Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Scandal: “Inside The Bubble”

Kerry Washington and Joe Morton
Kerry Washington and Joe Morton
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There’s a scene in “Inside The Bubble,” one of the episode’s emotional peaks, in which Quinn is furious with Olivia and Huck. She has just come from spending 24 hours trapped in a cold, concrete corridor with her ex-boyfriend, B-613 wet-work expert Charlie, having been locked in by Jake against her will. Upon her return to OPA, Quinn is horrified to find out that neither Liv nor Huck even noticed she was missing.

On one hand, Quinn’s gripe is understandable. After all, we’re not talking about a massive conglomerate, a matrix organization made up of thousands of people spread across multiple continents. This is the newly reconstituted OPA. Three people work there, and Quinn is one of those three. It stands to reason at some point Huck would stop and say “You know…it seems like it’s taking longer than usual to stick these photos up on the glass. Did we used to do this a different way? Was someone helping me before? I don’t know, it just seems like I’m doing an awful lot of photo taping and it doesn’t feel quite right.” Alas, two members of Quinn’s surrogate family didn’t notice her absence for a full day. That has to sting.

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But on the other hand, would the audience notice if Quinn was missing? Even with OPA stripped down to a multi-culti, co-ed Charlie’s Angels, is Quinn’s presence so vital that her prolonged absence would call attention to itself? Absolutely not. In fact, among the episode’s oddities is the fact that Olivia, arguably the only Scandal character whose absence would be missed, didn’t make her first appearance until several scenes in. In an episode of Scandal that mostly sidelines Olivia, Quinn hardly gets to complain about people not noticing she’s gone.

Whatever slack Scandal was given early in its rebuilding year, “Inside The Bubble” takes it up and stretches the line to its breaking point. It’s an utterly rudderless hour of television, with the elliptical rhythms of a piece-moving episode but little to no indication of where said pieces are being moved and to what end. There still aren’t any clues pointed to what story Scandal’s fourth season is trying to tell.

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The premiere’s more restrained pace was heartening after the heightened insanity of season three, but as the current season progresses, it’s clear Scandal can’t simply back out of the dark alleys it sprinted down last year. The show’s problems are so deeply rooted that it’s not simply a matter of downshifting. It’s beginning to look like Scandal requires an even bigger structural overhaul than the one it’s already working through.

The enduring consequence of a season in which the characters were made to do whatever would deliver the most shocking twist is that the humanity has been squeezed out of the characters, turning them into plot delivery automatons. As a result, the emotional intelligence that has come to characterize Shonda Rhimes’ shows isn’t as easy to muster. There are exceptions, namely the increasingly rancorous feud between Olivia and Abby, Mellie’s battle with grief, and to a lesser degree, David Rosen’s newfound willingness to play dirty. But the rest of these relationships are inscrutable.

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Take Jake, for example, who always been a tricky character for Scandal, but since he assumed the role of Command and shot those folks, he looks more vestigial with each episode. Jake once was intended to complicate Olivia’s relationship with Fitz, but there’s nothing complicated about it anymore. Olivia is in love with Fitz, but can’t be with him for a myriad of reasons, so she keeps Jake around to scratch the occasional itch. Okay fine, but now he’s supposed to be complicating Rowan and Olivia’s relationship, and that simply doesn’t make any sense. Dinner together makes no sense. Nor does it make any sense for Jake to spend the season trying to expose Rowan, because where would that lead? Rowan’s death? Olivia and Rowan back on the outs? Jake back in charge of B-613? It’s a dead end.

The only measurable movement in “Inside The Bubble” happens in the White House, which isn’t much, but those scenes distinguish themselves simply by laying out a series of causes and effects. Fitz manages to get a circuit court to sign off on his landmark gun control legislation, and apparently it’s an issue Fitz is so emotionally absorbed in, he lashes out at anyone who crosses his path when the prospects look grim. David gets the brunt of Fitz’s fury, as the person with the most power to sway the decision, and he’s so desperate for a win he consults the B-613 library, which is apparently a glorified burn book with all the dishiest gossip about the members of our tripartite government. David finds a weak spot and turns the result, but later finds out the deciding judge shot himself. I’d like to think this is important, but as I recall, a senator was nearly murdered and I haven’t heard a word about it since.

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Olivia was busy with a case of the week, but it was short on urgency, with OPA trying to track down Caitlin, the missing daughter of Catherine, one of Olivia and Abby’s law school chums. The reveal that Catherine had been sleeping with Caitlin’s boyfriend and may be responsible for her death is one that might have blindsided the audience in season one or two, but at this juncture it feels wan. The bright spot was Olivia and Abby’s confrontation, mostly because that’s one of the few relationships in the show that has any kind of internal logic.

Olivia may be having a bumpy transition, but it’s nothing compared to the transition Scandal is grappling with.

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Stray observations:

  • Cyrus sealed the deal with Michael the sex worker, so…yeah.
  • Mellie’s Killer Cliff Bride plot was heartbreaking, as usual. Bellamy Young continues to crush everything.
  • The sexual politics of this show are baffling. Jake actually locked Quinn in a dark room with Charlie without her consent. That’s awfully gross.
  • Abby to Olivia: “Ethical? You, rigger of elections?”
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