Scandal s7 ep 18

It seems fitting that a show like Scandal which, certainly in the second half of its life, has been as likely to frustrate as to dazzle, should go out like this: not with a bang, not with a whimper, but somewhere in between. (Having said that, I liked the final scene quite a lot. But I’ll come back to that.) 

With the existence of B-613 revealed to the world, Lonnie Mencken has a clandestine meeting with Olivia, at which he offers her a Senate committee hearing if she’ll undertake to put gun control at the top of Mellie’s agenda. Olivia agrees and Mencken shoots himself, thus apparently guaranteeing that the committee will be formed. Although, frankly, I’d have thought that Congress would have been interested enough already in a secret black ops organisation which has been running the world for decades, but there we go.

So with David Rosen back in charge of the investigation, the committee starts hearing evidence, which means a quick lap of honour for Hollis Doyle and Tom Larsen, as well as everyone you’d expect: Fitz, Olivia, Mellie, and so on. Everyone starts to prepare for imprisonment, but in the middle of that there’s a nice little interlude when Quinn and Charlie get married in jail, with Huck officiating and the rest of QPA watching. Fitz and Olivia spend what they expect to be their last night together.

And David Rosen… well, he takes leave of his senses. Given that he’s leading the investigation into B-613, and into VP Beene and Chief of Staff Ballard, a pair of absolute psychopaths, you’d expect him to be careful. Checking-under-your-car, surrounded-by-bodyguards careful. But no: first he’s accosted by a gun-wielding Jake in an underground car park, although he successfully stands up to him. Jake then tells Cyrus that he’s done taking orders, so Cyrus invites David round for a drink and poisons him. Well, duh. I love you, Rosen, but you’re an idiot. And while we’re on the topic, writers: why have him stand up to Jake then get tamely killed by Cyrus?

Then something fun happens: the committee postpones releasing its findings, because a new witness has presented himself, that being one Eli “Rowan” Pope. Rowan, asks the committee, as they chuckle politely: is that your, uh, spy name? “My kill name”, Rowan corrects them, before laying out exactly what’s been going on: while politicians have been pretending that they’re in charge, it’s been an African American man, working behind the scenes, who’s been making America great. (Again.)

After that, everyone gets what’s coming to them, more or less. Not what they deserve, exactly, because that would mean all involve being incarcerated for the rest of their natural lives, but let’s not worry too much about that. Jake goes to jail. Cyrus resigns. Mellie signs a gun control bill. Olitz is indeed endgame. And – presumably at some point in the future – two African American girls visit a museum and see a full-length portrait of Olivia Pope, glorious natural hair and all, who has clearly become a person of some importance. (Whether she’s gone all the way to the Oval doesn’t really matter, and I’m sure the writers could have spelled it out were it that important.)

It’s also possible to see, in this closing scene, a little self-aggrandisement on Shonda Rhimes’s part: not only has Olivia the character become a role model, but Scandal has succeeded on its own terms: a show run by one black woman and starring another; and if Scandal and Shonda and Kerry become role models themselves for other actors, writers, and producers… it’s all good, and a little self-congratulation is entirely merited.

As for Scandal’s own legacy, just as a show? Well. It’s probably fair to say that when race and gender were made into explicit themes, Scandal became more important. Whether that means it got better depends on what your benchmarks are, I suppose, but I’ve yet to encounter anyone who says that they liked late-period Scandal more. For my part: no-one will ever convince me that the astonishing season 2 was anything other than a landmark of network TV drama, and for that alone it deserves its place in the hall of fame. On the other hand I was never persuaded that viewers were as much in love with Jake Ballard and the B-613 arc as the writers were, which meant that later seasons could sometimes be exasperating. Shonda says that Scandal won’t be revived, but I wouldn’t be amazed to see one or two of these characters pop up elsewhere.

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Scandal s7 ep 17

Mellie is about to give evidence, under oath, to Lonnie Mencken, Cyrus’s pet special prosecutor, about the hijacking of Air Force Two. Her attorney’s strong advice is to decline to answer questions and to avail herself of her Fifth Amendment privileges. Olivia’s equally strong advice is that to do so will haunt her, and that she should answer the questions, as – for once? – Mellie actually has little to fear from the truth, as she wasn’t involved in the hijacking. And to start with this is what Mellie does. It then becomes clear, though, that Mencken has the dirt on the assassination of President Rashad, with which he ambushes Mellie, leaving her with no choice but to plead the Fifth.

Mencken then subpoenas Olivia, which long-time Scandal viewers will know to be something of a mistake. This is compounded by Jake, who visits her the night before she is due to give evidence, with an apparently straightforward offer: dob Mellie in for the hijack, and he’ll see to it that one of President Cyrus’s first actions is to grant her a pardon. This is so very obviously both desperate and untrustworthy that she has no problem in rejecting it. Apart from anything else Fitz is back in her life and her bed, and Mellie’s fate is still intertwined with his reputation and legacy.

Meantime QPA is trying to work out whether they have any useable dirt on Cyrus or Jake. The problem – which, again, any long-time Scandal viewer could have told them – is that while both have done appalling things, the trail on all of them also leads back to some combination of Olivia, Fitz, Mellie, Quinn, and Charlie. With that line of attack unavailable, Olivia decides that the only strategy is to burn the whole thing down, and under oath she tells a clearly baffled Mencken about the existence of B-613. At the same time Quinn asks Sally Langston to run the B-613 story on The Liberty Bell – I didn’t expect  Langston would become a key figure in Scandal’s final episodes, but there we go – and she agrees to do so. As B-613 has been, for better or worse, an important part of Scandal for several seasons now, I wonder whether it might have been better to do this before now, and to work through all of the implications of what revealing it to the world will mean for the characters. But we are where we are. On the assumption that Scandal won’t entirely stick the landing in next week’s final episode, this might have been the last good one.

Scandal s7 ep 16

The battle-lines were drawn last week: it’s the boys (Cyrus and Jake) vs the girls (Mellie and Olivia); and, given the way in which Scandal has become a show explicitly about race and gender over the years, I’m betting that Shonda will want to make up for the IRL election by giving the win to Mellie. (I haven’t looked ahead for spoilers, so I have no idea what will happen.)

In this episode, meantime, the protagonists spar without throwing any knockout punches. Olivia manages to entice Cyrus to a sit-down meeting, hoping that she can talk him round, but with a poisoned bottle of wine as a plan B. Huck – who thinks he’s got the real Olivia back – is horrified. While that’s going on Abby and Quinn are trying to get some dirt on Cyrus, and Vanessa is annoying Jake – and me, frankly – by asking what he’s up to, and going all horrified when she discovers that he’s working for/with Cyrus. Whether she deserves her ultimate fate is moot, I suppose, but I’ve never liked her, certainly not since Joelle Carter moved on from the role. And Marcus is trying to encourage Mellie to come out fighting.

Mellie… comes out fighting. Olivia can’t bring herself to kill Cyrus, but she can bring herself to make out with Fitz, quite rightly. Jake gets off his knees and tells Cyrus that it’s now a partnership of equals. Not great, but not bad; two to go.

Scandal s7 ep 15

Charlie is in custody for hijacking Air Force Two, and being brutalised by men answering to Special Prosecutor Lonnie Mencken, who is offering him immunity in return for a confession in which he implicates Mellie. Of course, Charlie is former B-613 – if you can ever be “former” B-613 – so it’ll take more than a couple of goons jumping up and down on his head to persuade him to sign a false confession. So Cyrus ups the stakes, telling Quinn – now in an uneasy pact with Olivia – that if Charlie doesn’t sign he’ll be killed.

Meantime, Cyrus moves to consolidate his position in the White House, telling Jake the truth about AF2, and that it’s basically the boys against the girls, so what side does he want to be on? Cyrus’s side, is the answer, and Jake – who knows how to hold someone’s feet to the flames – gets Charlie to sign a confession by threatening Quinn.

And everyone’s trying to tell Mellie what her VPOTUS is up to. For most of the episode she refuses to believe them, but when she’s served with a subpoena as a result of Charlie’s “confession” she realises that desperate times call for desperate measures, and reinstates Olivia as Command, with the job of killing Cyrus. Huck is excited throughout as he thinks that the real Olivia is coming back, although this seems, to me, to involve a certain amount of self-delusion: even at her most white-hatted, Olivia was always an ends-justify-means sort of gal. Not an exceptional episode, but consistently absorbing.

Scandal s7 ep 14

At this stage in the game, ‘The List’ is probably about as good an episode of Scandal as we can reasonably expect. In the ripped-from-the-headlines #TimesUp/#MeToo part, a worried father turns up in D.C. looking for Olivia’s help in finding his daughter Alisha, who had been interning for a congressman but has gone missing. Olivia, under the umbrella of the Fitzgerald Grant Institute, looks into it, and discovers that Alisha had declined to sleep with her male boss, information which made its way onto a list in which young female employees were rated sexually; Alisha then, in consequence, lost her job, was unable to find another one, and killed herself.

Olivia eventually manages to persuade Alisha’s roommate, who did sleep with her boss (and kept her job) to go public about what has been going on; and Mellie – the recipient of an advance from Jake – indicates that she will introduce legislation aimed at curbing sexual harassment. Meantime Fitz, who can read a room, worries about whether his behaviour towards Olivia when they first met was inappropriate. (Any man of a certain age in possession of a conscience is asking himself the same sort of questions about his past behaviour.) Olivia assures him that if there was a line they crossed it together and that she would do so again.

All of this, though, starts to provide evidence that Gladiator Olivia might be returning, which is of importance for the episode’s other storyline: the ongoing investigation into the hijacking of Air Force Two. Olivia tells Abby that it was Cyrus’s doing in the hope that QPA will look into it. But Olivia’s name is still toxic at QPA, so when Quinn and Charlie find out where that suggestion came from they stop investigating. Huck, though, keeps going, and turns up the information that the virus which infected the plane’s systems was created on Charlie’s laptop. Charlie, of course, used to be Cyrus’s hired gun, so Quinn thinks that they might have been working together again. The FBI finds out about Charlie’s supposed involvement as well, which leads to his arrest, and which brings Quinn to Olivia’s door looking for help. And David Rosen recuses himself from the investigation, leading to the appointment of a special prosecutor, someone we’ve already seen conspiring with Cyrus. Now, that’s entertainment.

Scandal s7 ep 13

VPOTUS Cyrus and Chief of Staff Jake are butting heads, and Jake appears to be winning: he is told that he, not Cyrus, will be delivering a speech at the Al Smith dinner, and a livid Cyrus is sent instead to Lisbon, with Rosen, for a summit about digital piracy. On the way there, though, Air Force Two is hacked, and someone else starts to control the plane, pointing it towards Washington, D.C., apparently with the purpose of crashing it. 

Who, the watching world wonders, is capable of such a thing? Well, it could be anyone – literally, anyone – who’s had a leading role on Scandal over the past seven years, because they’re all capable of such a thing. Cyrus says that it’s Jake’s doing. Mellie also suspects Jake, whose reply – that there are many better, more efficient, and less suspicious ways of killing Cyrus if that’s what he wants to do – doesn’t get him very far, and Mellie orders that fighter planes are scrambled to shoot AF2 down if need be. I worked out who was behind the hack about halfway through the episode, although I’m sure others will have got there more quickly than I did.

The other plots – Rosen doesn’t propose to Abby, and Olivia visits her mother to celebrate the latter’s birthday, then provides her with the means and money to go to Paris – are somewhat inconsequential, although Maya on the loose has the power to influence the show’s closing run of episodes. It looks, though, as if REDACTED’s all-or-nothing bid for the Oval is going to be highly significant going forward. An average episode.

Scandal s7 ep 12; How To Get Away With Murder s4 ep 13

We’ve  moved on a few months and Olivia, now a guest lecturer at a university, scrawls “How To Survive A Scandal” on a blackboard. This is a nicely meta touch given that Annalise Keating is in the back of the lecture hall. Yes, we’re in the Shondaland universe, and it’s the Scandal/How To Get Away With Murder crossover episode(s).

Annalise wants Olivia’s help with a class action: she’s representing around 100 people in prison, all poor and mostly people of colour, who had to rely on overworked public defenders at their original trials. Annalise’s argument is that this equates to unequal treatment, and she wants the case fast-tracked to the Supreme Court. For which she needs some political nous of the sort that Olivia can provide. Olivia vacillates – largely because of Annalise’s reputation, which I must admit I’m not up-to-date on the details of, having missed the last couple of seasons of HTGAWM – but eventually agrees to take the case.

And that takes us into Scandal proper, with Olivia lining Fitz up to help, and Mellie, Jake, and QPA on the other side trying to stall the case, Mellie pretending it’s because she wants to hold it back until there’s a better chance of success, but really just wanting to deny Olivia a win. It’s tremendous fun, with the added thrill of seeing Kerry Washington and Viola Davis, two of the leading TV actors of their generation, going head-to-head, in particular in an incendiary scene which starts with Annalise (correctly) accusing Olivia of dishonesty, and leads to a full-fledged argument about the lived experience of African American women, which Mr White Privilege here certainly isn’t going to comment on. There’s even room for a nice little subplot, in which Michaela flirts with Marcus.

The case having been accepted onto the SCOTUS docket, it’s over to How To Get Away With Murder for the second half of the story. And while this was also good, it really just confirmed my decision that HTGAWM and I are better off apart: everyone in the show is still thoroughly unlikeable in a way which is quite distracting. In particular, Asher is still Asher, making Michaela’s decision to do it in a car with Marcus entirely defensible. A bit too much of the episode was, I thought, given over to Annalise having a crisis of confidence which we know she’s going to resolve in time to appear before the court, but that’s more than compensated for by casting the magnificent Sharon Lawrence as opposing counsel.