Whenever I talk to people about Scandal, a show I have dutifully remained with for years, I usually get the same line, “I used to watch, but then I couldn’t take it anymore.” The former fan usually blames the bandwagon jumping on the secret spy organizations, exhaustive romantic merry-go-rounds, and, most prominently, that time Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) got kidnapped during an extremely elaborate, upsetting scheme by former, now-bludgeoned to death Vice President Andrew Nichols (Jon Tenney). There has been so much Scandal plot, I bet you forgot the Liv abduction conspiracy was all a part of Andrew’s dream of beginning a war with the fictional country of West Angola.
As Scandal leaned further into its soapy roller coaster roots, it stopped playing by the rules it set up at the beginning of the series, which also happened to be the only things keeping the drama squarely grounded in some semblance of reality. So, soon enough, everyone was murdering everyone, everyone was a spy, and everyone’s white hat was smeared with grime and blood. It’s difficult to love a show that doesn’t recognize it had thrown so much of itself away in favor of B613-flavored intrigue. But, last night’s penultimate Scandal episode, “Standing In The Sun,” proves the Shondaland treat is finally going to pay the piper for its more incomprehensible flights of fancy as next week’s Thursday, April 19, series finale looms large.
And, nothing could be more refreshing.
When I say “pay the piper,” I almost mean that literally, as Scandal's leads might have to pay for their misdeeds with their lives. In “Sun” Olivia realizes the walls are closing in on her as President Mellie Grant (Bellamy Young) is accused of hiring former B613 agent Charlie (George Newbern) to hijack Air Force Two in order to kill her own vice president, Cyrus Beene (Jeff Perry), because he knows she ordered Liv to assassinate political rival-turned-ally President Rashad (Faran Tahir). It’s a deeply tangled web, and also a fabrication created by Cyrus, who actually hijacked Air Force Two, to win himself the presidency. Oh Scandal, you wild, wild show.
As Olivia attempts to find a way out of this conundrum, she finally realizes creating a new power-grabbing, deceitful plot isn’t the solution. Instead, it’s publicly admitting just how dark things have gotten over the last seven seasons to the entire world and accepting whatever punishment comes with that. One of the possible punishments is execution. Essentially, Scandal is admitting it needs to atone for its many sins before the clock runs out for good. We can see as much thanks to two major set pieces in the episode: when the QPA team tries to figure out how to take down Cyrus or his conspirator Jack Ballard (Scott Foley), and Olivia’s rousing Oval Office monologue when it becomes clear such a bacon-saving maneuver is impossible.
A few highlights from the QPA conversation include a nod to the OG Scandal crisis — the murder of Amanda Tanner (Liza Weil) — which touches upon Charlie’s previous murderous behavior and the philandering ways of Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn); the fact Jake murdered Cyrus’ husband James Novak (Dan Bucatinsky) because Vice President Sally Langston (Kate Burton) killed her husband and certain QPA members covered the crime up during their B613 days; and, that small matter of Fitz starting a war in West Angola for his girlfriend. Hearing everyone go back and forth about these storylines feels a bit like drowning, and that is on purpose.
After having a crisis of conscious at the Smithsonian to the tune of the Stevie Wonder’s very apropos “Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday,” Liv realizes she has to come clean about every dark deed and tells the Grants as much. While Mellie and Fitz squawk about their legacy, it sounds a lot like a conversation in the writers’ room talking through this very honest end-game plan. After everything Scandal has built up, can you really expose it as a wild ride of villainy? That there were never any white hats? Is that what you want Olivia Pope & Co. to be remembered for? Well, it seems the answer is yes, as Olivia screams, “We are not the heroes of this story. We are the villains.” She’s not lying (for once).
While our antiheroes will officially face the music for their bad behavior, as Liv so desires, in next week’s series finale “Over A Cliff” — previews reveal everyone from Fitz to Quinn Perkins (Katie Lowes) and Huck (Guillermo Díaz), real name Diego Munoz, will appear in front of a grand jury — the punishment actually begins in “Standing In The Sun.” Throughout the early seasons, so much of Olivia and Fitz’s relationship was built around avoiding Oval Office hookups, especially near the presidential seal in the middle of the room. The reasoning was due to the fact some shadowy organization was always watching, which was a smart way to create tension. Then, at some point, everyone forgot about the spy camera in the ceiling and started committing their worst offenses right on that seal.
Such an affront to the parameters of Scandal became increasingly annoying, even when Jake became the all-powerful Command, or Olivia took the title. As season 6’s confusing Peus drama showed, there is always someone more powerful lurking in the shadows, so why give them more ammunition against you? “Sun” proves that is the right question to ask, as Jake uses Olivia and Mellie’s extremely incriminating conversation on top of the seal to force them into a political corner. That’s why it’s so funny, and damning, to see a frustrated Mellie react to the possibility of being outed for her many treasons by throwing her head towards the Oval Office camera and yelling, “Did you like that Jake? Are you proud of yourself?”
In that moment, Scandal switches to a birds-eye, spy-camera view, proving to us, yes, Jake is watching, and, yes, he probably is proud of himself.
Like Mellie, Olivia, and everyone else who has stomped their way through Shonda Rhimes' White House, Scandal has officially recognized the error of its ways. Finally, everyone really is standing in the sun.
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