Saturday, April 9, 2016

Scandal 5x17 Review: “Thwack!” (Hits and Majors Misses) [Contributor: Alisa Williams]

Original Airdate: April 7, 2016

Lillian Forrester is back, Andrew Nichols is back, and Olivia is completely unrecognizable in the latest episode of Scandal. Let’s talk about the hits and major misses in this week’s episode.

Andrew Nichols, former Vice President and BFF to Fitz, has hit some major recovery milestones in the months since Huck put him in a coma. The man who pretty much everyone (including myself) had forgotten ever existed is back in a big way. We last saw Andrew paralyzed in a hospital bed after Huck stuck him with some syringe-filled cocktail of destruction. But apparently Huck got the dosage wrong because Andrew is now wheeling himself around his room in a wheelchair and lisping his way through complete and coherent anger-filled sentences. He’s also holding covert interview sessions with Lillian Forrester, one of the many women Fitz slept with (and the only one with a name as far as the audience knew).

Abby, who’s been tailing Lillian ever since her fling with the president, uncovers the secret meetings with Andrew and lets Fitz and Olivia know. For those who may not recall (I didn’t), Andrew is the one who arranged for Olivia to be kidnapped and sold on the black market to the highest bidder last season. Understandably, Olivia is less than thrilled that he’s conscious and wheeling around.

To handle this latest crisis, Mellie, Elizabeth North, Fitz, Abby, Olivia, Cyrus, and David Rosen meet in their regular spot — what I can only assume is the White House basement kitchen. Ah, this brings back memories of their Defiance, Ohio debacle and all the darkened kitchen meetings that happened with that, too. How is there never a chef in sight in these kitchens? Do they not have midnight room service in the White House? What a disappointment.

Olivia apparently had no idea or suspicion that it was Huck who put Andrew in a coma, and that he was carrying out Elizabeth and Mellie’s orders. After Andrew fills her in on this tidbit, she confronts Huck to tell him that he absolutely may not try to kill Andrew again. They need to go about this a different way — by just destroying all evidence and any internet trail that may show that Fitz went to war in Angola to save his mistress’s life from her kidnappers last season.

Meanwhile, Olivia is having flashbacks to the three weeks she spent imprisoned by said kidnappers. This is something she’s never dealt with, but that has come out in random outbursts here and there throughout the past few episodes. She’s waking up in the middle of the night from nightmares about where she was held. She’s fading out during conversations as she flashes back to those weeks. She can’t concentrate on conversations, she’s yelling at everyone, and she’s clearly unraveling.

Mellie, who had an affair with Andrew when he was VP, pays him a visit in the hopes that he doesn’t remember she was behind putting him in a coma to begin with. Apparently, his memory is perfectly intact, and he’s not buying the story Mellie’s trying to sell.

Time for Plan B: Huck shows up that night to stick Andrew with another syringe. Don’t worry, folks. This one’s just filled with a knock-out drug so Huck can transport him to the panic room under the White House where Olivia and Abby are waiting. They try to bribe him into silence, knowing he’s in debt and that money generally works in these situations. He wants $10 million and for Olivia to represent him and the book he’s apparently writing. He’s not interested in negotiating; these are his terms and he’s sticking to them. With no other choice, Olivia agrees.

So, it’s back to the White House kitchen to tell the team Andrew’s terms, and to get everyone to pitch in their fair share toward the $10 million. No one likes this plan, but they’re running out of time: Lillian is set to go public with what she knows about Angola and Liv’s kidnapping in 48 hours. Elizabeth North is willing and able to pay up. No one else in the room, besides Mellie and Fitz, have that kind of money to contribute. Mellie refuses, saying she’s suffered enough and isn’t parting with the money she got in her divorce settlement with Fitz. At Abby’s guiding, Fitz finally agrees to contribute. If only it took a two minute conversation to get $10 million in real life, I’d be a very rich woman.

They run into a snag with Andrew, however. He wants the money first before he’s willing to call Lillian and recant. They hesitantly agree and transfer the money. Andrew promptly backs out and ups his demands to a ridiculous degree, now asking for billions of dollars, a slice of apple pie, and a pony. Because, why not?

The team is out of options and in another week of uncharacteristic growth on Fitz’s part, he says that he will tell the world what really happened — he’ll take the hit for all of it. Abby tries to talk him out of it, but he’s made his decision. In a last ditch effort, she runs to Liv, asking for advice on how to shut this down. But Olivia is starstruck by Fitz becoming the man she always knew he could be.

Abby says she’s not ready to give it all up — she’s not ready to get sucked into the career-ending vortex that will occur if Fitz admits all his transgressions to the American people. Liv is not understanding Abby’s dilemma. When Abby bemoans the fact that this will destroy her career, Liv points out that she can always come back and work for her, and “wouldn’t that be fun?”

This was a frustrating conversation for more than just Abby. Olivia is a smart, intuitive, and powerful woman herself. And Abby is her best friend. The idea that Liv could be so blind and naïve to Abby’s fear and pain and desperation in this situation is ridiculous. Olivia can read people like no one’s business and yet she doesn’t notice how condescended to Abby feels about the idea of going back to being Olivia’s underling after running the White House?

Abby leaves Olivia’s house pretending everything’s just peachy and immediately heads to see Andrew (who’s still locked up in the White House panic room). She has a new deal to propose: don’t tell the Angola and Liv kidnapping story. Tell the story of his affair with First Lady, Mellie Grant, instead. He agrees. When Liv gets word that the story has changed, she panics and runs to Abby, not realizing it was Abby who did this. Abby admits it immediately, not at all apologetic. After all, she used all of the skills and problem-solving know-how she learned from Liv in the first place. In short, she did EXACTLY what Liv would have done. The only problem is, Mellie is Liv’s client now and Liv has been making some pretty questionable decisions as she runs Mellie’s presidential campaign. So Liv is not happy with Abby going behind her back and doing something that will hurt her client.

Olivia sneaks back into the White House basement to see Andrew. And this is where this episode goes completely off the rails. It was bad enough last week when Liv threatened to destroy a good man in prison, and he was so fearful of her threats that he committed suicide. But now, face-to-face with Andrew and his threats and disparaging comments, she snaps. She picks up a chair and starts beating Andrew. To death. She beats a wheelchair-bound man to death. And long after it’s clear he’s dead, she keeps going. Then she calls in her people to clean it up, threatens Abby, telling her to never cross her again, and then runs off to Papa Pope’s house. The end.

There were a few subplots going on during this episode, like Mellie trying to get a Cardinal’s backing to help secure the Latino vote, and Alex Vargas doing some recon work on Cyrus. But all of that isn’t even worth mentioning in light of the main plot.

This episode was an absolute mess. From the lurching and abrupt flashback scenes that flickered across the screen every few minutes like a bad strobe light, to random sub-characters returning to wreak havoc, to Tom suddenly out of nowhere being gay, to Olivia MURDERING SOMEONE, this was a disaster. Olivia is not a character who has ever been particularly “likable” in the way some characters inherently are (Felicity Smoak, I’m looking at you). But I don’t need my female characters to be likable. What I do need them to be is believable.

Olivia has always been strong, intelligent, fiercely loyal to her friends, and completely and utterly flawed. To put it simply, she has been real. She makes terrible mistakes, she admits them and learns from them, she grows, and then she fails again. But there are certain lines that I just do not believe she would cross. And beating a wheelchair-bound man to death is one of those lines. Her killing one of her kidnappers last season in self-defense when there was no other choice? Believable. Her killing Andrew, a disabled, albeit heinous, man, in cold blood? Not believable. I get that he was responsible for her being kidnapped and almost murdered. I get he held the power to destroy her. But Olivia has always been the type of character to look for an alternative, to find a better way. She has used her amazing intelligence to navigate far worse situations than this time and time again.

I think Shonda and her merry band of writers are seriously overestimating the viewers’ loyalty to Olivia. I readily admit I am one of the biggest Scandal fans out there and I love that Scandal has been used to tackle some incredibly huge and controversial issues in an unflinching and raw way that sets it apart and above the majority of shows out there. But I am not okay with this path they’re taking Olivia and the show down. It doesn’t feel authentic or genuine or pointed. It feels messy. It feels like a desperate ratings grab. And it feels especially frustrating because Scandal is capable of such greatness. Or at least it was. This episode felt like a turning point. This felt like the door closing on a show that mattered and that now feels suddenly, irrevocably irrelevant.

Gladiator Gems:
  • “I don’t want to be one of those candidates who tries to speak Spanish and accidentally calls someone a crocodile.”
  • “Thank you. For coming when I called.” “You didn’t call. Abby did.” Fitz, for the last time, the world doesn’t revolve around you. 
  • “Look, McCain used his history as a POW — ” “McCain lost!” So, in the Scandal political world where there’s never been a black president, and there is no Obama, Clinton, or Bush, there suddenly is a McCain? Does this mean there’s a Sarah Palin, too? Keep yourself in check, Scandal.
  • Does Jake do anything at all anymore besides eat tasty-looking food in Papa Pope’s house? Because this is about the 18th scene of him silently eating while Papa Pope derides someone in the kitchen. 
  • “I never tried to kill you. I know how to kill people.”
  • “I’m writing a book!” “No one wants to read that book.”
  • “I’m in for $5 million.” “You have $5 million?!” “I’ve been a Republican my whole life.”
  • “You’re not going to Indiana. You are smart, talented.” Oh, Indiana, my resolute neighbor to the south, there’s never any love for you. 
  • So, apparently, Tom is gay? This former secret service agent and assassin-for-hire has been skulking around for five seasons, had a whole episode where he waxed nostalgic about Olivia’s beauty, and now all of a sudden he’s gay and it’s introduced as a footnote? WHAT.


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