Last night’s episode of Scandal, the midpoint of the season before the show returns in January, was a bit of disappointment in the context of what we’ve come to expect from the soapy drama. It wasn’t necessarily a bad episode, but considering the craziness of last week’s “YOLO” (Huck tortures Quinn! Olivia’s mom is a bad guy! Sally Langston kills her husband!), the most recent episode, entitled “A Door Marked Exit,” had the deck stacked against it from the beginning. It also wasn’t that eventful in comparison to where the show was at this time last year, i.e. in the midst of the fallout from President Grant’s assassination attempt, still one of Scandal‘s strongest storylines.
The episode was primarily focused on Fitz interrogating Olivia’s dad, Eli/Rowan (and saying some really creepy things to him about Olivia), about why he was ordered to shoot down the plane carrying Olivia’s mom when he was in the Navy. That is until Olivia shows up, and the conversation turns to what her father knew about her mother, Maya Lewis (Khandi Alexander), and her criminal activities. Olivia barely manages to coax an answer out of her father, but she manages to learn that Maya told him there was a bomb on the plane she was supposed to board, which is why her father ordered Fitz to shoot it down, only to learn later that she had been lying to him. But he still won’t tell Olivia why Maya played him in the first place. Other storylines revolved around Vice President Langston (Kate Burton) enlisting Cyrus’s help to cover up the death of her husband, Daniel Douglas (Jack Coleman), and Quinn reeling from Huck’s torture session and trying to decide where her allegiances lie.
Overall, the problem was that the episode was filled with a lot of talking, but not a lot of doing. Olivia discovered a few new pieces of information about her mother, but for the most part she’s just as in the dark about Maya as we are. Sure, we know now she was some kind of super criminal/gun for hire, but that wasn’t exactly surprising after last week’s revelation about her past. We still don’t know why she left when Olivia was a child, or what the actual purpose of blowing up the place was. Obviously she married Rowan because of his high status in the intelligence community, but it’s not clear who she was working for when she did this and what specifically (if anything) they wanted to get out of him. And while we did learn at the end of the episode that Maya is still in Washington D.C., this development was all but a necessity, considering that a) they advanced the storyline so little throughout the episode, they had to give people something at the end, and b) the show doesn’t return till February, and there’s no way they would ever end on anything but a cliffhanger that demands you tune in when they return again in a few months.
What was somewhat surprising about the episode was the way Rowan blew up at Fitz, calling him a spoiled “boy” who is unworthy of his daughter during their scenes together. Not only is this a new side of the character, but it’s also the first time actor Joe Morton has really gotten to show any range on the show.
Deliciously devilish as it was to have Sally kill her husband last week, the show stalled on that storyline in “A Door Marked Exit,” especially once she decided to enlist Cyrus’s help to clean her mess up. From there, everything that happened was fairly predictable. Langston was forced to stay on the Grant ticket, much to the chagrin of her new campaign manager, Leo Bergen (Paul Adelstein), and Cyrus was forced to work through his guilt in the matter, and to try and reconcile with his husband James (Dan Bucatinsky). And it’s not that these developments weren’t interesting, they just weren’t very interesting in comparison to the murder itself. Although it appears that David Rosen (Joshua Malina) may now be looking into the matter, so that should help things to get juicy again when the show returns.
And then there’s Quinn’s storyline. I don’t really know how to feel about this whole thing anymore. Is she bad, is she good? Is she actually falling for creepy Charlie (George Newbern)? Will her and Huck ever be able to become friends again? Does anybody care? I will say that having Huck turn on her like that was pretty unexpected. I personally tend to find his stories rather boring. (He tortures people, he’s unstable, he’s loyal to Olivia above all, yeah yeah yeah, I get it already.) But having him torture Quinn was not boring. Although to be honest, Huck’s willingness to hurt her without even having to think twice about it was also kind of creepy. Not only because they had previously been so close, but because it’s a new extreme in a pattern that Scandal is starting to get a little too familiar with: a victim readily becomes willing to forgive their tormentor. I kind of hope that Quinn actually is bad at this point (although I doubt it), because the idea of her forgiving Huck after what he did to her is kind of disturbing, and not in a good way.
I suppose I should talk about what was undoubtedly supposed to be the big scene from last night’s episode, when Olivia’s spy love interest, Jake (Scott Foley), tells her he loves her, before telling her he has to leave. Not that he really goes anywhere; in fact, he actually sticks around in D.C. and takes her father’s job. But the intensity between them is the scene’s true intent. And yet, it’s not really there. We already knew that Jake cares deeply for Olivia, but at the end of the day it’s so hard to take her relationships with other men seriously, as long as the show’s driving force continues to be her star-crossed romance with the President and the fact that they can’t be together.
As I’ve said before, I feel like Scandal is turning into Alias, right down to the evil mother. It’s not that I don’t give credit to Shonda Rhimes for trying to create a compelling mythology, but as I’ve also said before, one of the best things about the show used to be that it resonated with a sense of reality. Not that it was ever that similar to the real world; Scandal is still at its best when reveling in silly intrigue. But before there was at least something recognizable about the Washington that Rhimes created, and the world of backdoor negotiating that her characters inhabited. So again, I understand the desire to create a mythology, I just wish it was a mythology that had not even one foot, but maybe just a pinky toe, in the real world.