Who Was That? Where Is She?
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Scandal season 5 episode 19 recap
May I raise a glass to Sally Langston as the most creative and surprisingly believable and effective use of a character who had in theory outlived her usefulness? I may, with an extra clink for the disdain with which she enunciates ‘feminist’. It’s notable because other shows might have written her off, and in fact this show has written off plenty of people who aren’t getting it done anymore – but Sally as super-skewed Greek chorus still seems to work, and she has so much fun with it!
Watching her relish critiques of women she can’t bear and wishes she could be started the show on a high point. Unfortunately, even though there were a couple of others throughout the hour, somehow this episode felt like this was less than it was supposed to be. Less incisive, less dramatic—even though a lot of juice sort of happened, it felt like the battle between Mellie and Susan Ross was about propping up dollies who can’t stand on their own. I know that discovering the people behind the people is the point of this show, but it doesn’t look great for the candidates.
Having said that…God, but Mellie/Bellamy Young is charming, no? “I think that’s a very good idea”, as they go to break, could have been a strident or bitchy or coy line, and somehow she made it charming and endearing AND effortless. The whole scene of her and Fitz talking between the two planes was charming, it had twists and rises and falls in action, it was easily the best part of the show even though it was a static, non-moving scene. It was affecting, it presented growth for them both, and Mellie was clearly hurt by the news about Olivia and Andrew, and also touchingly concerned about Olivia.
This taps into something I’ve always loved and appreciated about their relationship: while Mellie hated and resented that Fitz was having an affair, that he didn’t love her in an all-consuming way, she never made that about Olivia specifically. That is, Mellie correctly saw it as a problem in her marriage, and a failing of her husband’s—and maybe, in the way that we are all 50% responsible for breakdowns in our marriages, a failing of her own—but she has never overtly hated Olivia, specifically, and that’s such a rare and mature outlook on TV.
Which is saying something, because this episode felt a lot like little girls in junior high school bitching at one another incessantly. At the beginning, anyway. The emotions behind it are real, of course – Liv has sullied herself in a way she never thought she could, and at least her pain is honest and her naked ambition and greed is real. “I want my White House back. I’m tired of losing.” At least that’s real. But the bratting and sniffing all over who moves whose plane seemed so…amateur hour. So childish. I know that’s the point—that Mellie and Fitz get through it by acting like adults—but it seems so beneath Olivia and Abby, especially since usually this kind of me-versus-you seems built on mutual respect and love, and while there’s love between them, the respect is not mutual, OLIVIA. But again, at least that’s honest, even if it’s not effective dramatically.
However, even in the face of an episode I didn’t love, the show is doing something very, very, very smart. It’s making Olivia unlikeable, making her make bad decisions, betraying who she is (all because of years of trauma) and asking us to stay with her.
It’s a big ask. Huge, even. Can you continue to have faith even if you don’t expressly have reason to? If your hero has fallen down, seemingly irreparably? How do you keep coming back?
But you know what? We did it for Don Draper. We did it for Walter White. We even did it for Dexter, and he was half-robot. (In fact, the show is even asking us to do it for Cyrus, an overtly evil character we love to hate, who is furious about losing his child as an object, not a child he loves—something underscored by the genuine concern Vargas has for protecting his daughter. Nice work again, Scandal.)
Challenging us to love Olivia when she’s unlovable is a ballsy move, overtly feminist, and the kind of dramatic risk that only Shonda Rhimes dares to take on network television, which is why she continues to be Shonda Rhimes.