October 4, 2013

THE SKED Season Premiere Review: “Scandal”


SCANDAL:  Thursday 10PM on ABC

Sex is both currency and kryptonite on SCANDAL, a tool and a compulsion.  Shonda Rhimes’s series is coming off a genuinely phenomenal second season, one which saw its ratings rise by an incredible 50% between its season premiere and the finale, in which Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) was outed as the mistress of President Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn)–and viewers also learned that she was the daughter of murderous spymaster Rowan (Joe Morton), who had to explain to his daughter in the opening scene of the Season 3 premiere that he hadn’t actually ordered her murdered when gunmen attacked her apartment at his behest.

The premiere, written by Rhimes and directed by Tom Verica, dealt primarily with the fallout from the leak of Olivia’s name as Fitz’s lover, and it contained the show’s usual complement of twists within twists and triple-crosses.  Olivia’s romance with Fitz has become the show’s central organism, a mysterious entity all the characters (including, at various times, the lovers themselves) poke and prod and try unsuccessfully to kill, but which mutates and survives, like some extraterrestrial horror-movie virus.  Tonight’s set-piece sequence even had a sci-fi thriller setting, a secret subterranean White House bunker where Olivia, Fitz and First Lady Mellie (Bellamy Young), all of them practically crawling up the gray concrete walls with loathing and lust for each other, tried to calmly map out a plan to deal with the crisis.  (Mellie instantly double-crossed the other two as soon as the summit meeting was over, as did Olivia’s own employees, and they found a patsy to be Olivia’s substitute in the tabloids–who, in typical Scandal style, is Olivia’s new client.)

Because the focus was squarely on this one story, the supporting cast of Olivia’s “gladiators” was in the background for most of the evening, and Jake Ballard (new regular Scott Foley), last seen in one of Rowan’s torture pits, was absent.  Nothing, however, can keep Chief of Staff Cyrus Beene (Jeff Perry) down, and it was hard to choose his highlight of the hour between the moment where he decided to throw old friend Olivia under the media bus, and the one where he planted a kiss on hapless reporter husband James (Dan Bucatinsky) in a White House hallway after getting some juicy information from him.  Cyrus and Mellie may be the best supporting characters on all of television right now, almost always gifted by Rhimes and her fellow writers with some fantastic, furious rant, and tonight it was Mellie’s ferocious description of what a waste of her intelligence the office of First Lady had been (echoing Rowan’s scathing ridicule of Olivia earlier in the episode because instead of trying to become Secretary of State, she’d be content merely to be the President’s lady).  Someone should really cast Bellamy Young and Jeff Perry together in a production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

The last minute of the premiere provided the first sign of what this half-season’s major storyline will be (as with most of ABC’s soaps, Scandal will run new episodes through November, then take a break until after the Winter Olympics and return in late February), something to do with Fitz’s and Jake’s military record in Afghanistan.  Whatever it is, one can rest assured that Rhimes will make something crazed, jaw-dropping and riveting out of it.  Scandal is still red-hot.

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."