“Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” isn’t as strong as last week’s ridiculously over-the-top “No Sun On The Horizon,” but it’s a lot more moving. I didn’t think of myself as someone terribly invested in the James/Cyrus relationship, but “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” is a heartbreaking portrayal of their relationship and its downfall.

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I will be very sorry to see Dan Bucatinsky go. His James was one of the few characters left on the show with a reliable sense of humor, and his marriage to Cyrus provided depth to that character, which is otherwise often a caricature of a Machiavellian type (see: Frank Underwood in House Of Cards).  On the other hand, James’ death means that Jeff Perry gets to do some of his finest work yet as the mourning husband, and even though Cyrus is not a character without flaws, his suffering in this episode is so real that it is impossible not to feel for him.

One of the reasons I keep doing things like quoting Macbeth and throwing phrases like “operatic tragedy” around with this season of Scandal is that I feel like it’s not even really trying to be the show it was in seasons one and two. In those two seasons, the show was dabbling with the idea of having an enormous amount of power, and finding more and more ways to wield it. In this season, it seems more interested in the devastating effects of power. Cyrus is literally a victim of his own hubris in this episode—his arrogance in using James to bring down Sally has turned into a waking nightmare where he’s lost the only thing that truly mattered to him.

It seems that this is the season where every character falls from a great height. Jake is no longer a good guy, but instead a ruthless assassin; Olivia is no longer a white hat but a grey hat; Rowan is just a civilian; Quinn is no longer a gladiator; Fitz might well lose re-election to his vice president. (If any show would pull something like that, it would be Scandal.) Melly’s setting herself up for failure with this escalating affair with Andrew, Huck’s indulging in very bizarre sexy feels for Quinn, and even Harrison is neck-deep with a pretty girl and a whole lotta cash.

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If there’s one problem that Scandal faces in the midst of its tale of American decadence, it’s that it’s become harder to care about the characters, as their problems feel increasingly distant from anything… normal. Olivia’s worried that she can’t be a crooked political operative if there isn’t anything good worth fighting for, which isn’t a problem I find myself having on a regular basis. And even more important than the problems themselves, the pitch of them—the seriousness with which the characters consider their quandaries, and their emotional spectrum in dealing with them—is like, off the charts.

Which is why, once again, I’m sad to see James go. He was one of the few characters left that had understandable reactions to the goings-on of Scandal—remember that little joke between him and David Rosen, when he admits that “Publius” was a dumb name to choose for the informant?

On the other end of the spectrum, next to zombie Olivia and bizarro Huck, is Evil!Jake. Jake has turned into a very scary man. I started out liking Jake more and more in this season, but following his sudden twists and turns in loyalty has proven rather challenging. Last week, the show convinced me that he’s given up on goodness—but seeing his ruthlessness tonight was something else entirely.

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The scene at the very end of the episode was one of the more upsetting emotional twists the show has done, I think—it not only had one character kill another in cold blood, but it then brought us to the actual moment of death, and forced us to confront both James’ totally unjust death and Jake’s somewhat justifiable reasons for being the monster that he is. I can’t imagine that his presence made James feel better—maybe it did—but the fact that Jake stayed there shows both a lot of compassion and a scary amount of composure in the face of being a murderer.

It brings me back to the strongest point of the episode, for me: Rowan’s speech to Olivia, outside on the bench. No one is a white hat, he agrees with her, as she is struggling to find her moral compass. But everyone is worth saving.

Stray observations:

  • Khandi Alexander alert! Marie Wallace kills two mooks in the service of Grant’s campaign fund, or something. Her agenda is still as mysterious as ever.
  • Melly and Andrew have sex while yelling at each other about gun control, which feels like one of Aaron Sorkin’s wet dreams.
  • Huck and Quinn? Nope.
  • Fitz’s many flaws aside, his acceptance of Cyrus’ romantic choices is really sweet. Dragging him off the podium at the end was also legitimately moving.
  • Next week: THE CHILDREN, FINALLY. I am very excited for this drama.

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