Scandal s6 ep 9

So… will Huck live? Well yes, of course he will, because Meg, who as we’ve seen is capable of taking someone out with a single bullet, has inexplicably decided instead to give Huck the privilege of an elaborate James Bond-esque death, shooting him but not quite killing him, then stuffing him into the boot of a car and pushing it into a water-filled quarry.

All of which gives Huck the chance to escape. But, my God, the show really makes a meal of it, which gives the viewer time to wonder whether he’d be able to smash his way out of a car, swim to safety, and rescue the body of Jennifer, all while bleeding out from potentially fatal bullet wounds. But he lives, even though he might have “deficits” as a result of the attack. And since Huck already has numerous “deficits”, that isn’t promising either.

If this episode has any merit, I suppose it might come from character development: Olivia slapping Abby for her part in the conspiracy, then forgiving her; Fitz and Olivia hugging it out; Quinn visibly preferring Huck to Charlie. That apart, though, there have for sure been worse episodes of Scandal, but I don’t know if there have been any quite as pointless as this one.

Scandal s6 ep 8

The writers have clearly decided that the best way, this time, to work around Kerry Washington’s pregnancy is to give each of the main characters an episode of their own to carry, rather than just proceeding as normal but situating Olivia behind huge handbags and houseplants. It’s a fair enough idea, I suppose, and this week – which, I think, will be the last of the Scandal-goes-Rashomon episodes – we finally get to find out the genesis of the conspiracy to assassinate Vargas and install another President. And all roads lead to Abby.

Fitz is working on his retirement plan: after decades of service, one way or another, he wants to take a step back, establish his Presidential library in Vermont, generally chill a bit. Not unreasonable, you’d think, but Abby wants him to carry on working himself – and everyone around him, it seems – into an early grave. So when she’s approached by the season’s Big Bads, “Marjorie Rulance” and “Mr Payas”, who offer her the chance to stop running around after the “big old man-baby” and seize some power for herself, she’s receptive after some initial reluctance.

But why President Abby, and what do Ruland and Payas actually want? Well, the latter remains unclear, but it looks as if Abby as POTUS was never really on the cards; she was presumably thought to be ripe for manipulation. And once she’s taken the money she can be blackmailed by that alone, as it can be traced to a bank which funds North Korean terrorism, and persuaded into performing a series of ever more appalling deeds.

I really didn’t like this episode at all, mind you, although even as I’m typing the words it feels arbitrary: the last two episodes were pretty dumb, but I thought they were entertaining. This time, though, I just don’t buy for a second that Abby – one of the smartest people in any room she walks into – would be so stupid as to believe that $300 million from people she’s never heard of to fund her utterly improbable Presidential campaign would come without strings. Or, for that matter, so dementedly ambitious and amoral that, having never stood for any public office in her life, she would suddenly be so consumed with a craving for power that reaching into a corpse to retrieve a bullet, in order to swap it out, would seem like the best thing to do in all the circumstances. (Incidentally, writers, do what you like with the bullets; but the trajectory/distance thing remains unaddressed, as does the fact that the shooting of Vargas would have been one of the most filmed, witnessed, and analysed incidents in human history. We’re not talking shaky Zapruder footage here.) On the bright side, any episode in which Leo gets smacked around has at least that to redeem it. I also liked the reveal of who David Rosen is dating. But little else.

Scandal s6 ep 7

Huck is indulging in his usual form of romantic foreplay – vigorously tutoring Meg, Jennifer’s bestie, in self-defence – when he’s interrupted by Charlie and Quinn, panicking because Olivia’s missing. When Huck finds her, which takes seconds, she demands that he kill her father as a response to Rowan’s assassination of the President-elect. Finally, I thought; someone’s going to get rid of Command. But Rowan knows when he’s being followed by a sociopath with a gun, and manages to persuade Huck not to pull the trigger by telling him about the mysterious group from last week threatening Olivia’s life – even pointing out the orange-coated blonde woman who is in charge – and concluding that someone in Olivia’s inner circle is a mole. “There is”, bellows Rowan, “a traitor among us”.

Huck believes Rowan, but no-one believes Huck, so he sets to work finding the mole. But who? First of all he suspects Charlie and Quinn, which would make some sort of sense; as I’ve noted before, Charlie seems to have become part of OPA without much scrutiny at all. Then, though, Meg – finding the appropriate post-coital topic of conversation for someone like Huck – asks if she can meet Olivia, because of the latter’s well-known sympathy for those who need help, in the hope of finding Jennifer’s killer. Babe, Huck doesn’t reply, Olivia got out of that game around the start of the third season. But he’s so startled by Meg’s insistence on talking to Olivia that he begins to wonder if she might be playing him, a belief which is understandably reinforced when he follows her and sees her with the blonde woman putting the fear of God into Rowan.

And so, having visited his old friend Becky in prison, and confirmed with her that he’s gullible as hell, he decides that he is indeed being played by Meg, and threatens her with a syringe-full of some appalling liquid known to the sort of person who’s been part of B-613. But she tearfully insists that she loves him, and that she hasn’t been betraying him, so Huck is convinced and spares her the needle. Olivia then makes him apologise to Meg.

So poor Huck – at the end of an episode during which people keep telling him he’s wrong, wrong, wrong – takes Meg to see Jennifer, who of course isn’t dead, as Meg thought, but is alive and in hiding. Whereupon, almost inevitably, REDACTED shoots REDACTED, then REDACTED, while – and this was more of a surprise to me – it’s revealed that REDACTED is the mole, and has been in league with the blonde woman all along.

That blizzard of REDACTEDs should have alerted anyone trying to avoid spoilers. So, to unpack: Huck won’t be dead, because Meg could have killed him if she wanted. As for Abby: if her involvement means anything in respect of consistent plot development – which I know is moot – she was part of a plot to deliver the Oval to Mellie and, by extension, to Olivia. Which… maybe isn’t so far-fetched. Anyway, rather like last week, I thought this was thoroughly entertaining, and even though the twists at the end were cynically designed to elicit gasps from the audience, they worked for me.

Scandal s6 ep 6

Another pre-election flashback, this time following Rowan, Papa Pope, Mr B-613 himself. We start with Rowan meeting up with Sandra, an old flame and fellow-paleontologist. (To start with I’d always assumed that Rowan’s post at the Smithsonian was no more than a cover, but as time has gone on it’s become clear that he has indeed been working there as an expert at the same time as running America’s leading semi-official clandestine off-the-books black ops group. That’s… quite the two jobs to be holding down.) Sandra has a big new project supported by an unnamed “private collector” – clanging alarm bells – and brings Rowan on board.

Well, it doesn’t take too long before the “private collector” reveals him, her, and themselves to be a shadowy collective who want Rowan to steal the election for Mellie, for reasons not yet disclosed. And if Rowan doesn’t do what they ask, Sandra will be killed. He tries and fails to fix things before the vote, leaving him with little choice but to take Vargas out afterwards, having been directed by Shadowy Collective to do so and put the blame on Cyrus. Having found a patsy – Nelson McClintock, the dude with the sniper rifle in the office block – Rowan, refreshingly, isn’t too high and might to do his own wetwork, and he wriggles under the stage where Vargas is delivering his victory speech and puts three bullets in him. Sandra, uh, doesn’t entirely walk away unharmed – although I didn’t anticipate the source of her fate – and nor does Rowan, who having proved himself useful is left in no doubt that he’ll continue to be Shadowy’s bitch unless he wants Olivia dead as well.

As with last week’s episode, it’s something of a problem that so much of this episode’s emotional weight rests on a character (Sandra this time) we don’t know at all. I couldn’t help but wonder whether even the most rudimentary investigation of Vargas’s death would reveal that the bullets which killed him clearly didn’t come from the office block. And I really don’t need yet another Shadowy Collective in this show running the world. Despite all that, though – and, I suspect, against my better judgment – I was rather entertained by this pile of nonsense. That might be, in part, because for all his bluster and monologuing, old Papa Pope has much more about him than the terminally uninteresting Jake; the moment, for example, when he started to make out with Sandra, then pulled her into a closet, stuck a gun in her face, and demanded to know what the hell was going on, was tremendous fun.

Scandal s6 ep 5

From the start it’s clear that ‘They All Bow Down’ is going to be about Jake and Vanessa. Heigh-ho, I thought; the writers are going to have to try very hard to come up with an episode which gets me to care about them, particularly given that we barely know Vanessa and the role has been recast anyway, with Jessalyn Gilsig taking over from Joelle Carter.

In the present day and in flashback, then, we get to see what Jake has been up to since election night: unsurprisingly, he’s been killing people, meeting Rowan, and being mean to his wife, who has hit the bottle (“Liquor cabinet is back that way”) as a result. It’s not terrible, but it’s uninteresting; and oddly reminiscent, with its drunk wives and catfights, of something like Dallas: even the blocking and cinematography felt very 80s.

If the episode was trying to make me feel uncomfortable, it occasionally succeeded there: Vanessa’s repeated references to Olivia as Jake’s sister, for example, something which I picked up during last season; and the way in which Vanessa oscillates between crudely insulting and self-abasing. As far as I can see Joelle Carter simply had other commitments, but I wonder whether she would have taken the character in a different direction; Jessalyn Gilsig is a good actor, but I can’t see Carter, a somewhat flintier screen presence, making Vanessa quite so needy.

The episode saves its two big twists for the end. Firstly, Jennifer Fields, killed by Jake, is in fact alive, although until we know why there doesn’t seem to be much point in applauding the writers. I’m more concerned about the woman in red who seems to be the show’s latest boss, a Big Bad of whom even Rowan is scared. Scandal really, really doesn’t need further exposition of the management structure of B-613.

 

Scandal s6 ep 4

It’s easy to overlook that, in its way, Scandal can be as flat-out weird as something like, say, Legion. Take this episode. The Vice-President elect, Cyrus, is in prison awaiting trial for assassinating the President-elect. You would think this to be the highest-profile crime in, like, the entire history of the Republic – although there are one or two fairly spectacular ones being committed in full view and in real life just now – but the prison staff have to affect not to know anything about him when he’s being admitted. Thereafter, his main prison buddy is a multiple killer who ate his victims. After being beaten up by Hispanic prisoners annoyed at Cyrus’s subversion of the democratic process, he and Cannibal Killer team up to escape from their cells and find Tom Larson who claims, with what looks like his dying breath, that he wasn’t involved in the Vargas shooting. There’s a deeply annoying fantasy sequence thrown in for good measure.

Meantime Mellie, who now thinks that she’s President-elect, is twerking in the OPA offices, while Charlie – who is, as far as I can see, a full time Gladiator by virtue of being Quinn’s boyfriend – and Quinn futz around on their computers. Huck is cyber-stalking a witness in the Vargas shooting, who for some reason seems to be attracted to his creepy intensity. (Maybe I’m not best placed, but really?) He, though, is at least still sufficiently on his game to point out that there continue to be holes in the official narrative, which means that the team do some more digging and discover that Tom couldn’t have shot Vargas, which Tom is simultaneously saying to Cyrus while in a chokehold. And if Tom’s innocent, then Cyrus is too. But who did kill Vargas and Jenny? It’s going to be B-613, isn’t it? Oh God.

And Fitz, now officially bedding FBI woman, gets into a spat with Abby, who has told Rosen that, by the authority of the President, the death penalty is off the table in respect of Cyrus. I must admit I didn’t quite get this; Abby was very obviously overstepping the mark when she claimed Presidential authority, but why did she do it in the first place? Everyone seems concerned that Abby shouldn’t have presumed to speak for POTUS, but no-one seems too bothered about political interference in the justice system, either then or when Fitz gives a press conference and states that, yes, he will be looking for the death penalty for Cyrus. All remarkably silly, even by the standards of Scandal, and not in a good way.

Scandal s6 ep 3

David Rosen has announced that everyone – i.e. Cyrus – is now under investigation for the shooting of Frankie Vargas, news which Cyrus shares with his husband. Presumably that’s on again, then? Anyway, it’s another flashback episode, this time explaining why Frankie Vargas was so determined to rid himself of Cyrus post-election, and answering the question of the extent of Cyrus’s involvement in Frankie’s assassination.

It turns out that, during the campaign, Cyrus was convinced that Frankie was having an affair with Jenny, the young staffer who phoned the police to accuse Cyrus of being behind the shooting. From what we see it looks as if Cyrus has a point, but when confronted Frankie denies it vehemently, and since both the protagonists are now dead I suppose we may never know the truth. Anyway, Cyrus has seen this particular scenario unfolding before, and is determined to ensure that Jenny won’t become a problem. Fortunately – unless you’re Jenny, of course – the deranged Tom has re-entered Cyrus’s life, and takes very little encouragement to warn Jenny off, using his fists. Frankie finds out and immediately warns Cyrus that he’s going to be cut loose after the election.

However, Cyrus had also made the mistake of admitting to Tom that he would like to be POTUS, and Tom – unhealthily fixated on Cyrus, as well as psychotic – hears “who will rid me of this troublesome President-Elect?”, and takes it as a hint to bump Frankie off, which wasn’t actually what Cyrus had in mind. And so, when Cyrus is arrested for Frankie’s murder, he and we can at least savour the irony of him being put in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, as opposed to for something from the lengthy list of appalling things he has actually done.

And, with that taken care of, Olivia announces to Mellie that, with no available alternative, the electoral college will definitely be voting for her and she’s going to be President. (Once again I’m going to question how accurate this is: it doesn’t seem impossible to me that the electoral college would decline to vote for someone who was rejected by the voters; although of course that’s exactly what it did, admittedly in radically different circumstances, in 2016.)

There isn’t much happening elsewhere: Abby snarking at POTUS as if he were an errant employee, rather than the leader of the free world, is about it. So ‘Fates Worse Than Death’ relies very heavily on the Cyrus plot, and while I thought the episode started reasonably well, it fizzled out a bit as it went on. Part of the problem might be that Jeff Perry is a fine actor, but – unless I’m imagining it? – his acting style has become more and more mannered during Scandal’s run. So it’s an episode which goes down as, at best, a partial success.