Let’s start this off with a little repetition on my end. Shonda Rhimes is a God among men (and she should title her autobiography that—How to be a God Among Men). Kerry Washington is flawless, and perfection, and flawless. And, in answer to the question, “Are we Gladiators, or are we bitches?” I proudly raise my hand and profess myself to be a Gladiator.
And now, I take off my fangirl hat, and put on my critic’s hat. Much as it pains me, it needs to be done.
There were some real problems with Scandal’s Season Four premiere, “Randy, Red, Superfreak and Julia.” We open on a perfect scene—Jake and Olivia, alone on a beach. They looked like Red and Andy at the end of Shawshank Redemption—prison life far behind them, nothing but hope on the horizon. And, as Andy so rightly professed, “Hope is a good thing… and no good thing ever dies.” Then we get a flash of Olivia’s tableside reading—Gone Girl. Nothing wrong with that, until midway through the episode when you realize you’ve seen about 5 commercials for the upcoming film. Product placement much? Okay, fine. But it takes you out of the episode for a moment.
Another similar feeling comes about from the entire Harrison storyline. It couldn’t be helped—they had to write Columbus Short off. But—and maybe this is because I’m also a pop culture critic—it was very difficult to mourn Harrison, knowing that Short lost his job because he’s an abusive husband. Still, what else could they have done? I guess I just see Scandal’s immense popularity beginning to take a real toll on the believability of the series.
But my biggest issue with the episode pertains to the storyline concerning our Gladiators. Olivia/Julia (shouts-out to Diahann Carroll) receives a note on the beach with Jake, telling her that Harrison’s body has been found, and she decides to return to D.C. to bury him (we know she’s going to end up staying, but we—and Jake—play along). Abby’s in the White House (still playing Fauxlivia, I guess), Huck is working as a tech geek/genius at Data Stop (though someone on Twitter made an epic PopCopy/Chappelle’s Show reference), and Quinn had been the only one tracking Olivia down (Liv’s penchant for red wine gave her away). I thought it was hilarious that Huck/Randy was a working man, and I love that the writers drew attention to the fact that, well, everywhere you go, there you are. Olivia can be Jules, but she still has Olivia’s taste in wine. Huck can be Randy, but he still has to uncover secrets while fixing/hacking into someone’s computer (that poor customer just wanted his laptop back, and instead he’s probably headed for a divorce). It was fun!
And yet, I think it would have been much more interesting for Olivia Pope to come back and see that OPA was up and running without her. She would have been devastated, in a real way. Because, really, what’s worse? Seeing your ex all sad and ridiculous, and working at PopCopy after you leave him? Or, seeing him all organized, and solving tough D.C. cases, and better than the way you left him (or, damn, at least trying)? Now, that would have made for some drama. Instead, we see that the Gladiators can’t gladiate without Olivia, and that’s problematic for those of us who love the Gladiators. What? They just break without her? I understand that Olivia’s absence needed to have some effect, but I think this whole setup was too predictable, and too easy.
Now here’s one development I didn’t see coming—stay-at-home Mellie. This was glorious. Mellie, who always bounces back, and always gets dressed in the morning—Mellie who has smelled the scent of Olivia Pope on her husband, and barely batted an eye (or, very deliberately batted her eyes)—that Mellie is broken. And she should be. She lost a child, and she is broken, and dressing up like someone else I know who works from home in her bathrobe and Uggs, and doesn’t consider a shirt dirty if she’s only worn it twice (shouts-out to yours truly). She can’t even get dressed to visit her son’s grave, and that shot of her laying in the grass by the headstone—laying in it, like it was home—was perfect. As was her speech to Fitz about why she’ll never jump: “I’m not you.” Bellamy Grant is amazing, and her scenes made the most sense to me in this premiere.
There was a case this week, but the details felt unimportant with everything else going on. A Senator was almost killed, but he was also a rapist, but really the point was to draw attention to bigger questions about women, feminism, and sexual assault cases (and equal pay). I love my Scandal with a little (or a lot of) feminism, so I approve those messages.
In the end, we knew Olivia was going to stay, and we know OPA will return. They’ve lost and buried one of their own, and they need each other. My hope for this season is more interesting cases, more JAKE PLEASEOMGJAKEINTHEBEDANDJAKEONTHEBEACHOMG (sorry, I put my fangirl hat back on for a second), and more surprises—like that awesome shot of Olivia and Fitz, breezing past each other, not even letting their fingertips touch.
Poor Jake. This is totally his anthem right now.
Speaking of Jake, BlackGirlNerds had my absolute favorite Scandal-related tweet last night.
Yes, all of my stray observations concern the hawtness of Jake. Deal with it folks.
Except for this one—I so don’t believe Mama Pope is dead. Nope. Not at all.
Favorite Quote of the Episode: It’s 1976 down there. (Mellie Grant)
Shannon M. Houston is Assistant TV Editor at Paste, and a New York-based freelance writer with probably more babies than you. You can follow her on Twitter.