Stars, hide your fires,
Let not light see my black and deep desires.
The eye wink at the hand, yet let that be
Which the eye fears, when it is done, to see.
—Macbeth, Act I, Scene 4
“No Sun On The Horizon” has a few more monologues than most episodes of Scandal this season—enough so that watching it reminded me of Macbeth. A few weeks ago, I wrote about how Scandal has cemented itself as a tragedy in my mind; tonight, as the show hit fever pitch, it felt like the show was echoing Shakespeare’s plays.
I like the above quotation, and not just because it’s partially quoted in Mumford And Sons’ “Roll Away Your Stone.” Besides its basic poetic quality, it speaks to a lot of willing self-deception, and that’s something Scandal knows a lot about. Macbeth, too, is conflating self-deception with deceiving the judgment of the heavens, and that seems particularly relevant for tonight’s episode.
“No Sun On The Horizon” is a really good episode of Scandal. It pushes several of the characters to actually grow a little, which isn’t something that’s happened on the show in a while. It’s taken a necessary step away from the B6-13 storyline, which hampered the first half of this season. And it’s created a lot of nail-biting drama, which is why the show exists. It’s not in me to criticize a show that uses the classic #WhoGotShot plot device in the closing few seconds of the episode. It’s too good—and too old-school television—to not be sort of wonderful.
But the episode works, too, because it sells the hell out of the shifting alliances in this episode, and in particular, it makes Jake Ballard’s transformation to the empty heartlessness of Command entirely plausible. Scott Foley’s range is a tad limited—I say that as someone who genuinely enjoys his time onscreen—so up until now, his character has been pretty flat. Foley’s performance hasn’t gotten better, but I think the writing for his character has vastly improved. This episode is all about Jake—the framing device gives us an insight into why he was an easy recruit for B6-13, and his conversations with Olivia give us insight into what he really wants, and what he’s really afraid of. Even his back-and-forth with Quinn is characterization—she’s getting his measure, and he’s getting hers. At the beginning of the episode, it would have been unthinkable for Jake to step out of a car and cold-bloodedly shoot three journalists/public citizens. By the end of the episode, it’s almost obvious. That’s talented storytelling.
Something I liked about this episode—something that makes it Shakespearean, again—is how much drama comes just out of conversations two characters have with each other. Olivia has some fantastic scenes in this episode. I feel confident saying that the show was wasting Kerry Washington’s talent over the past few episodes, because tonight, Washington is alternately drunk, moody, desperate, hysterical, and dispassionately realistic. I’m so glad the show’s writers chose to bring her desire to do good to the forefront of her character again—it ties together all of those moods and scenes into a coherent person. This is Olivia Pope. Her scenes with Jake are killer; the last scene, where he realizes that she’s moved away from the idea of running away with him, is sincerely heartbreaking. Her scene with Fitz, where she angrily takes him to task for living in a fantasy world, is one of my favorite scenes with the two of them together in a very, very long time. And her scene with Cyrus, where she collapses in a fit of laughter upon realizing that every candidate for president is a murderer, seems lifted from Hamlet or the like—the character who is pretending to be mad, because that’s easier than being angry.
Paradoxically, though: While the writers have found Olivia’s desire to do good… they’re also doing that just to have her cast it aside. If Olivia wanted to do good, she would have run away with Jake. “I’d like for us to stop being these people,” he says. To stand in the sun, to be “normal,” as she asks. This is an episode of revealing secrets and shattering illusions. Olivia wants to be a good person, but let the eye wink at the hand. She’s not willing to leave behind this world of corruption. And that could be because she loves Fitz… and it could also be because she loves power. Either way, Jake’s out of luck—and on his way to being a ruthless Command, just like Daddy Pope. Jake and Olivia’s last night of romance didn’t seem like it was going to be their last—not the way these two have been back and forth. But it does seem like it could finally be over.
As I said: secrets and illusions, brought to the cold light of day. And in a very un-Scandal fashion, for that matter. Cyrus learns that James is Publius, and he forgives him; Olivia finds out that Sally killed her husband, and she tells Fitz almost immediately. Fitz tries to tell himself that he’s actually going to move to Vermont and he’s going to run a clean campaign, and Olivia shuts him down. “There is no clean. Just like there is no Vermont,” Liv says. To Fitz’s eternal credit (and to Tony Goldwyn, for bringing this scene home), he doesn’t fight her on that; he accepts it. Olivia and Fitz have a chance if they can be real, and I’m glad Scandal is throwing them a bone. It’s the most loving moment that has existed between them in months.
The major players tonight are working toward accepting their shitty inner natures. It’s a necessary step. Everyone has to admit they’re a bad person in order to move forward; it certainly makes things easier in the short run.
But then, of course, there’s Sally Langston, lurking on the edges and babbling about devil-pigs to remind you that some things will weigh on your conscience so badly that you might be tempted to destroy your entire career in public, just so you can live with yourself. On one hand, at least someone from B6-13 will be standing by with a rifle, waiting to pull the trigger. On the other hand, then you have eternal damnation to reckon with. At which point you best hope the stars hid their fires. Otherwise, things are going to get worse before they get better.
- There’s a motif here about faith in God and faith in government overlapping and being mutually exploitable… but I don’t know if I have a line on it. Any takers?
- #WhoGotShot: My money is on James. David Rosen is too important to the story, and a widowed Abby is less interesting than a widowed Cyrus. Plus, Cyrus angry at Jake (as was hinted at tonight) would make for an epic nemesis matchup, right up there with Fitz and Rowan. Alpha males be hatin’ each other, or something.
- Also, “Remember, the best part of me loves you, and maybe the only part,” is essentially a good-bye, right?
- “Watch the way you talk to clients, Perkins. We’re starting to lose fake business.”
- I’d be down with getting that iPhone app Quinn has that apparently breaks open safes.