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Erin Watches: Scandal, the final season, through the finale April 24, 2018

Posted by Erin Ptah in Erin Watches.
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So…that happened.

I didn’t binge-watch the back half of the season, just kept up every week or two, so no liveblogging this time. Instead you get a long stream of final thoughts.

Plus, a rec for The West Wing Weekly. It’s a WW recap podcast with Joshua Malina (Will Graham in TWW, David Rosen here in Scandal) as co-host, and tons of high-profile guests (like, up to “sitting US senator” level) and in-depth conversations. Episode 4.18 dovetails with the Scandal finale, and features some sweet behind-the-scenes stories.

I really miss the days when Olivia Pope and Associates were actually taking cases.

Only one guy showed up at the office asking for help this season. And his problem turned out to be that he was being framed by Olivia, to take the heat off herself and/or Mellie. Quinn and the others did absolutely nothing to help — their only advice at the end was “even though you did literally nothing wrong, all you can do is flee the country and start a new life. Somewhere without extradition.”

And that was basically the whole season. Our core cast arranging itself into shifting alliances and going after each other, helping no one, leaving a lot of innocent people as collateral damage along the way.

The show always had a theme of characters making Dramatic Speeches that weren’t backed up by the rest of the writing. Sometimes they were working on bad information; other times they had obvious reasons to lie; other times they had a motive and were running with whatever line of BS backed it up.

That last one came up during the How To Get Away With Murder crossover event, where Olivia made some stuff up to cover for whatever illegal thing she was in on. Never followed HTGAWM, so I don’t know how much eyerolling that protagonist deserves, but it was a relief when she actually managed to catch it and call Olivia out.

(My favorite example is that election-season episode when a bomb went off, and one of Still President Fitz’s primary opponents was on-site pulling people out of the rubble. Which of course is terrible publicity for your opponent to get…so Olivia was on the phone with TV stations, yelling things like “Your President is making a speech! That should be your top priority!” It’s the perfect combination of self-serving BS, protagonist-centered morality, and total lack of compassion for innocent victims.)

Anyway, I bring this all up because as of this season, they’ve overplayed the trick so hard that it’s lost all its power.

“He was my friend!” yells Dad Pope in anguish, over a guy he long-conned, manipulated, and just murdered. “Tell the truth — the truth will be your armor,” declares Olivia to Mellie with total conviction, before they discuss how she definitely can’t tell the truth about the election they all conspired to steal. It’s absurdist. It’s nonsense. All you can do is groan and roll your eyes and wait for them to get on with it, already.

As we roll into the last few episodes, the setup on the chessboard looks like this:

–Olivia, during her stint as Command of extra-evil-secret-CIA B-613, had a visiting head-of-state assassinated (on plausibly-deniable non-orders from President Mellie). She’s been covering it up ever since.

–Vice President Cyrus staged a cyber-hijacking of Air Force Two, which got him lots of attention and let him make a heroic “let us go to our deaths with bravery” speech that got filmed by the press on-board. He’s following that up by trying to frame Mellie for the hijacking and get her impeached.

–The firm-formerly-known-as-OPA ducklings are trying to expose Olivia. No, wait, they’re friends with Olivia again, they’re trying to expose Cyrus. All without exposing the fact that most of them have B-613 murders on their hands themselves.

–Dad Pope is officially retired from Command, but (as mentioned) still murdering people on his own time. Also, complaining a lot about white people.

–Jake has been shuffled around a variety of high-ranking positions based on whatever’s most convenient for keeping him in White House proximity. I think he’s officially Command now? And he’s siding with VP Cyrus in terms of who he’s murdering these days.

–Also, remember Jake’s wife, and how he seriously considered choking her to death in her sleep last season? Yeah, she’s dead now. Didn’t even get some kind of “intrepid investigator on the verge of exposing all his other crimes” storyline leading up to it. I feel like he just got tired of not murdering her.

We should also note that, at this point, B-613…does not appear to have any actual agents left. Frankly, I’m not sure they ever had more than 6 at a time in the first place.

Which you would think would kinda hamper their job as a super-competent ominous secret death squad.

So with all those pieces in place, Congress is holding special pre-impeachment hearings, trying to figure out exactly who to prosecute on what charges. (Everyone for everything? Wouldn’t be too far off.)

And…they actually get correct information! While investigating Mellie for the fake hijacking, they come across the real assassination, so that’s when Olivia decides to take full responsibility and out the existence of B-613 to the world. The rest of the ducklings follow along and testify about their own roles.

The person in charge of the actual prosecuting is Attorney General Josh Malina. So there’s this dramatic overnight when nobody knows what the committee is going to recommend to him, but the smart money is on:

–Throw out VP Cyrus for staged terrorism
–Put Olivia, Huck, Quinn, Quinn’s baby-daddy, and Jake in jail for the B-613-related subset of their crimes
–Nothing for Mellie, she’s cool.

This is when Cyrus calls the Attorney General and claims he wants to make a deal. So, naturally, the AG goes to his house and has a drink alone with him.

I cannot tell who in this situation is more wall-bangingly stupid — the AG, who thought this was safe, or Cyrus, who apparently thought “if the guy whose job is to prosecute me abruptly dies in my house with no witnesses, that won’t be at all suspicious!”

Except that…somehow…it…works??

Like…one of the last scenes is Olivia handing Cyrus a letter of resignation and saying “even though you’re not being prosecuted, you’re going to sign this now.” Why not?? He very obviously just murdered the AG on top of everything else! The Deputy AG could be dumb as a box of rocks and still get a conviction! I would put Cyrus away for life on that evidence even if the prosecutor was literally a box of rocks!

Also: Dad Pope makes a surprise last-minute appearance in front of the committee. Confirms the existence of B-613. Makes a grand speech about how it controlled who got the presidency, it set the value of the dollar, it secretly had all the real power in the US government. All handled by this cabal of as many as six (6) assassins at one time. Sure, Jan.

But…for some reason…that means…no jail time for anyone at all???

Dad Pope confesses to running the operation, and therefore none of the operatives are accountable for anything? Dad Pope was retired when Olivia committed her war crimes, but his presence means nobody’s mad about that anymore either??

How.

It’s not even…I mean, it’s the last episode. They know it’s the last episode. There’s no need to force the characters back to the status quo in preparation for next season! They could do a flash-forward, slip in a bit of exposition about how everyone’s served their time for crimes committed, and end on a reunion! A few hugs, a few tears, a profound sense of relief that they’ve finally taken responsibility for all their bad deeds and can start fresh, pan out on a nice sunny DC landscape, curtain.

And instead, absolutely everything fizzles.

Don’t get me wrong, Quinn finally getting a wedding (with Huck officiating! and her baby-daddy finally revealing his non-alias name!) was cute. But it didn’t make up for the otherwise-total dramatic kerflop.

During the time this season was running, I found out that Grey’s Anatomy was on Netflix, and managed to binge the entire back catalog. Didn’t actually realize it was a Shonda Rhimes show until a few seasons in.

You can see a bit of shared DNA — the same style of Dramatic Important Speeches, the engaging high-stakes drama, the mostly-underwhelming romances, the occasional physically-abusive man who’s supposed to be a sad woobie. But I would not have guessed they were connected without prompting, because most of the Grey’s characters…are decent human beings. They’re kind. Honorable. Genuinely trying to do good in the world.

Some of them are ridiculous, too. And I’m not deeply invested in most of the characters as people (except Christina — I would’ve been so mad if they killed off Christina — and Bailey — listen, writers, y’all better not do wrong by Bailey). But you know what, it is enjoyable and fulfilling to watch.

(Also: lesbian and bi characters! Who are described in those words! And have long-term romantic dramas like anyone else! And who are mostly still alive!)

Anyway, the point of this detour is that the later episodes of Scandal started coming with ads for her new show, Station 19. Which, as far as I’m concerned, was not a compelling advertising strategy.

But then someone on FFA said it was in the same mode as Grey’s, i.e. “noble melodramatic people” rather than “aggressively terrible people”, so I gave it a try. Turns out it’s straight-up a shared universe with Grey’s, crossover characters and everything.

(Also: gay man on the team! Who’s been comfortably out of the closet since long before the pilot episode, and nobody thinks twice about the fact that he had a husband!)

So, yeah. Scandal was a mess, but if you admire Shonda’s talent and would like to experience it in a less soul-crushing format, I recommend both of the above.

…and she’s also debuting a new legal drama, so if anyone wants to tip me off about whether We The People is written by Scandal!Shonda or Grey’s!Shonda, it’ll be much appreciated.

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