“Scandal” has piled on the plot twists so fast and thick in its short lifespan that finding out who tried to kill Fitz, and his reaction to it, in Thursday’s (Feb. 7) episode, felt like just another “whoa” moment in a show that lives for them.
The way some of “Scandal’s” characters are shaping up, though, is cause for concern.
It was Supreme Court Justice Verna (Debra Mooney)? Because she was so wracked with guilt about being complicit in the election rigging and fearful of being exposed before she dies? OK, sure. And Fitz (Tony Goldwyn), upon hearing her confession, takes away her oxygen mask and pins her down until she codes? Well, you would have hoped for better from Fitz, but he doesn’t want to lose his presidency.
The breakneck pace at which “Scandal” steers through its sharp plot turns is one of the things that makes it such a compelling hour of TV, and it also makes the sometimes preposterous plot twists easier to take. When you know another one is coming, you don’t dwell much on the last one. It’s why I’m probably not going to stop watching “Scandal” anytime soon.
It’s only a “probably,” though, because almost all of the show’s characters have taken a turn for the worse over the course of this season’s election-rigging story arc. (Clearly this is a minority opinion, as the show’s ratings have grown considerably this season.)
The election-rigging story has certainly made it harder to root for Olivia (Kerry Washington) and her co-conspirators in the plot, but that’s not really the problem. Creator Shonda Rhimes has said she’s always considered Olivia an antihero, and from the start of the series she has done questionable things to achieve good outcomes for her clients.
With the election story, however, nearly everything Olivia has done has been to cover her own tracks. Certainly she’s thinking that she doesn’t want to bring down the presidency of the man she loves and dent the public’s faith in democracy. But maybe this is a presidency that deserves to be taken down.
The way “Scandal” presents Olivia brings to mind to the early seasons of “Breaking Bad,” the quintessential antihero show of the past several years. Before he turned completely to the dark side, Walter White was cooking meth to provide for his family after he died of cancer. You saw glimpses of the ego and hubris that would turn him into the monster he is now, but he was more or less sympathetic — or at any rate, the other bad guys were far worse than him.
With “Scandal,” that’s not the case. We’ve seen no evidence that Gov. Reston (Tom Amandes) would have been a worse president than Fitz — he was just Not Fitz, and that’s not enough to sell the idea of rigging an election for him, even with all the talk of Fitz’s once-in-a-generation quality (of which we’ve also seen little proof). Olivia may not be the mustache-twirling villain that her co-conspirator Hollis (Gregg Henry) is, or the desperate woman Verna turned out to be, or as cold-blooded Cyrus (Jeff Perry) — who had Amanda Tanner killed in Season 1 and nearly whacked his own husband in Thursday’s episode — but her actions mostly amount to covering her own behind.
And as for the people who work with her, it would appear that the associates of Olivia Pope and Associates all have Stockholm syndrome. It’s well established that Olivia somehow saved each of them, but the kind of blind loyalty that has elicited can be really unpleasant. Abby (Darby Stanchfield) finds out one moment that Olivia paid off one of David’s (Josh Malina) exes to scare her away from him, and a couple of story beats later she betrays the man she claims to love, lies to his face and then gets a hug for it. Yuck.
Huck (Guillermo Diaz) and Quinn (Katie Lowes) still seem to have some ability to think for themselves, although he may be more in debt to Olivia than anyone. Olivia saved Quinn as well, but she saved Quinn from a situation that Olivia herself helped create. Quinn is rightfully conflicted about it, if not yet able to sway her co-workers to her point of view.
To return to the “Breaking Bad” analogy, maybe the “gladiators” are like Jesse Pinkman at this point, enjoying the ride and reaping the benefits of their association with Olivia. Jesse eventually started to question the point of his association with Walt, even if it took him a long time to break it. “Scandal” would do well to have some of its characters start doing that as well.