A funny thing happened on the way to the Scandal finale. “A Few Good Women” was supposed to air a week earlier, with the season finale originally slated for this week. Both episodes were pushed back to accommodate a two-hour Grey’s Anatomy. Take a moment to soak in that, because it’s awfully deep. Scandal, which, from a ratings perspective, remains the crown jewel of the Shondaland empire, was preempted to accommodate an extra hour of Grey’s, a show many people wouldn’t have known was still on the air had it not abruptly killed off its leading man. Imagine if the same call were made during Scandal’s second season, back when #WhatTheHuck was a trending topic, and nearly every episode ended in a frenzied cliffhanger. Back then, ABC’s programming team would have had to hire private security to ensure its safety had it pulled such a stunt, but as season four winds down, no one seemed to notice or care about the postponement.
Scandal is still a popular, profitable show, but when it was at its commercial and creative peak, what made the show so special wasn’t the substantial size of its audience, but the audience’s outsize engagement level. Shonda Rhimes harnessed the power of social media to build a coalition of fans so mighty and passionate, conversations about Scandal became impossible to avoid. Even the most dependent social media users would discover an untapped well of willpower at the end of each week if they had the misfortune of missing a live episode. Facebook and Twitter were not safe spaces for those with night jobs or school-night social lives. Now, the conversation around Scandal is at a very low volume, if not muted. Gone are the enthusiastic, high-pitched OMG sessions about how Liv and Fitz had angry sex in the lap of the Lincoln Memorial or whatever insane thing happened that week. But those haven’t even been replaced with gripe sessions about how desperately the show needs a course correction. The engagement level has cratered. The thrill is gone.
The show can still rebound. The beauty of television as a storytelling medium is that there’s no blind alley the storytellers can’t back out of. Doing so is typically a lengthy, arduous process, but it can be done, and Rhimes has done it on numerous occasions. Revitalizing Scandal next season will be trickier than rebooting one of Rhimes’ sexy hospital dramas, but it can be done. The first step in that process is to burn sage and recite Latin incantations until the evil spirit of B-613 has been completely exorcised, and that’s where “A Few Good Women” comes in. Television episodes don’t get more utilitarian than “A Few Good Women,” which serves the sole purpose of moving pieces before the finale, and doesn’t even fulfill that purpose with panache. The most interesting thing about “Women” is how uninteresting it is, and for the penultimate episode of a show as heavily plotted as Scandal to have so little meat on its bones speaks to how wrong the season went.
The most important goal of “Women” was to weave all the characters back into the same storyline. With Olivia and Fitz’s relationship on an indefinite hiatus and Olivia still suffering post-traumatic stress following the kidnapping, there’s been almost no overlap between the White House characters and the OPA gang. In “First Lady Sings The Blues,” the only tenuous connection between the White House’s latest crisis and the effort to save Jake’s life were a couple of phone calls, one between Abby and Rosen and another between Liv and Fitz. Even with those two scenes, which both felt shoehorned in, the episode played as if two separate, wildly different television shows were sharing a time slot. “Women” tosses the characters together as quickly as possible, first with a ho-hum crisis-of-the-week about rape in the armed forces, then with the final revelation that Mellie is the Foxtail, a fact still unknown to the Gladiators because Russell escapes without giving up the information.
The cliffhanger falls flat for the same reason anything related to Rowan and B-613 falls flat: It’s way too abstract. Remember when Rowan was still made of flesh and blood? When he seemed to have weak spots, foibles, and emotions, including a love for his daughter so abiding that he was literally paying her to have dinner with him? Since the season three finale, after Rowan orchestrated the death of Jerry, he’s gradually transformed into a bogeyman. Rowan has no understandable motivations beyond victimizing his daughter (mostly by getting her laid) and consolidating power, though it’s unclear what power remains unavailable to him after murdering the president’s son with impunity. Apparently Rowan poses a threat to Mellie, because posing a threat is the only thing Rowan seems to do, but I don’t know what that actually means when Rowan seems incapable of killing main characters. He managed to kill Harrison, but that must have been dumb luck.
Rowan is too poorly drawn a character to loom as large over Scandal as he does. The character has so little driving him that Jake’s emotional monologue about Command doesn’t track. He tells Olivia about Russell, how he’s trained not to talk, how he was trained to seduce her, and Command does this again and again just to prove to Olivia that he can get to her. Huh? Does she not know that already? It’s been made pretty clear, and the basic premise of Jake’s speech doesn’t wash. The meandering monologue is the one thing Scandal manages to do well when the rest of the show is falling apart, but it doesn’t work here because there’s simply no making sense of who or what Rowan is. It’s been established that “you can’t take Command,” but what about leaving Command? Can I do that?
- Looks like it’s finally time to circle back to Jerry’s murder, but will Harrison ever be mentioned on this show again?
- Dan Byrd was a fun addition, but the B-613 reveal spoiled the entire thing.
- Vice President Susan Ross is officially my favorite character now.
- I laughed hysterically when Jake, who is alive, complimented Russell on his ability to kill people.
- For Russell to escape without killing or even seriously hurting Huck is so, so dumb. I still can’t figure out whether Rowan is actually interested in killing any of these people.