I believe in the ability of Scandal to become compelling once again before the end of the season, but last night was very decidedly not when that change happened.
Usually, even when Scandal isn’t anywhere near its best, the episodes stick together. Shonda Rhimes is a master of episodic structure; she knows how to keep pulling an audience forward through an installment of one of her series, as well as how to leave them slightly maddened and hungry for more at the end. Last night’s episode was one of the few I’ve ever watched that didn’t pull off any of that in a convincing way.
I knew things weren’t going to be stellar from the beginning, when the show’s only “previously on” was about B-613 and we started with David Rosen foolishly trying to offer Jake immunity in order to testify against…Rowan and whoever or whatever else B-613 is? I’m still not clear on that, and neither are any of the other reviewers whose recaps I read. Someone created Rowan, right? Appointed him? He couldn’t have just shown up one day and founded a murderous, clandestine agency of hit men who masquerade as paper distributors? Why have these questions not been answered in the previous 3.5 seasons of this show?
Anyway, Jake wouldn’t take the immunity or agree to testify, and then he not-so-vaguely threatened to murder Rosen if he didn’t drop the case. All of that would be contradicted later, of course, but at that point in the episode, Jake looked like the enemy. David was somehow undaunted; apparently, someone had used the memory-erasing wand from Men in Black on him and he was no longer aware of what B-613 does to people who get in its way.
Rosen decided that he’d round up some other B-613 agents and give them immunity, and I bet you’ll never guess what happen next: they all got killed! Quinn’s ex went to round them up and walked in on what looked like Jake murdering them, because he had bugged the room where Rosen hatched this genius plan and knew exactly what was going on.
Quinn’s ex (who is among the dozen or so characters on this show whose names just don’t stick for me) reported back about what happened, and then the only alternative became clear: they had to kill Jake! But Jake was all, nuh uh, if you kill me then some shadow-y force will come and kill Olivia. So they threw in the towel! They actually all sat out on the steps of the Lincoln Monument to stare into the middle distance and raise their white flags, for reasons that were not entirely, or even partially, clear.
David Rosen didn’t quit, though, because he is the king of bad ideas and B-613 is the hill that he will die on, both literally and figuratively. He decided that he had seen Jake do enough bad things that he could testify himself, with no apparent regard for the fact that doing so would obviously get him killed in extremely short order. It almost did in a parking garage, but Jake showed up to kill the double agent who David thought was helping him instead. Turns out it was Holly who killed all those other B-613 people, and then she hid under a table! Huh. That’s convenient, and also contradictory of everything else that Jake said or did in the rest of the episode.
So, like, who knows what’s going to happen with B-613? Who knows what’s already happened with them? Who knows what they actually are? The only thing we know for sure is that Papa Pope is coming back next week and is sure to make at least one terrifying monologue about how everyone else is lame and weak.
Olivia also had a one-off plot during this episode that didn’t seem to have anything structurally or thematically in common with anything else going on, as she has had during the last several. (Apparently we aren’t going to speak any further of Huck murdering Lena Dunham and her bad wig in front of Quinn.) This one started with a congressman who came to Olivia in an attempt to get his dad off death row. He was there for killing the math teacher who had sex with his 14-year-old daughter and then broke her heart, which lead to her suicide.
The dad had confessed and stuck to his confession, and the congressman tried to lead Olivia’s team to discover the murder weapon in the teacher’s ex-wife’s home. Conveniently, the ex had just died of cancer, so why not pin a murder on her? Turns out, the congressman had planted the weapon there himself, and he knew where to find it because he was the one who killed the math teacher. TWIST. (That we all saw coming. But, twist nonetheless.)
Olivia somehow convinced him to confess and convinced his dad to recant, all with extremely minimal effort for something that involved a congressman going to jail for the rest of his life. And, somehow, that’s all Olivia had to do last night. This show is at its best when Olivia is at the heart of everything that goes on, which is one of the reasons this episode felt like such a mess–most of it was only related to her by the thinnest of tangents. I bet Olivia wishes she had never left the island with Jake and that case of wine.
The other subplot in the episode was the introduction of Mellie’s redneck half-sister, Harmony, with whom she apparently doesn’t speak anymore. Shonda set up Harmony as the Roger Clinton to Mellie’s Bill: an unsophisticated, poorly behaved stereotype and a potential minefield for a high-profile campaign.
Harmony came to visit the White House because Mellie (and Portia de Rossi) wanted to smooth things over before Mellie kicks her Senate run into high gear. Personally, if I were the first lady’s half sister and didn’t get an invitation to visit the White House until halfway through her husband’s second term, it’d take a lot more than a lousy tour of the East Wing to smooth things over with me, but I’m petty.
The whole visit eventually erupted because Harmony was calling Fitz what everyone else in the Scandal universe calls him instead of “Mr. President,” which Mellie thought was disrespectfully familiar, despite the fact that dude is 1. her relative and 2. about as presidential as a pine cone. They argued, but Fitz eventually came through to tell all the hysterical ladies to get their unruly emotions in check and be nice. I hope my sarcasm is clear.
Basically nothing felt cohesive or important during this episode, but Mellie’s plot was the most egregious offender in a night packed with them. The plot around her senatorial run was introduced several episodes ago and has gone absolutely nowhere and connected to absolutely nothing else in the show since then, and it’s starting to feel like it was created entirely to give Mellie, a fan favorite, some screen time now that she’s over her depression and her old lover is a vegetable. Her sister struck me as created out of thin air–was there ever any prior intimation that Mellie had an embarrassing family or strained relationships?
None of the episode’s three plots gelled very well or felt like they were advancing the season’s goals toward the looming finale, but perhaps the return of Papa Pope next week will spark a bit of inspiration in the writer’s room. Lord knows, they have to be as bored with this material as we are. I wonder if they know what B-613 is?