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.