December 14, 2012



SCANDAL has been having a barn-burner of a Season 2, emerging as a pulpier, crazier Homeland (not that Homeland hasn’t been pretty crazy the last couple of weeks), a DC-set melodrama where everybody is lying to someone.  It’s culminated for now in a midseason finale that kept the machinery of twists and schemes humming.

The script by Executive Producer Mark Wilding (directed by Jessica Yu, who in another life directs sober documentaries like Breathing Lessons and Last Call At the Oasis), picked up right where last week’s Shonda Rhimes-written episode left off.  President Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn), who when he’s in more robust condition is the adulterous lover of heroine and supreme crisis manager Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), has been shot and hovers in a coma, and the gun that shot him was last seen in the hands of Olivia’s colleague Huck (Guillermo Diaz), who used to be a trained CIA assassin, and who attends AA meetings because he’s addicted to the thrill of killing people.  But no!  That gun was actually controlled by a radio signal, and it was fired by Becky Flynn (Susan Pourfar), the seemingly sweet girl Huck met in AA who turns out to be an even more vicious killer than Huck is.

And that was just the beginning, as the episode very satisfyingly gathered up threads from most of the storylines that have been introduced during this half-season:  the terminal illness of Supreme Court justice Verna Thornton (Debra Mooney); the relationship between Olivia’s employee Abby Whelan (Darby Stanchfield), a victim of spousal abuse, and federal attorney David Rosen (Joshua Malina), which Olivia and Harrison Wright (Columbus Short) ruthlessly broke up by making Abby think David was an abuser of women; the endlessly duplicitous marriage of White House Chief of Staff Cyrus Beene (Jeff Perry) and his reporter husband James (Dan Bucatinsky); and the framing of Olivia’s other colleague Quinn Perkins (Katie Lowes) for a bombing–a frame that Olivia helped engineer and from which she then rescued Quinn.  Add to that the machinations of dreadful Vice President–now Acting President–Langston (Kate Burton).  (The only one oddly absent tonight was First Lady Mellie, played by Bellamy Grant.)  Overhanging all of it is what we now know to have been a conspiracy involving Olivia, Verna, Cyrus, Mellie and evil industrialist Hollis Doyle (Gregg Henry)–the most stock character on the show–to rig the election for Fitz, making his presidency seemingly illegitimate and illegal.  It’s almost too much for one show to handle.

The wild, ever-escalating events on Scandal make just enough sense to hold together while you’re watching it, and they mount up so quickly that you never have a chance to think about them for too long.  Kerry Washington is a superb anchor to the madness, somehow grounding all the terrible things her character does with a sense of genuine heartbreak about her doomed romance with the President.  It’s been particularly enjoyable to watch Olivia’s complicated, prickly but closely-bound relationship with Cyrus unfold.  This season, Rhimes and her writing team have added to that by doing what every smart show should in its second season, expanding the scope of the drama to develop just about all of the supporting characters more richly.  After an abortive start that focused too much on scandal of the week plots, the show has developed a dynamic similar to Grey’s Anatomy, where there’s usually a self-contained storyline or two each week, but it’s all in the context of a larger serialized saga.

Its sheer storytelling gusto has been making Scandal thrive, with climbing ratings (pending afternoon adjustments, it may have set a series record last night) that have it recently pulling ahead in the Thursday 10PM timeslot, and numbers inching closer to its Grey‘s lead-in.  There are certainly more serious, nuanced and admirable shows on television, but right now, there may not be one that’s more fun.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."