Well, that mystery didn’t last long. Or at least, that’s what we’re supposed to think. This season started with the unexpected assassination of Frankie Vargas and Cyrus’ path to power. It seemed like Olivia and her crew would spend weeks taking Cyrus down in order to uncover the truth. Well, that didn’t happen. Instead, Olivia and the Popes are given little to do in an episode that allows Cyrus to tell his own story. It’s fitting that Cyrus would guide his own downfall. It’s a petty move that takes power from Olivia and, boy, does Cyrus Beene love a petty chess move. That’s how all of “Fates Worse Than Death” functions. The episode is simply a chess move in a game that’s working to unravel a larger mystery. Whether that mystery will actually make sense or have an enjoyable payoff is another question.

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“Fates Worse Than Death” starts 76 days before inauguration. I’m not particularly sure why this matters––we know the Electoral College hasn’t happened yet. There’s no confusion about the timeline we’re working with here. But, the show decided to use flashbacks as a tool this season and we just have to deal. It does allow the show to retroactively make sense of the current character dynamics they’ve decided are necessary this season. For example, the episode starts with Cyrus, Michael and their beautiful daughter getting ready for the day like a picture perfect family. In order for Cyrus’ downfall to truly he has to be in a place where he has something to lose. So, the Cyrus of last season––who cheated on his husband with no hesitation last season––is now a family man.

Now, I could easily believe Cyrus would pretend to take on the dutiful role of husband in order to win the election, but “Fates Worse Than Death” needs us to believe this shift is actually real. In order for us to feel any sympathy for Cyrus in this episode, we have to believe he doesn’t deserve this fate. The thing is…he really kind of does. No, Cyrus didn’t pull the trigger and kill Vargas, but he did set up the chain of events that led to Vargas’ death. Cyrus asked Tom to handle Jennifer. Cyrus was aware of his manipulative control over Tom and knew exactly what would happen when he said “I want to be the President of the United States.” Cyrus has always wanted to be the president, ever since he screamed it at James in season two’s ”Nobody Likes Babies.”

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So, it’s odd when all of a sudden, we’re supposed to believe Cyrus is some sort of white hat who truly, deeply cares about serving his country. I literally do not know any of Cyrus’ political positions except his opinions on gay marriage and free college. It’s always silly when Scandal tries to act like any of its characters are truly good politicians, but Cyrus has always been so driven by his own interests that his final plea falls short. I mean, he teamed up with his ex-lover to bring down an imagined mistress without even discussing it with Vargas first. Anytime Tom is brought back into the plot, I can’t help but groan. It’s almost as though the writers are just using him as a stand in for B613 until it turns out that B613 was inevitably behind all of this the whole time. Tom should just be gone forever, but somehow he’s become the worst MacGuffin.

Cyrus and Olivia are both pivoting to the evil side this season, but at least with Cyrus we understand why. Cyrus was mistreated because of Fitz’s relationship with Olivia. He wasn’t about to let it happen again with Vargas. When it comes to Olivia’s motivations…well, I couldn’t tell you. Cyrus’ history and past difficulties have been explored. It helps us understand why he is the way he is. Olivia’s past is still mostly a mystery. I have no idea why Olivia wants the Oval Office like Cyrus says, but I think the show just needs that to be the case right now, so it is. And really, that’s the best way to enjoy Scandal. Just let the writers do what they have to do and hope it’s entertaining. Or let’s at least hope it doesn’t end with someone getting beaten to death with a chair.

Stray Observations

  • Why would the show make us think about a Charlie/Quinn sex tape? Why would they do that? Did we do something wrong?
  • Cyrus winning the debate felt great. Jake is an idiot and he should not be vice president.
  • Well, that was nice visit, Liz. Thanks for stopping by, but that Chief of Staff position doesn’t seem likely.
  • So…Cyrus was like, “I’ll quit if Mellie quits and then the American people can pick a new president” and that is just not how that works.
  • “This place is not serving what I’ve been craving for a long long time, Cyrus.” It was like the writers had a bet to come up with the grossest lines for the worst characters. Tom definitely beat the Chuinn sex tape.
  • I love that Frankie was just like, “I’m happily married. I wasn’t going to cheat.” He was just a normal dude. I’d like to live in the timeline where he’s in the White House.
  • So…Tom is ex-B613 and the best plan he could come up with was a giant, public assassination that wouldn’t even guarantee Cyrus the presidency? I’m sorry, but if you’re going to murder a president for me, at least make sure they’re actually the president and the line of succession is clear first.
  • Tom’s complaints about Cyrus hiding him were hilarious. Like, Tom, dude, you killed Fitz’s son and it seems like someone should be keeping tabs on you all the time.
  • How was Fitz an idiot this episode? The look of shock on his face when Tom confessed to murder. “Really?” FITZ. THAT DUDE KILLED YOUR SON. YES, YEAH, REALLY.

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