April 18, 2014

THE SKED Season Finale Review: “Scandal”


There was a scene in tonight’s Season 3 finale of SCANDAL where Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) and Cyrus Beene (Jeff Perry) sat together after a shocking death and, in a manner that was remarkably low-key for this series, talked about the fact that they’d become such monsters that when the death occurred, their minds went automatically to the political implications, barely focusing on the human costs of the tragedy itself.  In a sense, Scandal has made its viewers the same kind of monsters, draining all humanity out of just about every one of its characters so that we watch them as mere chess pieces, barely caring anymore who’s being destroyed, except as a way of keeping score.  It’s become the most corrosive show on television, no longer just in a political sense but in an almost existential one.

I blame B613.  When Shonda Rhimes decided to make that shadowy, virtually psychotic government organization of assassins not just a plot point of Scandal but the dominant force of all its stories, the series stopped being about politics or soap opera, and became an increasingly bloody mess, with B613 the key enabler of Rhimes’s anything-goes aesthetic.  If you live by the operatic plot twist, you also die by it, and although the ratings are still high, Scandal more and more feels like it’s heaving itself over the shark with maniacal glee.

Now that we’re in Scandal‘s mindset, the supposedly massive twists of tonight’s finale, written by Rhimes and fellow Executive Producer Mark Wilding, and directed by Tom Verica, weren’t all that difficult to guess.  It was clear that Rowan Pope (Joe Morton), oddly eager to help President Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn) after the sudden, awful death of Fitz’s teenage son on Election Eve–that was the shocking murder that barely moved Olivia or Cyrus–even after having expressed his utter hatred for Fitz many times before that, was going to turn out to have been behind the killing himself, managing in a single blow to cripple the hated Fitz while regaining control over B613 (and yet technically not breaking his promise to Olivia that he’d never harm Fitz himself).  When we saw Olivia’s mother Maya (Khandi Alexander) arrested and then were told she’d been executed without seeing it, it was obvious that Rowan would turn out to have imprisoned Maya in his B613 hole.  And when Harrison (Columbus Short) showed up at Rowan’s office to confront him with his knowledge that Rowan had been the villain all along, you could only wonder if Harrison was the single stupidest person in Washington DC.  Hadn’t he ever seen a movie?  Didn’t he know what happens to people who go all by themselves to tell the ruthless murderer that they know what he did?  Harrison was such an idiot he deserved to die.  (And it has to be said that if Columbus Short is off the show, Scandal won’t miss him much.)

Other developments were just silly:  Olivia’s supposed departure from Washington and her firm with Jake (Scott Foley), himself a murderous former head of B613, only exists to be undone at the start of Season 4, since otherwise, duh, there wouldn’t be a series; David Rosen’s (Joshua Malina) receipt of boxes full of damaging B613 documents, courtesy of Jake, merely gives him another opportunity to be a step behind whatever atrocity is going to occur next season.  Let’s not even discuss the sick romance between Huck (Guillermo Diaz) and Quinn (Katie Lowes)–“My eyes!” yelped Abby (Darby Stanchfield), speaking for most of America–or Huck’s rediscovery of his long lost family, courtesy of sociopath Charlie (George Newbern).

Scandal is still fun to watch, in a “what are they going to do next?” guilty pleasure way, and Rhimes and her fellow writers put together spectacularly furious arias of bitterness and invective for their actors, but over the course of its season, its characters have for the most part stopped acting like recognizable human beings.  Everything on the show rings false, down to the number of people who can barge into the Oval Office without anyone even trying to stop them.  Weirdly, the only likable character left (well, David is likable, but only as the shortbus child of the group) is First Lady Mellie (Bellamy Young), who started out as a villainess, but whose self-destructive, self-dramatizing shrillness is at least rooted in a dark backstory.  Just about the saddest thing to happen all season was when Olivia manipulated newly-elected Vice President Nichols (Jon Tenney) away from his illicit romance with Mellie.  The rest of the episodic twists have about as much impact as if the writers decided them by throwing darts at their walls.  It’s no longer possible to care about Olivia’s relationship with Fitz (or Jake, for that matter), or even any of the political schemes featured in the story, since we know that before long B613 will step in and just start killing people.

Scandal is one of the biggest hits on television–the most successful drama on ABC–and Rhimes’ everything-including-the-kitchen-sink piling on of twists and reversals certainly keeps things compelling.  The cast, sparked in particular by Washington, Perry, Young, and Morton, spits out their lengthy monologues with estimable precision and a convincingly mounting fury, and they’re often enormous fun to watch.  (Foley, though, proved himself no match for Morton in this department, probably sealing his fate as a short-term head of B613.)  This season’s story might have made marginally more sense if Kerry Washington’s pregnancy hadn’t forced the show to reduce its production by 4 episodes.  (Probably not.)   But it’s hard to see how the show can keep going at its current overheated pace without, like a boiler pressed to its extreme limits, blowing itself up.  Perhaps next season, the series will cross over to the Marvel universe (also owned by Disney), and B613 will prove itself an agency of SHIELD.  At this point, even aliens and superheroes would barely raise an eyebrow on Scandal.

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."