Welp, you just had your most disturbing episode ever, Scandal. What’re you going to do? Repent? Or try to full-court press this Jake and Olivia thing to distract everyone? Nice try, Scandal, but we’re not buying it.
More than any other show right now, Scandal brings up all these philosophical TV questions for me. Say you are an extremely successful showrunner. You have a story you want to tell. Your considerable fanbase appears to hate the story. Do you stick to your guns and ride it out, trusting your own judgment? Or do you cut bait and move on?
There have been instances of shows quickly cutting bait (the drop of the unpopular Kalinda ex-husband plot on The Good Wife, Shonda Rhimes’ own abrupt drop of Brooke Smith’s Grey’s Anatomy storyline). Rhimes, once again to her credit, is someone who puts up with very little bad behavior from her cast. Cross her, or do something she can’t forgive (badmouth her to the press, beat your wife), and you’re off her show for good in a quick plot twist.
This is a two-way street, however, so Rhimes is unfailingly loyal to some actors, even when they play some unpopular characters on her shows. Case in point is Joe Morton as Papa Pope, who had at least five too many diatribes this episode and my God, we were burnt out on them about fifty diatribes ago. Despite sinking ratings and bad reviews, Rhimes steadfastly refuses to diminish his presence on the show, even after the destruction of his B613 baby. (This show is making me talk about B613 again, an abomination that I will not quickly forgive.) Morton is a fine actor when he’s not eating the scenery for snacktime and probably a nice person, so maybe Rhimes likes having him around. But Papa Pope is just an awful character. He’s a twisty manipulator who has the same objectives as the most cartoonish of supervillains—power and world domination, apparently—so he will slit the throat of his pseudo-son without hesitation instead of having him settle for being “mediocre.” Y’know Ellis Grey gave Meredith a lot of shit for being “ordinary,” but she didn’t actually lop anyone’s head off. The man is a straight-up lunatic. And Olivia sits down and eats eggs with him like there’s not a 50-percent chance that they all have a Windex glaze.
Running a close second to Rowan/Eli in the problematic character category is Jake Ballard. As with Joe Morton, none of this is Scott Foley’s fault, a perfectly pleasant actor who Rhimes previously used to positive effect as Henry, the short-lived husband of Teddy on Grey’s. Get him in, have him charm the people, he dies on the table. Everybody wins. But Rhimes did not take that lesson to heart when she introduced Foley on Scandal, as a long-running obstacle to the Olivia and Fitz romance.
Like Fitz, like Rowan/Eli, like Huck, like pretty much everyone on the show now up to and including Olivia, Jake is a cold-blooded killer. He was one of Eli’s pet projects, we see in this episode, from B613. We saw him gun down James, for example, Cyrus’ husband, a guy whose only crime was knowing about the Defiance ballot box. Jake has tried to get out before: working with David to try to take down B613, escaping with Olivia to an island at the end of season three/beginning of season four. It never works. At this point, we’ve seen Olivia and her two suitors in just about every scenario possible. This season was especially egregious as Jake made creepy, stalky visits to Olivia’s bedroom in the middle of the night, and Olivia unhingedly spied on Jake and his wife-to-be through security cameras. Compounding all the ickiness is the fact that the two are basically de facto siblings now, under the tutelage of Papa Pope.
So this episode basically seemed to be nothing more than a campaign to get us to be cool with Jake. Look, he was a traumatized child who fantasized about becoming a soldier. Look, he was manipulated by Rowan at almost every turn, getting called out by him for not protecting his family, when he was a victim just like everyone else (just when we couldn’t like Papa Pope any less). Look, he was surrounded by sociopaths like Charlie! Poor Jake, he never had a chance. Foley and Morton play out these scenarios with the necessary degrees of vulnerability and menace, but they can’t escape the feeling of “too little, too late,” when it comes to explanations for Jake’s character.
This is all a ploy to get us to understand that Jake, the head of the NSA, so about the third most powerful man in the country, would marry someone he didn’t love just because he was told to. And it would have been a perfect plan too, if not for that meddling Olivia Pope. Plying Jake with a ridiculously easy ruse (she’s drunk and doesn’t know what she’s saying!), she gets him to admit that he loves her, not Vanessa, and they go for their master escape plan. Again. It really is disheartening at this point that Olivia only seems to liven up about plans when there’s one of her guys involved. How can we swoon over Jake’s “sit by me” when this season we’ve also heard him ask Olivia about her voyeur habits (“Did you get off when she got off?”)?
It’s also disheartening that there are no apparent ramifications from the fallout last week. Apparently pummeling a man to death with a chair (well, she is in a house where the other residents are like, “’Scool, happens all the time”) doesn’t have as much effect on Olivia as tracking her ex does. I would have rather seen Olivia putter around at home in sweats all episode, drinking copious amounts of red wine and eating entire bowls of popcorn. It would have been as boring as hell, but at least it would have made sense.
Instead, Rowan will slit Jake’s throat (literally) if anything goes awry with his wedding plan, so Olivia, has to fake to Jake that she doesn’t love him, in a performance so overbearing and over the top, Broadway vet Helen Lawson from Valley Of The Dolls would tell her to lighten up. We can all see through this ploy, as can Jake, as can the valet who’s about to bring Olivia her car.
So Jake marries Vanessa in what is supposed to be the heartbreak of the century, scored to Roberta Flack’s “The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face.” The ending brings the episode its only moments of out-and-out tension, when Jake takes an abnormally long time to say “I do,” and flashback Jake goes back and kills his abusive father, splattering blood all over his Navy whites and tossing his lot in with B613. Since this marriage undoubtedly won’t last for longer than a hot minute (I get the feeling that Vanessa is not long for this world, just like Jake’s last wife), the melodramatic wedding-ceremony ending is just painful.
When I stop watching this show forever in three more episodes, it will be because of episodes like this one, where the logical progression from point A to point B is tossed aside in favor of a ’shipping the showrunner appears to take very seriously, so much so that it keeps us in a holding pattern for at least three seasons. The romances of Scandal have been engaging in the past, but they were juxtaposed against cases-of-the-week that kept us hanging out on our seat edge, or political machinations that were gasp-worthy. Whatever we tune into Scandal for, this is not it.