Scandal Season 4 Episode 16 recap 

Did you hear a couple of weird turns of phrase this episode? ‘You went around my back to Mellie’, instead of ‘behind my back’. The bits about whether or not Cyrus was ‘a rosebud guy’, that seemed to change to ‘rose petal guy’ a moment later. I couldn’t tell if it was just me reacting to things that don’t need a reaction or if they were trying to do a bit of a thing where memory plays small tricks on you.

I thought this episode was silly in terms of the timeline, the flashbacks were dorky homages to advancements in wig technology and early 90s set-dec, and a whole lot of people were acting like moustache-twirling villains. The whole dragged-out-of-bed opening, which was a fantastic device I can’t believe they haven’t used before now, added up to very little.

So why was I so affected by it all?

The story of Cyrus Beene’s love life is maybe unremarkable, but they contrasted all the artifice and superficiality of the marriage to Michael with the sweetness of how truly Cyrus and James loved each other. We haven’t seen Cyrus soft in years, since he lost James. It’s a testament to the actor, who sometimes seems like he’s playing only one note, that he’s so completely different with James. God, what an episode for the actor to come back and do. I was struck by how sweet their relationship was, even when it was at its most manipulative, every time he was onscreen.

But I think the greater achievement of this episode was Michael. I didn’t really care that much about Michael at the beginning of this season (right? It seems so much longer ago). I got the idea as a plot point. I didn’t think he was endearing necessarily but I also didn’t think he was a terror. But the show wanted us to think so. That he was unappealing, a bad decision, a blight on Cyrus’ home. And I mean, the reason he lives there is because the only way Cyrus can continue to be chief of staff is if he pretends to be in a relationship instead of having casual sex, because America is ridiculous about sexuality and gay rights, and while I appreciate that Scandal looks on it as it is (or would be under a Republican president) and not as it should be, it’s still bullsh-t. Let’s just be clear.

Beyond that, though, Michael is just not that redeemable, on the surface. All our characters work hard and do good and get up out of bed to fix things, and he’s just not that guy (is he even meant to have a job?). He’s just sort of there, and he doesn’t care about things, and he’s not a white hat. And even though his parents are caricatures, the show shows us exactly why Michael is who he is. What he was up against. How lucky we are even for the things we don’t think are worth considering.

Cyrus, meanwhile, is on his third marriage. One for hope, the second for love, the third for show. I guess. And he’s going to try to be there to be Michael’s person. I mean, okay. But the consistent thing from Cyrus as long as we’ve known him is that he doesn’t actually need people that much, even when he likes them.

Anyway, I found it all interesting, particularly in the context of Abby and Leo, which the show is clearly trying to make happen, though I don’t know why. She’s not interesting enough for me to care about her romance across the aisle. In fact, I hate to say it, but there’s not a single interesting romance on this show right now. I don’t care what you say about a ring. I do appreciate that it’s the season of Olivia choosing herself, especially given that she’s still having flashbacks, which I totally buy. But there is not one couple on this show where I’m like “yeah, I buy those guys, I totally want to see those kids work it out”, even if I know they won’t. I would like that for Olivia, in the long term, but I don’t see it happening for her as long as that weird hulking gross President is in office, or in her life. And Jake should be an alternative, but he really isn’t.

I suspect this is a problem Shondaland will want to address, maybe? Let’s see what they have for us in the tail end of a season I truly could not have predicted.