just about all of this, CPS (apart from the bit about The Good Wife: I know that a lot of people didn’t think their ‘Ferguson’ episode was successful, but we haven’t seen it yet). After watching this episode I had a look at some of the online reaction from when it was shown in America, and it did seem to polarize the audience. Which is a shame: part of what made the cop’s rant so powerful was its lack of overtly racist language and, to a certain extent, self-awareness; he wouldn’t for a second have considered himself a racist.

    Susan Ross is an interesting one. I can see that it would be easy to underestimate her, after the way in which she stumbled into the Senate and the Vice-Presidency, right up to the point at which she stumbles into the nomination instead of Mellie.

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