My expectation going into this week’s Scandal was that the first thing I’d want to talk about is Lena Dunham. ABC wasn’t remotely bashful about promoting “It’s Good To Be Kink” and its two high-profile guest appearances: Lena Dunham and That Wig. My Jesus, that crazy, bang-tastic, possibly sentient wig. There’s a lot to unpack about a girl named Sue, but the first thing I want to talk about is Huck. In a show half-composed of impractical characters, “Kink” solidifies Huck as the most impractical of them all. How do you solve a problem like Diego?
The question of Huck’s viability as a character first came up in “YOLO” with the infamous face-licking scene. Whatever impression the audience had formed of Huck changed the moment he licked Quinn’s face the way people who know how to live lick the inside of a pudding cup. Huck has always been, in Shonda Rhimes parlance, “dark and twisty.” He’s not only adept at torture, he’s literally addicted to it. It’s a disturbing character trait, but one that makes sense emotionally. For someone whose job it is inflict excruciating pain, it’s not sufficient to get to a point where the job is tolerable. It’s not enough to show up, punch in, peel a guy’s skin off for a few hours, then go home and crack open a Lime-A-Rita. In order to psychologically tolerate something so awful, Huck has to learn to love it. But being passionate about wet work is one thing, and sexualizing it is another. With the face lick, Huck went from being a guy making the best of an awful set of circumstances to a garden-variety sexual sadist.
It’s no surprise that Scandal eventually sexualized Huck’s violence because Scandal is a show about sex. Its protagonist is a woman whose job it is to contain people’s most embarrassing, potentially damaging secrets, and because this is the country in which the ass-eating scene in the Girls premiere fractured the collective psyche, most of those secrets involve sex. Just this season there was an episode about a video of the first daughter getting the ol’ Eiffel Tower, and by no coincidence, it was the first firecracker of season four. There’s chunk of the Scandal audience who just wants the show to be a cuckoo-bananas thrill ride, and those viewers’ eyes gloss over when the discussions in and around the show start to sound like a freshman-level women’s studies seminar. But in a show about sexual impropriety at the highest rungs of power, themes of sexuality, gender, power, privilege, and consent aren’t something the writers have to work to include. The challenge would be to exclude them.
“Kink” is classic Scandal, one of the show’s many installments about a “woman of loose morals.” This time it’s Suzanne Thomas, who has written a shocking tell-all about the Washington power brokers with whom she’s indulged her inner-Quagmire, and Olivia is slut-shaming her. The slut-shame grows out of what passes for good intentions in Scandal. One of Sue’s playmates is Leo Berger, a.k.a. The Dustbuster, so Olivia is working to contain the book to help Abby avoid a potentially career-killing humiliation. Despite being an Olivia Pope superfan—a nod to Dunham’s real-life obsession with the show—Sue lights into Olivia for having the audacity to play the shame card. It’s not new ground for Scandal, but Matt Byrne’s script is well-done, and Sue’s tirade is magnificent. It’s lean and packed with gems, and was the first sign that Dunham didn’t come to OPA to screw around.
The Sue speech is startlingly similar to a lot of speeches Olivia has given, including her defense of Karen in “Like Father, Like Daughter.” Often in Scandal, either a woman or her proxy ends up righteously declaring the woman’s right to plentiful, mind-bending orgasms, because girl power. And when it happens, it feels exhilarating, empowering, and subversive. The thing is though, Huck has never monologued about the time he licked Quinn’s face. He’s never had to explain what it means that he became sexually aroused by terrorizing and torturing a woman to whom he has a personal relationship. Nor do any of the men Sue slept with take the opportunity to monologue about why they saw fit to cheat on their spouses or imperil their very public jobs. As cool as Sue’s speech was, it exposed Scandal as a show in which women proffer lengthy, rhythmic apologies for behavior men don’t have to give much thought to at all. This has always been the case, but it becomes much more glaring in a episode wherein a young, single woman has to provide rationale for her sexual proclivities, then gets her throat slashed by a guy who licked a woman’s face while he was torturing her and hasn’t had much to say about it since.
If the face lick was one shoe dropping, the Sue incident is another, and at this point, I can’t imagine a scenario in which Huck remains a character indefinitely. Writing Guillermo Diaz out of the show would be tricky to pull off with Harrison dead, Abby at the White House and OPA down to a trio. But “Kink” accomplished what it hoped to with Sue by inviting the audience to scoff at her, then building empathy by revealing she was terminated by her boss for rejecting his sexual advances. After rescuing Sue from one of her lovers wielding a knife, Huck slashes her throat himself to keep her quiet, thereby ensuring David Rosen, a.k.a DR, can give him an immunity deal. Who conceals that information from Olivia? The woman whose face Huck licked while he was torturing her, of course. If Quinn won’t turn on Huck, fine, but I’m done.
Compounding the ickiness is the fact that there’s a lack of narrative integrity to the latest pivot towards the destruction of B-613. The idea of it worked in “The Testimony Of Diego Munoz,” but now that the show is drilling into the details, it’s entirely unclear who is doing what and to what end. In a general sense, I understand that B-613 is bad somehow and there are reasons to rid the planet of its evil. But when David explains to Huck that securing an immunity deal would change the plan and put assassins on their scent, none of that means anything. It’s not even clear what the actual significance of the immunity deal is in the first place. Do those documents deflect bullets if you tape them to your windows? When Huck kills Sue, it’s not just a typically shocking Scandal moment, it’s a likable character being sacrificed as part of a larger plan that feels inscrutable.
Olivia is directly involved in all of this, the characters insist, because going after B-613 somehow hurts Liv. I have no idea what that means, or which wacky plot element I’ve forgotten about, but that’s because the dialogue exists solely to connect Olivia to the larger action, no matter how tenuous that connection. Olivia is still emotionally recovering from her kidnapping ordeal, so she’s too wounded to be actively involved in the B-613 stuff. I don’t see that as a problem in search of a solution. The kidnapping plot was exhausting, but Olivia’s post-traumatic stress has granted the opportunity to do a lot of interesting character beats, the type of scene Scandal literally doesn’t have time to get to in most episodes. The next phase of Olivia’s recovery apparently involves picking up strangers at bars and taking them home for sex. For those scandalized by this, be patient. Olivia will explain it all in a seven-minute monologue soon enough.
- The final shot was pretty great. And Brian J. White? I’ve never been less mad at anything. But at the apartment though? Was there a convention in D.C. occupying all the hotel rooms?
- My favorite Sue line: “Go ahead and call me a whore. Everyone who writes a memoir is a whore.”
- Mellie is plotting with Lizzy Bear as she gears up for a senatorial run.
- Jake and Fitz are back to acting like Olivia is a trophy that adorns their respective mantles on alternating months. It’s so disgusting.
- Sue’s hook-ups include: Agent Orange, Motorhead, Thruster, Slapjack, and Sit And Spin. Surely Agent Orange is supposed to be John Boehner.
- Back to the double standard, Abby tells Cyrus she’s going to resign to protect herself from embarrassment simply for being romantically linked to men ensnared in the scandal. Does he tell her to snap out of it? Give her a pep talk about not being a bitch baby? No, he’s like, “Oh, keep me posted.”
- I’ve officially decided to change the name of my Marnie and Desi cover band from Honestly, Fuck The Both Of You to Lena Dunham And That Wig. Sorry if you don’t watch both Girls and Scandal, in which case that joke is lost on you.