In Thursday’s “Scandal” season finale, Olivia finally seizes the opportunity to stand in the sun, boarding a plane bound for who-knows-where with Jake at her side, if not exactly in her heart. After the death of little Jerry, the bombing at Sen. Hightower’s funeral and her own father’s stabbing, Olivia decides that she is the real scandal, the common denominator in all the misfortune around her.
What Olivia doesn’t know is that by leaving, she won’t be making things better, she’s removing the last obstacle standing in the way of the person who’s truly the problem -- dear old Dad. It’s essentially a replay of her sabotage of B613 two weeks ago, which she thought would solve all her problems but only ended up putting Fitz’s life in danger. It used to be there wasn’t a single crisis Olivia Pope didn’t know how to manage, but now it seems every step our heroine takes has unintentionally devastating consequences. Olivia the problem-solver has become a walking jinx. Maybe some time off sipping pina coladas with Jake will do her some good.
Ever since we met Papa Pope at the end of last season, “Scandal” has been doing a push-pull with viewers: Is Rowan really a bad guy or a misunderstood good guy? The answer to this question becomes clear in “The Price of Free and Fair Elections” when it’s Rowan who poisoned young Jerry in an elaborately twisted yet effective effort to win the election for Fitz, reclaim his position at B613 and get Olivia out of the way -- all without harming a single hair on Fitz’s head. (Hey, he didn’t say anything about harming his kid, right?) It’s a master stroke right out of the Walter White playbook. So now it appears that both Olivia’s parents are monstrous in their own way: Maya the mercenary, Rowan the tyrant who’ll stop at nothing to retain power.
If we’re being honest, this last-minute twist wasn’t all that shocking. By now “Scandal” viewers are savvy enough to know not to trust Rowan when he sounds sentimental, and alarm bells immediately started to ring when he told her, “I want you to have everything you deserve” while laid up at the hospital. Sure, maybe it was the morphine talking -- or, more likely, he was manipulating her into believing he was on her side. Olivia must be getting soft in her old age if she’s falling for lines like that. Lest we forget, he is "the hell and the high water."
The major question now for “Scandal” is not whether Olivia will return from her metaphorical place in the sun and once again oversee her gladiators -- because come on, people, let’s be real -- but whether this show can continue to find ways to up the narrative ante.
In this finale alone, all of the following takes place: Maya pulls off a near-fatal church bombing, Sally seizes the opportunity to have her very own George W. Bush-at-ground-zero moment, Huck and Quinn have sex in a parking garage and declare their love for each other (ugh, no), Rowan almost dies at Maya’s hands and is reinstated as B613 chief, Fitz discovers that Big Jerry raped Mellie, Mellie learns that little Jerry was Fitz’s son after all, the president and first lady have their 926th destined-to-be-short-lived reconciliation, an innocent teenager dies via meningitis poisoning, Huck’s long-lost family magically reappears, Jake sends David the B613 files and it’s strongly implied that Fitz is battling alcoholism on top of all his other problems. (And I’m pretty sure I’m leaving a few things out.)
Sure, this is a finale, so the stakes are necessarily going to be higher, but when the outcome of a presidential election -- on a show that is at least nominally about politics -- plays as a mere footnote, well, then you’ve got one overstuffed episode on your hands.
The question of how “Scandal” will move forward is complicated by the fact that, as Olivia points out, she seems to be at the center of all the drama these days. The writers made a bold and, I think, necessary move this season by fleshing out her back story and transforming Olivia from a superhero in fabulous white suits into a three-dimensional human with an intensely dysfunctional family life.
The problem, though, is that they may have written themselves into a bit of a corner by making the Pope family such an integral part of the narrative. Olivia inadvertently sums it up best when she tells Fitz, “My mother blew up the church that’s costing you the presidency.” (Like, don’t you hate it when that happens?) There really isn’t much more the show can do with the Pope family at this point, unless Maya escapes from that hole in the ground and teams up with some rogue nuclear scientists or maybe a race of hostile extraterrestrials to take over planet Earth, or Rowan orders his B613 agents to immediately begin slaughtering the nation’s puppies. Hey -- don’t rule it out.
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