The name of this Scandal episode is “Trump Card,” ostensibly in reference to Hollis Doyle’s resemblance to a certain Republican nominee for president, but it also functions as a literal trump card. After weeks of bizarre plot corkscrews (hey, did you hear that Olivia beat a man to death with a chair?) followed by some weird inactivity focused on Jake’s wedding, this episode revs up so much, the change in pace is downright jarring. A whole lot happens this episode, one of those breathless rides we used to love Scandal for, with Olivia Pope Olivia Popeing somebody, and even more potential secrets and revelations still to come. So there’s some good here, at long last, but it’s wedged in around what I have come to consider Shonda Rhimes’ signature dialogue/cadence problem.

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Have you ever gone off on anyone like Olivia, Rowan, Edison, Susan, and Jake do this episode? In the real world, would any grown person let you talk to them like that for longer than 10 seconds? Even if you lectured your child like that, they would roll their eyes and tune out pretty quickly. This is a sped-up staccato speech pattern that Rhimes returns to again and again, so much so that now it’s distracting. It’s the boy who cried wolf: Now, when these speeches could actually be helpful, when both Rowan and Edison have something meaningful to say about the sorry state of race relations in this country, we’re so sick of the speeches that we automatically tune out. Rowan, I can barely bear to look at anymore. Edison has only revealed himself to be, as Jake described, the simplest of puppets, more comfortable with gazing longingly out the window than straight-up mimicking Olivia’s speech to get him out of the presidential race. Which she talks him into a single conversation. So Edison is still getting played, but, probably lucky for him that he did. Otherwise he would have gotten elected president, then likely somehow gotten offed by Rowan, so that Jake could be president, giving Rowan direct access to the White House and eight more seasons of this show.

Besides Edison’s speech, Susan’s to David was also a showstopper. It’s key that both of these moments involved people saying what they really thought and finally standing up for themselves. “I’m witty and sweet and smarter than you” is absolutely true, especially after dragging out this boring relationship for far too long. And is David really no longer Attorney General now for that dumb deal that didn’t even make any difference in the end?

Also now out of the race: Hollis Doyle. Any entertainment we may get while watching his character is considerably lessened by the fact that we have to deal with his real-life counterpart, without a real-life Olivia Pope to help get us out of it. Hollis had his entertaining moments (“I’m as serious as a fat kid on Halloween”), and you’d think he’d be too savvy to walk right in to Olivia’s trap for him, but here we are. At least Mellie and Marcus are cute.

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So we’re left with a dollop of intrigue that’s supposed to be even more riveting than the election itself. The show has done a decent job of setting up Olivia and Abby’s newfound rivalry, and I liked Olivia’s shoutout that she wasn’t ashamed about her abortion. The revelation to Abby that the only person who would be hurt by Olivia’s abortion would be Fitz obviously means that that confession will be involved in next week’s season cliffhanger.

But Jake whispering an SOS to Edison for Olivia? First off, okay, the guy’s a puppet, but why should he do anything for this man who nearly tortured him and who previously caused his car accident? Second, Rowan, as Olivia points out, is not Command anymore. So, besides Jake, who else does he have working for him? Tom’s over with Cyrus now. Frankly, how scary can he be for grown men like this to quake in their footsteps?

In the end, I’m kind of at a loss as to how to grade this episode. I really liked some things and really loathed some others. On the one hand, it had a lot of the stuff that we watch Scandal for, the political scheming, the manipulations, the hairpin turns that somehow are easier to predict now (that recording of Hollis, for example). On the other, maybe I could have taken Olivia’s sinner/saved/redeemed speech about Hollis if it hadn’t come right on top of Rowan going after Edison for saying that race is just a social construct, and immediately followed by Jake “I will be your vice president” Ballard. Then the Susan speech, confoundingly, kind of makes the whole episode.

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What must it be like, to be Shonda Rhimes—to have, speaking of puppets, a whole TV show that you can use to spout out anything you want? Especially in an election year, she can underline any current affair she likes on Scandal, like Trump’s rampant xenophobia. Still, it’s welcome when Edison talks about how he’ll have to explain to his future son how to deal with the police, or how Susan becomes a beacon for women everywhere by rightly stating that she’s awesome and deserves someone who completely believes in her. Sometimes the preaching drags down the show, as with the pontification of so many speeches this week. But the fact remains that Rhimes is saying some things that need to be said.

Stray observations

  • So is Cyrus going to follow up on his missing husband and daughter?
  • Mellie doesn’t have a vice-president prospect yet; you think Rowan will still get Jake in there somehow?
  • Kerry Washington’s pregnant again, so look forward to another season of giant purses and hiding behind couches.
  • Rowan’s coaching of Edison’s campaign was so odd and condescending. “Do you have your list of vice president suggestions? Good. Here’s who I want you to pick.”
  • Speaking of odd, Abby and Olivia’s fake giggly conversation after the Hollis reveal was just awkward.
  • What was that weird shadow on the side of Susan’s face in her concession speech?
  • Next week: The season finale and my final Scandal review. See you then.

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