There are few shows I have enjoyed as much as I’ve enjoyed Scandal. I didn’t catch it until after Season 1, but after that, I devoured it. I’m a Shonda Rhimes fan. I pretty much cry my way through every episode of Grey’s Anatomy. I enjoyed the Los Angeles themed Private Practice, even though it was a bit high schoolish – “Boys, what am I going to do with them? He doesn’t like me. Oh, now I don’t like him.” Blah blah blah.
For the uninitiated, Scandal is the story of Olivia Pope, a Washington, D.C. “fixer.” If you have a problem, she’ll solve it – or make something happen. Played by Kerry Washington and based partially on Judy Smith, who worked for the George Bush H. W. Bush White House as Deputy Press Secretary, Olivia Pope has a group of “Gladiators in Suits” who help her get things done. They are people who have a past, who could not do anything but be the bullets in the Olivia Pope gun. Harrison Wright, Abby Whelan, Quinn Perkins, and Huck Finn (yes, that’s an alias) are fast talking, free wheelin’, heavy hitters who will stop at nothing to get the truth… or hide it, depending on what’s good for their clients.
The other not-so-secret secret of the show is that Olivia and President Fitzgerald Thomas Grant III, or simply Fitz (played by Tony Goldwyn), are in love. In season two, their love has turned sour when Fitz finds out that everyone on his staff assisted in rigging a voting machine in an essential county in Ohio – Defiance – so that he could become President. He feels betrayed, like he stole the White House, and that the person he loved, who he thought was in his corner, didn’t believe he could win the presidency on his own. Frankly, his feelings are hurt and his confidence is shaken. She is ruined as well because he was the love of her life and she had turned away all comers for the chance to be with him when his presidency was over. Now, he barely speaks to her. Flitting around these two are First Lady, Mellie, who knows about the president’s affair with Olivia Pope, and Chief of Staff Cyrus Beene, both of whom were in on the voting scandal in Defiance.
“Top of the Hour” starts with a normal family arguing about pizza toppings. If you’ve been watching, you know their lives are about to be turned upside down. Turns out, the wife has had an affair with the man the president has nominated for the vacated Supreme Court position, which is big news. It also comes out that the affair did not end when everyone thought it did, which puts the daughter’s paternity into question. This new news is not welcome news to the President. Not only because he’s Fitz’s Supreme Court nominee, but also because, in previous episodes, there was a leak in intelligence that resulted in the death of an American operative posing as an aide worker that every news channel is blaming on The President. Fitz wants nothing more than to have a win. When he realizes that Olivia has been working for the nominee’s mistress, we finally see what has really been bothering Fitz since he learned that Olivia was in on the Defiance scandal. He wonders why she wasn’t honest, not about Defiance, but about her belief in his ability to lead the nation. Obviously, in his mind, she didn’t believe he could win it on his own. Meanwhile, Jake Ballard, whose character joined the show in the last half of season two, has been spying on Olivia for the President – and falling for her at the same time. We learn a thing or two about the sneakiness of Jake Ballard and we also learn that maybe Ballard is not quite all he’s made himself out to be. In the end, Olivia convinces Mr. Spanner that knowing his 13 year old daughter’s paternity doesn’t take away the years he’s cared for her. It won’t bring him peace of mind and it won’t allow him to just walk away. We are left with the image of the Spanners tentatively working things out. We believe that there is a point in all of our lives when we forgive the mistakes of others as they forgive our mistakes. This makes us believe that maybe, just maybe, the obstacles that keep Fitz and Olivia apart will eventually bring them back together, for forgiveness sake.
There is a moment in “Top of the Hour” that perfectly describes why I like television so much. Olivia Pope is talking to Fitz while the Stanners (played by Lisa Edelstein of House fame and Jay Karnes – Agent Kohn from Sons of Anarchy), are arguing. The Stanners are talking about betrayal, the same betrayal Fitz experienced at the hands of Olivia. While Olivia and Fitz don’t say anything, the words they mean to say are being shouted between the Stanners. For me, that’s television. Woven amongst the stilted dialogue, the one dimensional characters, or the occasionally brilliant bursts of TV writing are the truths that mark our lives, that rest in the depths of our souls, that color the way we live our lives, even the things that are hidden from us until we see it played out in front of us. Opiate or not, we see the revelations hidden like easter eggs in the midst of dialogue and it touches us and makes us watch again next week.
Scandal is good drama. This episode was fair. There were moments that were manufactured, either for emotion, like the daughter showing up just as Olivia Pope brings her hairbrush downstairs, or to move the story forward, like the moment when the press still throw out their questions, even though the door was answered by a little girl. We are supposed to feel that moment of stress, but it’s stupid because news people would be asking to speak to her mother. Shonda Rhimes can’t get by without manipulating the viewing audience’s emotions. Sometimes it is honest, like the scene where Olivia Pope and President Grant don’t speak as their words are hurled by the arguing couple. Sometimes it’s manipulated as we see in the scene where Olivia convinces the daughter not to worry. The White House gets the win when President Grant orchestrates a successful rescue of the remaining aide workers slash operatives. The look on Tony Goldwyn’s face when they find them is so convincing, I almost want to cheer myself. Shonda Rhimes is at her best when she is rooting for the same people for whom you are rooting.