Scandal has always felt like a (more) outrageous version of actual Washington politics on some level—the show is, after all, based on the real-life D.C. fixer Judy Smith. But like other politically-based TV series, it’s now directly and indirectly feeding off the energy of a bizarre election year that’s since become a fixed reality. This latest season was destined to feel surreal; it’s also the most entertaining Scandal has been in awhile.
Over five seasons, a show that initially focused on Olivia Pope’s capacity to manipulate her way around disgraceful scenarios evolved into one about a masochistic love triangle and stopped being good for me sometime in the past two seasons, when the stakes became less critical, Olivia wasn’t fixing things anymore, and the plot got stuck in a loop around Liv and Fitz. Season 6 has benefited from breaking out of that predictability.
In the first four episodes, a female presidential candidate—the former First Lady Mellie Grant—lost the only thing she’s ever wanted. Even after President-Elect Frankie Vargas was assassinated, thus opening up the possibility that Mellie could become president, there’s also a strong possibility that she never will because this is a show where no one ever gets what they want. That includes Cyrus Beene, the most compelling character in these first few episodes, who’s once again stuck in an endless cycle of reward and torture; after being accused of carrying out the assassination of Vargas, he’s arrested in his home in a perfect slow-motion sequence and then sent to prison, where he meets a cannibal.
Scandal has finally listened to us and stopped focusing on Liv and Fitz’s on-again, off-again relationship and it’s all the better for it. Instead, the love stories this season—Mellie falling for White House press secretary Marcus (Liv’s former Gladiator) and having to choose between him and the presidency; Fitz hooking up with the FBI director (another black woman), etc.—serve an ancillary purpose to the main events. Aside from the assassination, the events so far seem... weirdly sensible.
Or perhaps it’s that I’ve lost all ability to know if the show has actually gotten better. Has it never stopped being good? Has it always been bad? Or do I just want to watch a more ridiculous version of reality?
Here are the responses from an informal poll of a few friends:
I don’t see it as having falling off at all. The show had been slyly and gratifyingly political (thinking of that episode where a Pope client walked right by Olivia and assumed one of her white staff was her) but it seemed more overt last season with the Trump-esque Hollis Doyle character. I like how these past few episodes have contextualized Cyrus’ evil machinations as a product of never being seen as fit for elevated leadership by virtue of his difference, notably his sexuality. He’s absolutely terrible and flawed, but I have liked how the show has extended a bit of empathy his way. And it’s notable that the person who saw Cyrus as fit for leadership was a man of color, Frankie Vargas.
I barely pay attention to Scandal anymore. I literally have the TV on while doing a million other things just passing the time until HTGAWM comes on. Every so often something will happen that catches my eye to make me pay attention but overall it has definitely fell off. They finally want us to be invested in all the other characters and we’re over it. Its sad because we wanted them to develop Huck and they are just now starting to do so. They are starting to normalize everyone and something about it either seems off, forced, or just plain too late we no longer care.
The new season of Scandal is lit, period. I’ve always felt like Cyrus Beene was one of the show’s untapped magical fountains, and to see this season focus on him and what he’s really capable of is, frankly, fascinating. Plus, everybody else seems to be having a lot of good black sex and that just improves everything.
I love Scandal about as much as Fitz loves Bootleg Olivia (the FBI director), but after last night’s sharp plot twists, I think I’m back to sipping wine every #TGIT. Plus, the parallels between the current political corruption IRL make Trump’s bullshit a little less daunting (just a little).
Whereas Veep exists as pure political satire and Designated Survivor, House of Cards and the recently premiered 24: Legacy focus heavily on high stakes and government corruption, Scandal is still our one true political soap opera, which is maybe the reason it can still feel like escapist TV in ways the other shows can’t. The salaciousness of it all still helps us escape a little bit... and yet it doesn’t... which is what life is like right now.