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You gotta admit, Shonda Rhimes is pretty smart to amp up her presidential race in her fictional world right now (“I think it’s time for the first black president.” “I think it’s time for the first woman president.”). With her Trump candidate, two women (Mellie and Susan), Governor Vargas, and now Edison, Olivia’s ex, Scandal has quite a horserace underway. It all seemed to be limping along lamely for awhile, until this week Sally called for a debate and everybody finally stepped up.

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This episode was like the Scandal of old: Five million things thrown at the screen to see if they’d stick. Even if they didn’t grab you, they at least held your interest until something that did. Cyrus getting out-maneuvered at the new job by the candidate’s Bobby Kennedy-esque brother! Mellie creating Burger-gate! Quinn as a sorority girl! Wondering how Hollis made bacon at a shooting range! Best, best of all: David dumping Liz! Susan dumping David!

Scandal has been on the dark side for awhile, so it still has some hurdles to get over. Namely, whatever Fifty Shades virus that has infected the show’s writers’ room. These are the unsexiest scenes in the history of sex. Tom taking off his coat in front of Cyrus as he dismisses his cute husband at home is stomach-churning. One of the best things about the Liz and David breakup is that hopefully we will never hear her say the word “pants” again. I now feel about it the way some people feel about the word “moist.” Even worse is Olivia, once again degrading herself, seducing Jake in a women’s bathroom in these scenes that I’m confident are intended to be hot, but instead are just vile. Here’s a tip, Olivia: If you’re trying to go for a hot sex moment in a public bathroom, quit mentioning your father. The fact that this alone doesn’t kill the mood for Jake is proof that that whole family is fucked up beyond comprehension.

Moving on: Olivia is much better when she’s winning battles over lighting and buzzers and podiums for the debate, and coaching Mellie about her bitch face. Yes, that Gettysburger gaffe was a stupid stumble. On one hand, we would think that Mellie, after all her years in the public eye, would know enough not to lie in front of the press. On the other, one of the first times we see her, she’s lying to the cameras about a miscarriage that didn’t exist. She’s used to manipulating in front of the camera; maybe this is just the first time she’s gotten caught, in such a heinous way.

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Because we all have things to hide: Edison’s pill addiction, and whatever Olivia finds out about Susan in that envelope, which is enough to make sure that we’ll watch next week’s episode. Like Trump, Hollis is an obnoxious asshole and knows it. But all five of these candidates make for a compelling race, certainly better than the one we’re currently grappling with in the primaries.

Logic continues to confound Scandal: Why would Cyrus go work for someone who obviously already has a campaign manager? If Abby can call the president “Fitz,” why can’t Susan, who asks pointed questions about his personal life? Why would Jake propose marriage to this girl when it’s obvious Olivia would not rest until she found out what was behind it? We also have some of the fastest-talking people and the most ridiculous pontifications (biggest leap of logic: Eli scolding Olivia on morality) on network TV. We tune in spite of these things, because of other ones.

Like Sally screaming for her notecards. Olivia wrangling Mellie. Cyrus getting overtaken by a bright new star. Best of all, our MVP this week was Artemis Pebdani as Susan Ross. She could have practiced smoking a bit more, but her falling apart at the debate prep (shades of her first stammering at the microphone), dismay over David, discussion with the president (“You’re pretty good at it, sir”), and final breakup constituted a master performance. In Susan, Scandal has given us someone new to root for, which this show has been lacking for awhile. You know, given all the options, I’d probably even vote for her, Republican or not.

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Stray observations

  • This episode was directed by Regina King, who did a great job wrangling all these separate plot pieces together.
  • Best quote: “I’m getting into bed with a monster’s father.” You can’t dump on someone for that long and not expect them to want to get payback.
  • Second-best quote: “So the main point of the article is that women need to stop apologizing for, well, basically just giving our opinions!”
  • Does anybody believe David is in love with Susan? And Liz’s Muppet comments were pretty harsh.
  • Olivia tells her dad: “I could have invited a friend over.” Really? Who?
  • Quinn goes from a shirt with skulls on it to a headband and pearls.
  • “Debate prep is for ninnies.”
  • How did the bacon cook exactly? Do I want to know?
  • And why doesn’t Gettysburger exist again?
  • I didn’t do it this week, but I swear for my next review and for all reviews until the end of the season, I’m just going to run conference-table pictures. You have been warned.
  • Even if Scandal isn’t grabbing you for whatever reason, you should check out The Catch, which airs right after it. Most fun pilot I’ve seen in quite some time.
  • Next week: Sadly, I will have to miss the big Republican debate. Joshua Alston is making a special guest re-appearance so that Scandal and I have a week apart from each other to think about what we’ve done. See you in April.

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