Katie Lowes, Guillermo Diaz, Kerry Washington, Jordan Belfi

Here’s why it’s really hard to get into episodes of Scandal that are as much about B-613 is as “Honor Thy Father”: It remains a bit of a mystery how Shonda Rhimes views B-613 and its role in the Scandal universe, and that makes it difficult to invest one way or the other. In interviews, Rhimes has talked extensively about how fascinated she is by the idea of B-613, which makes perfect sense given her Alias super-fandom, but she has also been surprisingly contrite about the failures of season three. As someone who sees the B-613 morass as a major contributor to the third season’s shortcomings, when I read her comments about letting the story drift, I naturally assume she’s talking about the same thing I’m thinking about.

As ridiculous as it is to do so, it’s tough not to make assumptions about how story beats might be intended to signal the direction you’d most like a show to take. When there’s talk of taking B-613 down once and for all, I hear that and assume the writers have come around to my opinion of how awful and pointless that entire storyline is, but that’s insane. What if Rhimes and her staff think the audience is equally in love with the inner-workings of B-613, and the suggestion of its demise is supposed to terrify us? Rhimes is too savvy a storyteller and too plugged into social media for that to be the case, but there’s no reasonable basis on which to assume anything about how or when the B-613 element will be effectively resolved. It always feels like something that could go either direction, for reasons that will never be completely clear, so when characters start talking about taking down Command, it’s like, “Oh okay. Well do something entertaining and circle back with me later.”

The “something entertaining” in “Honor Thy Father” is a case-of-the-week in which Olivia Pope and Associates work to spare a congressman’s father from the execution chair by proving he wasn’t responsible for the death of a teacher who raped his daughter. It’s an emotional story about human folly, but it’s exactly like so, so many stories that have been told in Scandal. In episodes where the case-of-the-week is thematically linked to the serialized plot, it’s forgivable for the episodic plot to hit overly familiar beats. There’s no such parallel construction here, so the case of Congressman Nicholas Reed and his father the patsy is just kind of boring. I concluded what had happened within the first five minutes of the episode, and the rest was tap dancing.

Procedurals can get away with staid patterns like that because they drill down to the specifics and show how different paths can succeed or fail at obtaining certain results. When you see Cynthia Nixon show up on Law & Order: SVU, you know she did it, but you want to see how the detectives figure out how and why she did it. Scandal looks most ridiculous when it’s trying to operate as a pure procedural because there’s absolutely no concept of how the Olivia Pope magic actually works. There’s the taping photos on the windows phase, then Olivia verbally drop-kicks a bunch of people, and the truth comes out, or the bad guy goes away with or without money, or something. But there’s not a recognizable procedure behind it. If the actor playing the medical examiner in a CSI or a Law & Order leaves the show, that person has to be replaced because the character represented a vital part of a process. Consider that Harrison is dead, Abby works at the White House, and it’s business as usual at OPA. What business can sustain a 40% workforce reduction without making some adjustments? Clearly Olivia needs to get out of this dangerous spy nonsense and become a freelance efficiency consultant. Olivia Pope: Redundancy between the marketing and sales teams? It’s handled.

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The other matter of note is a visit to the White House from Mellie’s earthy half-sister Harmony after Lizzy Bear urges Mellie to make nice to help avert scandal during her campaign. It’s hard to make a Mellie story boring, but the episode manages it somehow by sticking her with Lauren Bowles as a borderline offensive white trash caricature. Bowles is a good actress, but Harmony veers too close to her work on True Blood, which had a license to be campy that Scandal doesn’t quite have. I’m always happy to get a bit of color from Mellie, but this was a bit of a letdown. I hope Fitz’s speech to Harmony isn’t supposed to be sincere, because it doesn’t ring emotionally true, so it doesn’t feel illuminating or worthwhile. The bit about Cyrus’ ongoing psychosis is kind of interesting.

But the bulk of the episode goes to the latest iteration of the plan to take down B-613, which Jake seemed like he wasn’t into but then—surprise!—was totally into. It’s admirable how much effort goes into selling that final reveal, but I really couldn’t get myself to care because I’m not into the B-613 stuff in the slightest, and I’m completely in the dark about whether or not there’s an end in sight. I’m ready to fast-forward to the final Rowan Pope monologue.

Stray observations:

  • Huck: “You wanna know what I’d do if someone did that to my kid?” Olivia and Quinn: “NO.”
  • Fantastic music throughout this episode. That’s one thing this show almost always gets right.
  • David Andrews’ performance as George Reed had a weird intensity to it that I found transfixing.
  • Are all B-613 agents cross-trained in clerical duties or just the women? Because that ain’t cool man.
  • Thanks so much to the awesome Gwen Ihnat for subbing for me last week.

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