Last night's episode of Scandal, "The Trail," featured a flashback from two years ago where Olivia Pope strode into the midst of Grant's campaign and told him brusquely that he didn't need to worry about the issues, he needed to worry about romantic chemistry and PDA. And frankly I think this was basically a re-eanctment of Shonda Rhimes marching into the show's first writers' meeting and breaking the series arc. "Don't worry about the cases or politics, worry about the love story between the president and Olivia." Advice that has made this show the highlight of my Thursdays. Scandal is basically what I've always wanted: a CW teen drama for grown-ups. Finally I can watch an angsty romance without feeling like a wizened crone just because I already went to prom!
It's entirely in keeping with the larger-than-life romance that Grant fell in love with her the moment he saw her, and that's why he didn't want her on the campaign. (Wuh-oh, ladies, that should be illegal, but let's keep rolling.) Olivia (with bangs!) and the then-Governor Grant started panting for each other the moment they were within five inches of each other. It was like an Edward-Bella thing, wherein the president caught one whiff of Olivia Pope's dreamy mix of hormones, perfume, and freshly starched pantsuits and instantly realized that his life as he knew it was over. The scene cut back and forth between their two horrified faces until they both were like, "Oh yeah, shit, we are in love, here comes that." I mean, it was like old-school soap-opera editing!
They were sighing with angsty ecstasy just because they brushed knuckles in an airplane! This is like full-on high-school romance, the kind of thing where the guy leans over your seat in class to tell you something and you can't eat for the next three hours. Only the guy is the president (LOL LOL sir, grow up sir, you are acting 14 years old sir). Indulgently romantic as the storyline was, and it definitely bordered on Passions-level wish-fulfillment romance, my eyes didn't roll once. That would have meant taking them off the screen! Kerry Washington is that rare actress who is so beautiful it SHOULD make you angry and jealous but then she emotes so much fragility and is so relatable it's impossible not to feel protective and sympathetic. (similarly talented: Angelina Jolie and Charlize Theron come to mind...am I saying Kerry Washington needs to be in more films? YES.)
Because this is a TV series that promises us emotional justice, it eased our sense of discomfort about the then-governor now-president being married by illustrating his wife was a hateful, shrill, lying harpy. They DON'T touch or talk to each other anymore! She's humping ersatz Anderson Cooper! He tried to take the high road and then she used a photo-op to make up a lie about miscarrying during the campaign. Burn her at the stake, RIGHT!? No, I kind of wish the writers had had the guts to just make her what the wives of these cheating politicians usually are: a regular person, focused on juggling her kids and not embarrassing her husband, who comes fourth or fifth in her husband's estimation after his own needs, desires, ambitions, and ego.
But of course, if they had done that then the romance between Guvnah Grant and Olivia wouldn't be as bone-chillingly, hauntingly bittersweet. Obviously for the purposes of rooting for him and Olivia through the next presumably six years of his presidency (a.k.a. the now-requisite six seasons a show has to propose for a major network to bother picking it up) the president has to be relatable and a romantic hero. And with a line like, "What kind of coward was I to marry her and not wait for you?" how can we resist?! That line was a panty-dropper. I know my underpants were all over floor, but they were part of a larger bundle of just-dried laundry scattered willy-nilly all over the ground and couch nest where I was watching the steamy Scandal unfold.
Blurrily erotic, the love scene was pretty intense from what I could see of it. It was essentially filmed through a swirling tumbler full of lavender perfume, by my estimation, and it's kind of touching that the "sex tape"—more a "sex track" than a tape, but whatever—was Olivia and the president. Remember if you ever have a racy encounter on camera to not say your name, his name, or articulate any full words. (Olivia knew this instinctively, maybe because of her magical gut.)
We also got to see the embryonic Olivia Pope team. Last week we heard their backstories, this week we saw them helping Olivia out before she collected them all and installed an office in an old set from La Boheme. Most remarkable was the Hagrid impression by our resident sadist, who hilariously joined Grant's campaign fresh from the hobo jungle.
A world to the wise about homeless people: They are not always secret geniuses, as popular TV dramas would have you believe. In fact, nine out of ten times in my experience they are largely unbalanced and will follow you down the street with shouted offers of oral sex, inexplicably bop you on the head, or rush you with their teeth bared until you step into traffic to avoid them (ALL OF WHICH HAVE HAPPENED TO ME PERSONALLY). So yeah, crusty homeless guys: not necessarily fallen government geniuses. Just FYI.
Outside of the flashback, we had the DA and a streetwalker trying to puzzle out who could have impregnated now-lifeless intern Tanner, while Quinn saucily mixed cookies and sex with her hot blogger beau.
Then we had the VP's right-hand man turn up at the blogger's house after Quinn had left and have a meltdown that included the most hilariously jaded confessions re: Amanda, the sex tape, et. al. that I've ever heard. The blogger decided to fight fire with fire, exclaiming that he had hard evidence that he and NOT the president was Amanda's baby daddy, and the cool, composed veep stabbed him in the neck with scissors. Um. Yeah, it was intense and luckily unwound in the space of about one and a half minutes so it didn't distract from all the emotional build-up around Olivia and the prince excuse me the president.
Them sitting together, like, I buy (because of the acting) that these are soulmates who long to be together. But what exactly is keeping them apart? He's the president, can we please see a little more evidence that he is a FANTASTIC one to justify staying married to his psychopathic wife? (She's clearly the villain of the piece officially, yeah?) So like yes, they are perfect for each other or whatever, but the major conflicts in their relationship are the kind of problems of privilege that they're choosing to have: Neither of them want to lose their awesome jobs. And if they did both abdicate their careers and move to a cabin in the woods together, I guarantee they'd be antsy to return and sick of each other in weeks. Well, maybe months. At best I'd give it three years. Well, it depends a lot on how good they are at making pancakes.
So yeah, last night's episode? Amazing. Ridiculous. Unapologetically romantic and weirdly violent. Scandal is Gossip Girl aged up a couple decades and set in Washington, and I'm all about it.
– Was "The Trail" the most intensely romantic thing you've seen since The English Patient?
– Can adultery be justified if your spouse is a total lying ho?
– Even if you could identify someone's voice from his or her sensual moans, would such evidence hold up in a court of law?
– Scissor stab! Too violent or the more arterial spray the better?
– Have you ever had undeniable chemistry with a perfect stranger and both of you kind of knew it?