Scott Foley, Guillermo Diaz, Joshua Malina, Katie Lowes, Kerry Washington

At its core, Scandal is a love story, but not the one the show has been dangling like a cat toy for four seasons. Scandal isn’t about the torrid, tumultuous love affair between Olivia Pope and President Fitzgerald Grant, no matter how hard “You Can’t Take Command” tries to suggest otherwise. Scandal is about another relationship: the forbidden love between Nonsense and Bullshit. Seems like just yesterday Nonsense was saying she had given up on love and had resolved to spend her days alone. “I’ll never find someone who understands me,” she said, and her girlfriends wanted to argue and reassure her, but even Nonsense makes the occasional valid point. Then, out of nowhere, here comes Bullshit on his motorcycle, radiating ego: six-pack abs, bedhead, and a lit American Spirit dangling from his pillowy lips just so. Nonsense and Bullshit locked eyes, triggering a soul connection that led them to the nearest by-the-hour motel. Nine months later, “Command” was born.

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If there’s been an hour of television this year as cowardly, callow, and dissatisfying as “Command,” I missed it. The episode had one job, and one job only: to end the B-613 storyline that has marred the show possibly beyond repair. “Command” fails to do that. Rowan Pope has not been defeated, and B-613 has not been dismantled. The episode presents yet another false ending to the B-613 storyline, a false ending with no better or more interesting execution than any preceding it, but puts forth that false ending as if it’s of consequence when that’s clearly not true. Yet again, B-613 has been placed gently on a shelf so it can be retrieved at a moment’s notice, and as long as it’s unresolved definitively, Scandal will never be good again. Whenever Scandal is telling the story of the effort to defeat B-613, it’s stupid and dull, and the threat of the storyline’s return is corrosive to the relationship between Scandal and its audience. “Command” needed to be a gesture of good faith. Instead, it’s a pacifier made entirely out of rancid beef tripe. Have fun sucking on it until September.

The cliffhangers might be the worst thing about “Command,” because it’s presumptuous to the point of being offensive to think these story choices will have the audience on tenterhooks until season five. Let’s review. Papa Pope is in jail. Quinn has a gun to Huck’s head and he’s begging her to put him down. Jake is flapping in the wind. Mellie is banished from the White House, as is Cyrus. Olivia and Fitz are reunited at last. Abby has nothing to do, but apparently she and Leo are talking about moving in together, so that’s like a hundred cliffhangers in one. Will they go through with it? Will they find a new place together or will one move into the other’s space? Will they need area rugs, and if so, will they be traditional or contemporary? So much is up in the air.

Scandal often does a fine job of weaving its ridiculous elements into bracing television, and when it does so, it’s easier to forgive how ridiculous those elements are. Like 24, to which I’ve compared Scandal a few times this season, this show is a frantically paced high-wire act that only works if the writers leave no opportunity for the audience to think critically about what they’ve seen. “Command” gives the audience plenty of time to take inventory because none of it is the least bit diverting, and the amount of logic spread across the episode could fit comfortably in a thimble. The episode can be summarized in a tweet: Everyone blackmails everyone and no one important dies, including Rowan.

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Rowan is the best place to start drilling down because the back half of season has done nothing but ramp up to an epic final showdown between Papa Pope and his defiant daughter. Rowan is the worst tactician on television, excluding several Looney Tunes characters. The episode begins with Jake testifying before the grand jury about his days in B-613, and Rowan has another threat to neutralize. Does he go after Jake again? Of course not. He has 16 federal jurors killed on a bus, as well as the court stenographer, and anyone else within earshot of Jake’s testimony. He orders this hit after blackmailing Mellie into getting him a list of the jurors’ names, despite the fact that their names are completely irrelevant if they’re all going to be killed on the same bus. Rowan then blackmails Cyrus into being his bruiser, which Cyrus does to shield Fitz from blowback over Operation Remington. While everyone is spinning their wheels, Rowan is busy having the last of the B-613 files destroyed and the remaining agents killed, while having those left alive sign some sort of magical document that gives them administrative amnesia. (Maya also signs one of these, so apparently she’s a free woman now. Seriously, it’s a magical document.)

All of this is baffling because Scandal can never decide whether Rowan is the world’s most powerful man or an anxious busybody trying to make sure his fragile empire remains intact. Really, he’s whoever the current scene calls for. But let’s say for a moment I’m the most generous, fanatical Scandal viewer in the world, and I’m willing to swallow all the dumb machinations because I want to see Rowan brought to justice. “Command” would still be a letdown because the end result isn’t justice. Not even close. Rowan is the man who runs a shadow organization and answers to no one while commits despicable acts in the name of… something. He’s responsible for the torture of Huck and Jake, the murder of Harrison, the murder of Jerry Grant, and the entirety of Operation Remington. All of that aside, Olivia, while trying to secure the help of the CIA director, casually mentions “a school shooting in Cherry Hill, New Jersey,” while Jake clarifies that was to distract the country from an operation in Kenya. Honestly, what the fuck? Because Americans are so absorbed in Kenyan news they need to be distracted? Just… wow. But fine, let’s say Rowan did that. His punishment is being branded a white-collar criminal who steals from a museum. With any luck, he’ll be put away for three years in a minimum-security facility, one of the really awful ones with only basic cable and no premium channels. High-fives all around!

All of this is connected to the White House by the thinnest of threads. Mellie is panicking because she’s afraid to be implicated in the deaths of the jurors, so she spends the episode running scared and conspiring with Lizzie to protect her Congressional campaign. Fitz catches wind of Mellie’s purported misdeeds because Lizzie casually offers up the info as if it’s no big deal, all part of a ploy to usurp Cyrus’ authority. Fitz is so furious upon finding out, he swiftly turns his back on Mellie and orders her out of the White House, then fires Cyrus for good measure. For those who don’t watch Scandal regularly or attentively, yes, Fitz is the same character who sent the country to war, resulting in the deaths of American troops, just to get his mistress back. But that was a long time ago. Now he’s signing an anti-police brutality bill (one he fought to pass despite its absence of oversight), which apparently gives him the moral authority to lecture others about the means to which they went to look out for their own interests. Oh okay.

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With the White House empty, Olivia stops by for wine and sex. What led to her change of heart after being so furious about the West Angola military campaign? Well that’s anyone’s guess. Jake shows up at her door and tells her she’s in love with Fitz, and combined with a bunch of fleeting romantic flashbacks dropped into the episode without rhyme or reason, Olitz is back on. Here comes the sun! After that, I’m not sure I can return to Scandal. Here’s what I am sure of: Nonsense and Bullshit are going to love the formal tea set I chose from their wedding registry.

Stray observations:

  • I’d have probably given this episode a D or a D- if not for that bit about the Cherry Hill school shooting. Considering “Sandy Hook truthers” actually exist in the world, peddling conspiracy theories much like the ones presented here, to suggest a school shooting was carried out to distract the nation from an international military strike is reprehensible.
  • “Here Comes The Sun” for the closing song? Was the sun nonsense not Olivia and Jake’s thing?
  • Looking back, Scandal had a perfect opportunity to end the B-613 plot and botched it. When Olivia pulled her gun on Rowan in “Where The Sun Don’t Shine,” she should have shot him right then instead of discovering her bullets had been taken. Rowan has to be done in by his hubris, and because at one point he clearly loved Olivia, it would make emotional sense for her to be his weak spot. He would hope she loved him too, in spite of everything, and would never be able to kill him, only for her to muster the courage to shoot him. But… so much for that.
  • How exactly did Huck kill everyone on that bus by shooting them? Did he start in the front and work his way back? You know what? Never mind.
  • This is the most egregious waste of Khandi Alexander so far.

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