Scandal s7 ep 1

A quick reminder of where we are – President Mellie; VPOTUS Beene; Olivia as chief of staff; OPA is now QPA (Quinn, Perkins and Associates) – and we’re off, with Olivia in killer heels strutting the corridors of the White House soundtracked by Public Enemy’s incendiary ‘Fight The Power’. Even more amazingly, the rest of this multi-stranded, thrilling episode isn’t a let-down after that.

At the start of the episode, the priority for the Mellie/Olivia White House is getting enough votes to ensure the passage of Vargas’s bill to provide free college education. Cyrus is trying to persuade a senator that it’s for the good of the country, while Olivia is using the darker arts to blackmail into compliance a good ol’ boy Senator who calls her “missy”.

While that’s brewing, though, the cash-strapped QPA is consulted by a woman whose academic father, Professor Stewart, has gone missing in a made-up Middle Eastern country. Who could do such a thing to a well-meaning educator? Well, the Prof is, of course, one of the CIA’s leading assets in the region, and Jake – installed, more or less, as Olivia’s current FWB – advises that he’ll just have to be found and killed, as by now he’ll be in the hands of someone who’ll make him give up sensitive information about US activity. Olivia is disinclined to accept that advice, and insists that he has to be rescued instead. Jake is disappointed, reminding her (and us) that Olivia is also Command, which means taking hard and unpleasant decisions.

Meantime Cyrus is on manoeuvres: fed up with the duties of his office he’s tempted by a Senator into thinking that he should be sabotaging the education bill in order to revisit the topic as President in three or four years. After a pep-talk from Mellie, though, he’s back to being ride-or-die for the new President Grant. Except that the Senator who was trying to turn him was actually working for Olivia; and Cyrus, being Cyrus, will have known that. My hunch is that we won’t ever get to see President Beene, but who knows?

While that’s going on, Professor Stewart is still awaiting his fate. Jake steers around Olivia and goes straight to Mellie, persuading her that the Prof needs to be taken out. Olivia, of course, doesn’t take at all kindly to being cut out, so not only ensures that her plan will succeed, but puts Jake in his professional and personal place while she’s at it. Nevertheless, the sheer excitement of being all Presidential means that Mellie forgets herself and tells Olivia that she, Mellie, is the President, and that Olivia will have to toe the line. Nuh-uh, says Olivia; don’t ever lose sight of the fact that I’m the boss, and that if you want to ensure the success of the first ever female Presidency you’d better keep that in mind.

Of the show’s other villains: Papa Pope turns up, but just about keeps himself in check. There’s a new right-wing talk show host, Curtis Pryce (Jay Hernandez, Dante in Nashville s1), who Olivia doesn’t much like, but she beds him anyway. And we don’t see Fitz in person; we’re no more than reminded of his existence by a quote attributed to him, so presumably he’s in Vermont, either brooding or involved in at least of one of the ongoing plots. Even without Tony Goldwyn, though, I thought this was the best episode of Scandal for a long time, Years, probably.

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Public Service Announcement 49 of 2017: Scandal

Well, here’s a thing. I was starting to think about my preview for the seventh and final season of Scandal, and I decided to go back and look at my review of the final episode of season 6. Except… I didn’t publish it, and I have no idea why. None at all. Anyway, as we’ve said before, on Unpopcult we’re nothing if not completists, and while publishing a months-old review might look as if I’m taking that to a preposterous conclusion, I wrote the damn thing and I also believe in using every last bit of the pig. So it’s under this PSA.

And it reminds me that, ridiculous as much of the Peus/Ruland arc was – why not just kill them, for God’s sake? – there were definitely things in the sixth season which also entertained me. So I’m looking forward to Scandal’s final chapter, I’m hoping that Olitz in Vermont will be endgame, and I’ll be reviewing every week (tonight, 10pm, Sky Living).

Also starting tonight: season 4 of Peaky Blinders (9pm, BBC Two).

Scandal s6 ep 16

Mellie’s inaguration, and Maya is in the wind, having dug out her tracker implant thingy. Has there ever been, in TV history, a subcutaneous tracker which remained on its host? Which means that it’s time to panic: how to protect Mellie? Except Maya isn’t after Mellie at all; she’s trying to shoot someone else on the inauguration podium, the person who’s behind this season’s plot, the person who – clang! – suggested that her and Mellie’s children shouldn’t be up there. And thus Luna Vargas is unmasked as the Big Bad, as I predicted. I don’t claim any particular prescience: really, anyone who has been with Scandal since the start knows that there’s always a twist or three to come. It makes absolutely no sense, of course – none at all – but let’s not dwell.

Maya can’t get a shot off anyway, because Rowan gets to her first. So Mellie and Luna are inaugurated, a situation which can’t be allowed to stand. Olivia and Jake give it some thought, and decide that the best solution is… to kill Luna. And, again, I’m driven to wonder why we sat through several episodes of the Peus and Ruland Show, as Scandal’s assorted collection of homicidal maniacs scurried about in fear. Why not just kill someone, dudes? So that’s what Olivia – who boasts of previous when it comes to killing VPOTUSs – does: she gives Luna a couple of pills which offer a quick death, or she can get the Jake version. Except… did Olivia’s final conversation with Cyrus, now VP himself, leave room for a lingering doubt about whether Luna is actually dead? I wonder. Not with any great intensity, but I wonder.

Meantime at OPA – remember them? – Quinn is pregnant and toying with running away, but instead decides to stay; she and Abby are going to run the company, which has promise. And as Fitz has left the Oval for the final time as President, but not before Olivia has rushed across the White House lawn in order to vigorously make out with him in full view of the world’s media. Because… yeah, that’s what you’d do if you’re the former and current mistress of the outgoing President, and about to become Chief of Staff to his ex-wife as she takes over. Although Olivia can afford not to care: she’s ensured that B-613 has some funding, and she’s going to run it herself, as well as being Chief of Staff, making Olivia Pope the most powerful person in the White House and, by extension, the world.

Which brings this slightly odd season to a close. Assuming that one’s expectations of Scandal have, since season 2, been thoroughly recalibrated, and accepting that the quality levels are going to vary from episode to episode, on balance I was entertained more than annoyed by this season, which might be as much as I can expect these days. There seems little doubt that the “election” of President Trump – and even typing that is enough to induce internal bleeding – affected the show’s trajectory, as did Kerry Washington’s pregnancy. Anyway, one season to go. I’m expecting a spectacular bodycount.

Scandal s6 ep 15

Maya is arrested – very easily, one might think, for such a megastar of the international criminal community – and immediately starts claiming that she isn’t back to cause any trouble, oh no; she’s there to protect her daughter Olivia. Rowan, in turn, stays out of her interview room until he thinks the time is right; which means that, left on her own, it’s Maya’s turn to monologue, mostly about race and gender, which is fair enough.

OPA investigates what Maya is, and has been, up to, and arrive at two conclusions: the plan is to assassinate Mellie at her inauguration, but Maya didn’t hire the assassin: she is the assassin. Which means that there’s someone lurking behind Maya. Mellie is offered the chance to take the oath of office behind closed doors, but understandably decides that the symbolism of the first female POTUS being publicly inaugurated is non-negotiable. Incidentally, I don’t quite share everyone’s pessimism about the effect that killing Mellie would have on the country in general and the financial markets in particular; after nearly six seasons of Scandal, the lesson to be learned is that nothing dents the Republic for too long, and I suspect we’d be able to rustle up another President soon enough. 

So despite having established Maya’s intentions, she’s released anyway with the intention that she’ll lay a trail back to the person/people who hired her, which strikes me as quite a gamble. And Rowan suggests to Fitz that his last executive order should be to reinstate B-613 and run it himself once out of office, which I could maybe… get on board with in a final season…? Or maybe not. Anyway, this is a curious little episode: not terrible, but had it been called ‘The Place-Holder’ rather than ‘Tick Tock’ I don’t think anyone could have objected.

Scandal s6 ep 14

In the aftermath of l’affaire Peus, Rowan is retiring and plans to leave the country, never to return. Rosen, on the other hand, is emotionally bruised by the way in which Samantha (as we now seem to be calling her) exploited him, so he tries to find out her real identity. Rowan can’t help… until he can. Which is why Rosen turns up at Abby’s apartment, wanting to store a box in her huge fridge-freezer; a box which contains Samantha’s head. Abby is, of course, repelled, but agrees to help. Jake extracts some DNA from the head, which establishes a name and address: “Samantha”’s name, this week, is Gertrude. Abby continues to be appalled (“My point is… it’s a head”) so Rosen stays in her apartment, and then in her bed, although – for now – with pillows down the middle. As I’ve said before, I like Abby and Rosen as a couple, and they should totally do it.

Fitz, meantime, when he isn’t bonking Olivia, is preoccupied with wondering what his legacy will be. (He’s also strangely reluctant to forgive Abby for her coerced involvement in the Peus plot; strange, because he’s forgiven a lot of people much, much worse things than that.) And one of the things he needs to think about is the issuing of presidential pardons, a task which Olivia takes to OPA, then leaves to the rest of OPA, which gets everyone else wondering – along with the viewers – just what the hell is happening with the Gladiators. They “haven’t had a case in forever”, Charlie notes.

But Quinn and Huck investigate the case of Shaun Campbell, an African-American convicted by an all-white jury of the murder (piquantly, by lynching) of “Bobby the Bigot”, a white supremacist who had burned down a church. Shaun says he didn’t do it. Quinn’s enquiries take her to a white trash bar where she and Huck encounter one of Bobby’s friends, who verbally admits responsibility. For the first time ever in Scandal this isn’t recorded by anyone.  But although she’s short of hard evidence, Quinn nonetheless faces Fitz down, and refuses to leave the Oval until he signs the pardon.

This, as it turns out, was all a test by Olivia, to see whether Quinn was up to the task of running OPA, which Olivia is now ready to hand over. It raises a number of questions, the most obvious of which is wondering whether anyone will hire OPA without OP, even though – as Quinn had told her earlier – Olivia stopped Gladiating a long time ago. Who is paying their salaries, and with what? Ah, let’s not worry about it. For next season.

Buoyed by this, Fitz, under the influence of Marcus, decides that on leaving the Oval he’s going to set up a foundation – quite possibly run by Marcus, in fact – which will provide assistance to appellants, particularly those who suffered from biased sentencing or inadequate defence. You could see how – again, it’s for next season – that might link to a reborn OPA.

But we conclude with Jake’s investigation into Gertrude, which reveals that she and Peus were getting instructions from the “Bigger Bad”, and she needs handled by someone who knows her. So Rowan, no more than a few seconds from stepping onto a plane and getting the hell out, is called back in order to go toe-to-toe with someone I don’t think we’ve seen since the end of season 4. What it all adds up to is that ‘Head Games’ is perhaps the most purely enjoyable and, well, Scandal-esque episode so far of a very mixed season: busy, bristling, and not without humour. It can’t be impossible to do something like this every week, can it?

Scandal s6 ep 13

Thirteen episodes into a sixteen-episode season, and the Big Bads are finally taken on and defeated, a problem to which it really didn’t take that long to work out a solution. Which brings me back to the point I’ve been making for a while: if it’s always just been a matter of killing Peus and Ruland, that really isn’t much of a challenge for the Scandal gang.

And so it proves: Peus ups the ante a little by posting drones (yay!) over nine American cities and exploding a couple of them in the hope of regaining control of “his” President. Ruland, still in custody, is punched by Rosen, supposedly because he’s in such a state of grief and fury about the death of Elizabeth, whom he didn’t actually like much; or, indeed, at all. Ruland gets sprung by Rowan, apparently in terror of his kidnappers, but it is – of course – a set-up; it enables Jake to track and kill Peus, and Rowan stabs Ruland with a dinosaur-tooth fossil. I can’t even.

In fairness, the show has continued to make its points about gender and race. “A woman in power is a nasty woman”, Olivia snarls at Mellie at one point, when observing that there was every possibility that the Oval could have been handed to Cyrus, someone recently in jail under suspicion of assassination, rather than Mellie. The provenance, and point, of the line is clear: no matter how unsuitable for office a man might be, he’s always going to have an unfair advantage over the most ferociously well-qualified woman. And the apparent breaking of Rowan’s resistance by his captors always had racial overtones, given a nasty spin by Peus this week when he confirms that Rowan has been “emancipated”.

It’s possible – given the sort of criminal infrastructure which enabled a nine-city drone attack – that the deaths of Peus and Ruland aren’t going to be enough to wipe out their organisation. (I’d still be keeping a close eye on the Widow Vargas, now installed as the prospective VPOTUS.) And it may well be that unexpected real-life events forced Shonda into a late change of direction, meaning that the season’s major plot arc was a little rushed. It’s still remarkably unsatisfactory. This week’s announcement that season 7 will be the last of Scandal at least gives the writers a chance to let the show go out on something approaching a high.

Scandal s6 ep 12

Ruland is having a sort of team meeting with President-elect Mellie, and the first order of business is to tell her that Jake isn’t going to be her Vice-President; Peus is. Which, once again, makes me think that I’ve maybe skipped an episode. Say what you like about Mike Pence – personally I think he’s an idiot and a bigot providing cover for out-and-out fascists, your mileage may vary, even if it shouldn’t – but he has a long track record as an elected politician; his personal history, beliefs, and politics are all on the public record; and in the event that I want to know anything about him I can find it easily enough. But who is Peus? Is there a world in which a complete unknown can be dropped into the American Vice-Presidency, presumably with a view to moving him into the Oval before long?

Anyway, this proves to be the straw which breaks the camel’s back. As I said last week, there really isn’t any reason why Scandal’s deep bench of violent ends-justify-means psychopaths should have too much to fear from the Peus/Ruland double-act, and – for the first time in what seems like ever – most of the show’s key players are gathered together in one room, in order to put their anti-Peus plan into place. And – bonus – it involves a drone, which is all good as far as I’m concerned: Huck flies it over the White House, leading to a security scare and a lockdown, and Ruland is hustled into a basement room in the White House with no phone coverage, meaning that everyone else can get to work.

This includes Rowan, whose contribution to this episode is problematic. To start with, a little Command goes a long way, and there’s a lot of him this week. Moreover, he’s remarkably ungrateful that Fitz has saved his life, and his inevitable monologues are peevish and sulky, rather than powerful and menacing. And since Fitz is plainly trying to assert his territorial rights to Olivia again, we’re given the less-than-savoury spectacle of two powerful men squabbling over an African-American woman. But there’s a tantalising flash of the old Rowan later on, when he’s alert to a sneak attack from Cyrus, still bitter about Rowan’s part in the death of Vargas.

And, having considered their options and decided to go to war, Fitz and his team order that Ruland be arrested. This seems remarkably straightforward – could it not have been done a few weeks ago? Were we always just waiting for someone to stand up to the Mean Girl? Olivia braces herself for the Peus counterattack. In the meantime, a new VPOTUS-elect has to be identified. Cyrus declines the poisoned chalice, but the Widow Vargas steps up. I hope she’s been thoroughly vetted by OPA. I’d hate to think that she’s involved in the conspiracy as well. Not great, but I was entertained.