Scandal 3×10 ‘A Door Marked Exit’: Catch and release

Source: ABC

This wasn’t a very good episode of Scandal, at least in the way the show has taught us to watch it. There wasn’t a lot of absolutely absurd or crazy stuff. A lot of pieces were moved around on the chessboard for the back half of the season. There were very few moments that made me spit my red wine (Natty Boh) onto my sumptuous white coat (sweater I got from Goodwill). Everyone I care about on the show (the folks at Pope & Associates and David Rosen) just seemed like they were flailing. And that’s how I felt, until I watched it again, and realized just how artful the flailing was.

Scandal has been taking more and more interest in the emergent disconnect between how people with power react to situations and people without power react. Cyrus’ breakdown is categorically different than James’, most of it revolving around the Cyrus’ complicity in the situation, ignoring that, under Cyrus’ terms, James is equally culpable.

Source: ABC

Source: ABC

Cyrus and James are a micro-example of this episode’s hyper-focus. Olivia’s general unimportance is practically the bottom line of this episode; we see her careen back and forth on the issue of her father’s and mother’s relative turpitude, rushing from assumption to assumption, aggressively questioning her father about a bomb she realizes seconds later doesn’t exist. What she does doesn’t matter here, nor does it matter for the rest of the plot: Fitz and Rowan are facing off in a battle Olivia is nowhere near privy to.

When Ballard leaves her, this is evident. When it isn’t Olivia’s presence and assurances, but Rowan’s wayward offhanded comment that sways Fitz, it is evident. There are too many people operating on too many levels at this point to even consider going back to what Scandal was before. Olivia can exert a great deal of influence, but only on her level. 1+10 is 11. 1000000+10 is still basically a million. People like Quinn and Olivia and Abby and Harrison and James have given up trying to punch up.

Instead, what’s replaced that is the appropriate reaction, which James exemplifies the best. He sees the monster before him, and realizes that you can’t punch up, only climb up. Don’t waste your energy punching up, use it to climb to the next rung. And Olivia’s learning this too: it doesn’t matter how many favors you are owed from the most powerful people, if you can’t see the whole picture you are using them for the wrong things.

Look at Quinn and her fish-out-of-water journey (as annoying as it is). Her rant tonight, delivered in a…disturbingly vulnerable get-up, is this problem in microcosm. It’s easy to read this as her reacting to being thrust into a different world, but calling it a world is simplifying it. Quinn now faces a new set of pieces of information with a new set of possible reactions with a new set of possible consequences.

Source: ABC

Source: ABC

But I think that’s almost too facile a way to put it. Quinn, always the (very, very annoying) audience surrogate, is also facing a decision that we’re facing with Scandal‘s turn towards a different type of show. The early appeals of this show are the types of things that are often derided as superficial; Scandal managed to do these things very well, and invest them with meaning, but no one’s gonna deny that they were there. But now we’re faced with more elements, from a far stranger show. Last week we cared about highlights (say, fashion), and this week we care about super-spy stuff (…super-spy stuff).

Is this good? It’s hard to say. This season’s transformation has provided some great moments (say, in Everybody Loves Mellie) and a lot of very irritating episodes (oh, I imagine you can guess), but that doesn’t necessarily speak to what the show will be like when it’s done with the shift and Marcia goes and kills the president or whatever. And I liked what Scandal was early on. Hell, I like the procedural episodes, some of them were fun as hell. Olivia dipping into things, being someone who didn’t just matter but also MATTERED, was also ridiculously fun and legitimately interesting.

And needless to say, the diminished roll of David Rosen and Abby the amazing snark has been felt hard amongst those of us who count ourselves their fans.

But maybe that kind of show was flailing too. There’s a limit to the craziness Scandal had been manufacturing. Look at the body clean-up early in the episode: in earlier seasons we’d have to be slowly introduced to it, and get a whole montage-type thing. Now, we just get a few cursory shots of Charlie and Quinn as the main action happened around them. There’s a staleness, and more than Breaking Bad (which just started disposing of all bodies in acid) the show’s DNA requires that it continually ramp up with something more ridiculous.

Source: ABC

Source: ABC

I don’t know what the future holds, obviously, and I don’t feel like this episode was enough of an arc conclusion for me to really judge it. This wasn’t a great Scandal episode.

But it may have been a pretty great episode of television.

Stray Thoughts:

  • Everything in this opening scene is done soooo well. All those aspersions about young Sally.
  • Way to call your daughter a slut, Sal. Way to everything else, Mr. Langston.
  • Really need to stop giving rich people letter openers. 50% of all rich people murders involve them.
  • I’m a little concerned that this is what pushes Cyrus over the edge. He once took a hit out on his husband.
  • LESS THAN 12 HOURS on this rubbish ticking time bomb.
  • Does all poison conveniently come in neon blue?
  • Quinn…oh gross, Quinn. Well, at least Olivia remembers why you’re still around.
  • Everyone on this show basically agrees on what power entails.
  • “I put parts of my body inside parts of your body,” followed by Harrison echoing Abby last week.
  • I love where Mellie gets info from. 10% of every group is privy to the actually important facts in gossip.
  • Saying “I’m a man” is like insisting that you’re big leagues. Impressive in its impotence.
  • The “Marxist Liberation Front” yeah sure whatever.
  • Wheeling and dealing Mellie, so good.
  • “All penises,” MORE DAVID ROSEN, PLEASE.
John M.

works for a legal newspaper in Baltimore and lives within three blocks of Tilghman Middle, the alley where Omar and Brother Mouzone have their showdown, and Pearson’s Florists. He enjoys putting his liberal arts degree to good use by watching a lot of TV and reading a lot of internet. He occasionally blogs (about Dawson’s Creek) on tumblr.


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  • Eric Pharand

    I’m taking a break from Scandal. It may be permanent.