After breaking Joshua Alston with last season’s finale (he gave it an F), Scandal kicks off season five with a heavy-handed analogy to one of the most famous people of all time. In case you were wondering who Olivia Pope is supposed to emulate this season, we’re going as high as possible. Yep, she’s Princess Diana now.

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With the death of Caledonia’s Princess Emily (who also has a few Kate, Duchess Of Cambridge-looking shots), Scandal offers a clear allegory to the death of Princess Diana, in a car accident that also killed her boyfriend. The show also takes this opportunity to caution Olivia Pope about becoming just the paramour of someone completely powerful and famous. Even a force as vibrant as Olivia could wind up in the shadows of Fitz, especially while he’s still in office.

After all the convoluted nonsense last season (even the “previously on Scandal” was like a PTSD slideshow of horrific stuff I’d blocked out, like the murder of those 12 B6-13 jurors on the bus), an unsubtle case of the week still managed to work quite well, even as it went a little off the rails. As in that meeting in the Oval Office where Olivia is immediately convinced that Prince Richard had Kate murdered, so how can they get him despite diplomatic immunity? She appeared to have missed a step or 12. Sure, he had a motive, but there was virtually no other evidence that it was the prince himself. And there was also something about optics, and naval bases.

Maybe the problem with these Scandal shows is that when Shonda Rhimes writes, she doesn’t appear to write for individual characters. She writes like Shonda Rhimes. There are idiosyncrasies in her patterns that she pours into her pontificating speeches and gives to every single character, so that there is no differentiation. Like this episode’s smackdown between Mellie and Elizabeth: Mellie goes off on wondering why Elizabeth betrayed her, when Lizzy retaliates with Shonda Rhimes’ favorite thing in the world: The list! “I was your prisoner, I was your puppet, I was your bitch.” So much of her dialogue is in bullet-point form. The cadence, the inflection, is all so similar that this speech could have been delivered by Mellie, or Cyrus, or Sally, or even Olivia Pope herself.

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As is so often the case on Scandal, the case of the week mirrors our main characters. Princess Emily was a human rights lawyer who got swept off her feet by the most eligible man in the world (just like George Clooney’s wife!). Abby is so sick of her life she’d like to be famous for just who she’s in love with, like Emily, but Abby’s always been kind of an idiot. Olivia, wisely, has no interest in such a setup. Then Emily appears out of the loo and stresses that she knows people wouldn’t say such hurtful things if they realized she was an actual person. We hang on to this scene, because it will become important later.

OPA is down to just one employee, the hard-working Quinn, as Huck has become a nondescript lump on Olivia’s couch since the bus incident. He offers up another level of cringe-inducing dialogue: “Did he hurt you? On the inside?” Huck is a crazy person, but he’s also a grown-ass man. Who talks like that? Of course, in Shonda-speak, Olivia volleys his words right back at him: “I can’t fix people on the inside.” Lord only knows how anyone’s going to be able to fix Huck, although having him end the episode on Jake’s doorstep was a positive step.

That brief glimpse of Jake was not enough of Scott Foley (what could be?), but you know what was blissful not to hear this episode? The words “B6-13,” or “Command.” I hate even typing them out here. Also did not miss Joe Morton as Rowan Pope, who would have made his usual mincemeat out of all these speech patterns mentioned above.

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Emily’s rant to Olivia about how much she is minimized makes Liv realize how inconsequential she will become as the president’s mistress while he is still in office. Fitz is awfully proud of himself for serving Mellie with divorce papers, but per usual, he hasn’t thought this through, or checked with Olivia. She realizes after seeing Emily’s smashed crown on the ground that she and Fitz would not have a chance in the media spotlight their public relationship would attract, so she convinces him to stay in their limbo status quo. Hopefully somehow this limbo will include the return of Mellie and Cyrus, because the show suffers with them in diminished capacity.

The story of Emily and Richard gets labeled with the ”fairy-tale romance” moniker, something that on the surface looks so idyllic. As with Charles and Di, the awful truth was far from perfect, with unhappiness and infidelities. Olivia is savvy enough to realize that she’s in a dream reality, even as she’s living it. She and Fitz don’t really exist in the real world, and at the moment, she’s fairly certain that they would not be able to survive it.

Then the episode ends with the kind of twist Scandal does so well: Pictures of Fitz and Olivia together at the White House are released. Although it’s been hinted that Olivia has been tied to Fitz before, this absolute proof should shake up everything. Even better, it sets up a compelling mystery for the rest of the season. The pictures look like they were taken with a hidden camera: Who would install them and release those photographs? The rage-fueled Sally? If it’s Rowan, unfortunately, I am going to have to take back every positive turn of phrase here, but the ending pulled the rug out from under everything else enough to make me intrigued for the rest of the season.

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Stray observations

  • Dialogue you would only hear on Scandal, or perhaps Gunsmoke: “Where are you going?” “To get justice!” Our own Oliver Sava then tweeted, “(goes to the corner store, picks up some justice).”
  • The evil queen (and really ABC, you have enough evil queens already) is getting banished to the winter palace. Harsh.
  • Why did Liv go off on running bake sales in Ohio, instead of the obsequious Vermont?
  • Welcome to Scandal season five: I’ll be taking over review duties from Joshua this season. Burning some sage right now in the hope of keeping the horrible B6-13 at bay.

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