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Scandal’s Dan Bucatinsky livens up Rebel’s case of the week

Illustration for article titled Scandal’s Dan Bucatinsky livens up Rebel’s case of the week
Photo: Karen Ballard/ABC
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The second episode of Rebel fares better than the first one, now that we (kind of) know who everyone is, ex-husbands and offspring and partners alike. Rebel and her third (about to be ex-)husband Grady (John Corbett) are at odds and fighting over the guest house. Rebel has guilted Cruz (Andy Garcia) into taking on the Strongbone heart valve case, especially since—coincidence or plot point?—Cruz’s wife Leslie died due to that same faulty heart valve. Cruz tasks her with finding a Patient X for the study, which—lucky for all of us—is Jason, played by Dan Bucatinsky, a.k.a. Cyrus’ true love James on Scandal.

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The character of Jason introduces a “case of the week” concept that might actually make Rebel fun and fathomable. Because before he can help Rebel et al. with the lawsuit, he must fight for his job at a disciplinary hearing after chasing a student he suspects is harassing him with gay-slur-themed vandalism.

It’s the kind of gig that makes Rebel’s particular brand of grandstanding appear humorously outsized—pretending like a classroom is a courtroom and spooling off one of her familiar diatribes that basically just involves describing herself to a flabbergasted professorial committee: “I am relentless. I am tireless. And quite frankly, I’m exhausting. I will chase you through the halls. I will chase you though the courts… ” Exhausting is right. It’s a dialogue hallmark of Thursday night Shondaland shows (even though Shonda Rhimes has now left the ABC building): rapid-fire monologues that don’t sound anything like what regular people sound like. Sometimes these odd speeches pay off—like Meredith Grey’s “pick me, choose me, love” plea—but as we’re still just getting to know Rebel, yeah, it is exhausting.

Which is why my favorite character is not Rebel so far but her secret weapon Lana (Tamala Jones), who actually saves the day this episode. While Rebel is unfurling all of her bullshit, Lana is doing the actual detective work of investigating Jason’s suspected vandal and even persuades his mom to let her into his computer. He’s revealed to be a homophobic white supremacist, and maybe because it’s a current topic where we don’t often get to see those guys taken down, it’s awfully satisfying when his mom smashes his computer. There’s even a nice dig at participation trophy culture: His mom is so convinced that the kid who got an award in the fifth grade for sharing did not grow into an asshole member of a group called the White Boys, but who would actually believe that about their child, unless they were a white supremacist themselves?

Rebel’s moment of triumph is effective but brief, and she then immediately moves on to the Strongbone case. Cruz, even though he should totally be fired up to take down his wife’s killers, instead only interviews victims of the faulty heart valve (like the formidable Mary McDonnell!) in a lackluster fashion. Which makes little sense: He’s so distraught over his wife’s death that he can’t even muster up the energy to vindicate it? (And, let’s not forget, had to be talked into taking on the case in the first place.) It’s a weird, circuitous trail of reasoning for a character we’re supposed to like, even though Cruz of course comes around at the end.

Let’s hope that case fires up, because the subplots are not really paying off: Ziggy’s new friend did not seem to be worthy of her even before it turned out that he really wasn’t taking his recovery too seriously. Ziggy, you should not be interested in someone who didn’t even know who David Bowie was anyway (though I’m still not sure how that’s even possible. It’s like not knowing who Shakespeare is). For all of Lex Scott Davis’ effective courtroom dynamics last episode, this week the show just seems determined to shove Cassidy into the cute, earnest category (call it the “Kepner”), what with her practicing her giving-notice speech and then directly waltzing into her brand new office, and her own impassioned statement about breaking away from her mother. Still, the crush that Luke (Sam Palladio) is harboring for her has possibilities, about the closest thing Rebel has right now related to actual romance.

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But the worst victim of the Shondaland monologue curse may be Abigail Spencer of Mad Men and Rectify (and just did a few season stint on Grey’s Anatomy as Dr. Megan Hunt), who surely deserves better. Here she is as a no-nonsense cardiothoracic surgeon Misha (the “Yang”) who Rebel’s son Nate ghosted a few years back: “We had three dates. They were good dates. From my perspective, they were excellent dates. You were charming, and I was funny…” and again, no one actually talks like this! No wonder Nate is dumbfounded. Still, times are tough, so we will take our Abigail Spencer whenever we can get her, and our Dan Bucatinsky, and our Mary McDonnell, and fortunately, all look to be recurring characters. Because whatever Rebel is so far lacking in realistic dialogue (and it’s a lot!), at least it is ahead of the game in guest-star casting.


Stray observations

  • “Don’t sell your soul just to piss off your mom.” Too late!
  • Okay, this was funny: “I’m not a judge… I’m a women’s studies professor.”
  • Why didn’t Cassidy just take the rest of the day off like a normal person after Cruz told her to leave? And how is her office perfectly ready two weeks early?
  • Next week: Everyone heads to the courtroom while Rebel finds a new topical cause to fight for: clean drinking water.
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Gwen Ihnat is the Editorial Coordinator for The A.V. Club.