Scandal s5 ep 9

‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ is two-thirds of a great episode, but that’s something. It’s nearly Christmas and, as Mellie predicted, Olivia has found herself on trophy-wife duties at the White House, digging out cookie recipes for banquet guests. What makes it worse is that she has to watch as Mellie, freed from those same duties, suddenly catapults herself onto the national stage as a significant political figure. Senator Grant has noticed that the budget which Congress is about to agree would place funding for Planned Parenthood on a discretionary footing, making it easier to cut in the future. And, despite everyone being keen to get home for the holidays, she embarks on a one-person filibuster.

After season 1 of Scandal I made the point that, for a show whose lead character is an African-American woman, it didn’t really have much to say about race. It wasn’t a criticism, just an observation, and at that point I could probably have said the same about its gender politics. Of course, quite a lot has changed since then in the Scandal universe, and this episode was very definitely about the status of women in politics and society. So while Olivia is obliged to make crucial decisions on crockery for a Cabinet dinner at the White House, Mellie’s filibuster rumbles on, with cable news channels indulging in impertinent speculation about whether her urethra will be able to endure the ordeal of her standing for hours without going to the toilet.

And in consequence Olivia decides to get involved herself in Mellie’s fight, eventually managing to persuade VP Ross to ask a long question, which gives Mellie time for a pitstop. What we don’t know at that stage, though, is that Olivia has particular reasons to care about women’s health in general, and reproductive rights in particular: she’s pregnant, and she’s about to have an abortion. Commendably for a prime-time network drama Olivia isn’t required to justify or apologise for her decision; nor is it, for want of a better word, mitigated by circumstances such as rape: she’s simply exercising her right to choose, no more and no less. Well done, Scandal.

Mellie successfully runs the clock down, and the action shifts to the White House, where Fitz and Mellie start the sort of argument which ends relationships. And once again it has to be said that Kerry Washington and Tony Goldwyn are so good together that their fights are as convincing as their intimacy; I wouldn’t be entirely surprised to be told that at least part of this scene was improvised. It ends, as we knew it would, with exhausted and rueful admissions that Olitz isn’t working; not, at least, while Fitz is in the Oval.

That’s the great two-thirds. The rest is mixed. David Rosen attempts to give Elizabeth a Christmas present to mark their FWB status but she shoots him down in a shockingly brutal way: it’s sad and lame, she says. Quite rightly he gives the present to Susan Ross instead, and Elizabeth finds out about this. In fairness to the writers I think we’re supposed to find the Rosen/North couplings distasteful; and I can understand why, in the same way as one might probe a sore tooth with one’s tongue, they’ve persisted with them. But enough. Give all three of them something proper to do, and if you want to throw Susan and David together as well then that would be just fine.

Quinn is concerned that Huck’s off the radar, but as we know he has Rowan tied to a chair in the sort of disused factory which turns up in TV dramas for this purpose. Eventually he lets Rowan go, and in the meantime Jake has discovered that Rowan isn’t behind Lazarus One after all, so the two of them have a sort of father-son reconciliation. I’m not overjoyed about this, but on the other hand there’s just a chance that this arc might improve. I mean, I wasn’t always against the Rowan/B-613 stuff. In fact, with Olivia now out of Fitz’s bed and the White House, the new gladiator in place, and Mellie starting to make a name for herself, the show has a real opportunity for renewal after the mid-season hiatus.

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