Sunday, March 27, 2016

Scandal 5x15 Review: "Pencils Down" (Dilemmas and Debates) [Contributor: Alisa Williams]

“Pencils Down”
Original Airdate: March 24, 2016

The Republican candidates are gearing up for their first debate, and things are about to get really messy really fast on the latest episode of Scandal. Buckle your seatbelts, kids!


One of the things I love about Scandal is that it gives what I hope (and fear) is an at least somewhat realistic look behind the curtain of American politics. This episode opens with a hard-and-fast negotiation about the logistics for the first debate. Olivia is representing Mellie, Elizabeth North is representing Susan, and Hollis is representing himself (naturally) in these discussions. Will the podium be solid or clear? Are Super PACs allowed to run ads during commercial breaks? Will there be a timer and buzzer to cut off long-winded candidates? Only Scandal could make negotiations on tedious details like these seem exciting and necessary.

We don’t actually get to witness the debate this episode — the final credits roll just as the candidates come out on stage. But what we DO get is plenty of debate prep and pre-game faux pas from the candidates, which was a pretty stellar way to spend an episode, in my opinion.


It’s obvious Scandal is having a great time using our current real-life political candidates as inspiration for the candidates on the show. Hollis is obviously inspired by Trump, and Mellie’s campaign problems are channeling Hillary’s. When Olivia and team run a focus group, it becomes clear that Mellie has some issues that need to be addressed ASAP. The people in the group describe her as smug and arrogant and “too smart” during the poll.

Olivia decides to run “The Gettysburger Plan” to show the people that Mellie is relatable and just like them. Mellie walks in to the fast food establishment, dressed down (wearing a hat of all things), waits in line like everyone else, and orders a “Double Lincoln with Cheese,” then joins a family at a booth by the windows (for maximum photo ops, naturally).

All is going swimmingly until the press asks if she’s ever eaten at a Gettysburger before and if so which one. Mellie immediately lies through her teeth (there’s no way she’d be caught dead in a Gettysburger). Mellie gets so caught up in her lie that she states she and her daughter used to go to one every Sunday after church. Unfortunately for her, Gettysburgers aren’t open on Sundays. A fact the family she’s sitting with is quick to point out. Oops. So much for being a woman of the people. You never lie about things that are easily fact-checked, Mellie! That’s a rookie mistake!


Meanwhile, David sure has made a real mess of things. It’s bad enough that he’s sleeping with both Elizabeth North and Susan Ross, but what’s worse is that he seems incapable of choosing between them. Susan is good and wonderful, sweet and kind, whereas Elizabeth North is awful, sadistic, and cruel. It really shouldn’t be a hard decision, David! I mean, these two female characters are such flat caricatures of real women that I could write a whole review just on that problem. But I won’t. I’ll just point out that you’re a big dummy for not being able to choose.

Susan deserves all the happiness in the world and would have been great with David 1.0 — you know, the David that was also good and kind and wonderful from four seasons ago. This smarmy imposter has got to go. He’s going to break Susan’s heart and I cannot have that.

And now things are even more tangled than before. If Susan is going to position herself as a real contender for President, then she needs to be in a serious relationship headed toward marriage. It’s well known that the first love of her life died when their daughter was just a small child. The American people need a current love story they can cling to that will make her relatable. And Elizabeth wants David to be that love story for Susan. While continuing to sleep with him herself. This is a dangerous game Elizabeth and David are playing with Susan’s heart and it gives me anxiety thinking about the fallout when it all crashes down.

In an ironic twist, Abby, David’s former flame, ends up revealing David’s indiscretions to Susan this episode. I was not emotionally prepared for this. Abby has no idea that Susan is one of the women David’s been seeing, and so she doesn’t think twice about complaining to Susan about how David keeps confiding in her about his women-juggling woes. Poor Susan. It completely throws her off her game (understandably) and she loses all focus during her debate prep. And she’d been doing so well.

When Susan confronts David he immediately lies. My opinion of David really couldn’t get lower at this point, and yet I found myself really disappointed with him for not taking this chance to just come clean and be done with it all. He clearly cares for Susan but he does not deserve her and he’d be doing everyone a favor by letting her go. Instead, after lying to Susan, he promptly breaks up with Elizabeth. Is he forgetting how vicious and volatile Elizabeth is? Apparently so.

Susan’s not an idiot though, and she makes the tough decision to follow her gut and break up with David. As she’s doing so, he finally admits he was cheating but that it’s over and he chooses her, he loves her, blah blah. Her decision is final, however, and after that tough goodbye she’s off to take the debate stage.


Edison Davis is in the running for President! We haven’t seen Edison in a while, but since this national election does seem to involve everyone Scandal has ever introduced, I suppose it was only a matter of time before he threw his hat in the ring, too. And let’s be honest — they needed a few more Democrats to round out their voting ballot.

Olivia and Edison have some serious history (they were engaged after all), and so she’s silently supportive of his bid for President. She of all people knows what a good man he is and that he could do great things for the country. But nothing is ever just that simple in Olivia’s world.

Quinn has been keep tabs on Jake and gotten in tight with Jake’s fiancĂ©e, Vanessa, in an effort to find out what Jake and Papa Pope are up to. And we finally find out this episode exactly what’s been going on: it seems Jake has been using Vanessa’s bank accounts to funnel money into a Super PAC to fund Edison Davis’ presidential campaign. Uh-oh. This cannot be good.

Olivia attempts to warn Edison about who her father really is and what he’s capable of but Edison’s not having any of it. When Olivia says her father is a monster, Edison says, no, she’s the one that’s a monster. Ouch. He really needs to get over their breakup already. With that unnecessary jab, Olivia is set to wage war on her father, Jake, Edison, and anyone else who gets in her way.


Cyrus may be out of the White House and running Francisco (Frankie) Vargas’ campaign, but his troubles are just beginning. Cyrus has always done best when he was the biggest, loudest dog in the dog park, but when it comes to the Vargas campaign, it looks like he might just get out-barked. Frankie’s younger brother, Alejandro (Alex), is just as smart and loud and driven as Cyrus and it’s clear they are going to butt heads a lot during this campaign.

Cyrus clearly does not know how to handle the charismatic Alex, because his first instinct is to run and tattle to Frankie that Alex usurped his rallying speech to the campaign interns. Frankie is not at all interested in hearing Cyrus’ complaints about his brother and shuts Cyrus down. As we all know, Cyrus does not like to be shut down.

It seems Cyrus has truly met his match with Alex. Where Frankie is the heart-of-gold politician who runs his state with transparency and high ethical standards, the same cannot be said for the way Alex runs things behind-the-scenes. When Alex approaches Olivia looking to deal dirt on Susan Ross in exchange for dirt on Edison, Olivia starts digging into Alex. He’s run and won every single one of Frankie’s political campaigns, and he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty in the process. He’s basically a Cyrus clone, but younger, cuter, and wearing a better suit.

And when Edison teams up with Papa Pope, Olivia’s qualms about delivering dirt on him suddenly go out the window. It seems Edison did a stint in rehab for an addiction to prescription pain killers and only Olivia has the intel. She and Alex make the exchange, and I can’t wait to see what his Susan Ross dirt is. We better find out next episode, and it better be worth the wait! Knowing Shonda Rhimes, it will be.

Gladiator Gems:
  • “My candidate’s vertically challenged, she needs a box to stand on.”
  • “She might be okay if she didn’t talk.”
  • “Did you break Susan? Because your girlfriend is in a death spiral.”
  • Sally Langston is a national treasure. Never change, Sally. Never change.
  • This marks the second episode where we’ve gotten to see inside a Gettysburger. I really hope this becomes a permanent set on the ABC lot.
  • “The reason Mellie Grant imploded today is because you were trying to make her into something she wasn’t. I’d hate to see you make the same mistake with yourself.” Papa Pope may be deplorable, but he does deliver the best truth. 
  • “What’d you find on Edison Davis?” “Nothing. He’s clean as a whistle.” “That’s impossible. The man’s from Florida... that’s 65,000 square miles of corruption. Nobody escapes that.”
  • I feel like there’s some chemistry brewing between Olivia and Alex. Anyone else sense that?

1 comment:

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