When heavily serialized, twisty shows have entered the crazy zone, seemingly disparate story threads can come together so quickly and so easily that we barely see them coming. Scandal is in that zone. Of course Olivia's father is the evil, powerful man behind the organization that ruined Huck's life. Of course Jake Ballard is also involved with—and thus a victim of—that organization. Of course the president of the United States has a deep history with Jake that likely involves some questionable decisions that only Olivia's father and high-level members of his organization know about. And of course this whole situation is really somehow still about Fitz's infidelity, and who he does and does not admit sleeping with. Like, there's no way all of that should make sense, and it's pretty nutty that "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" ended with a bunch of wheeling and dealing that simultaneously moved all of those stories forward, but here we are. This was a much quieter episode of Scandal, and it was still pretty wild. The stakes are so high, so personal, and so ridiculous—and no other show is this enjoyable at the moment.
But seriously, after last week's barn-burner of a Season 3 premiere, this episode dialed it back a few notches, admittedly with a purpose. It was time to fill in the blanks of Olivia and Rowan's relationship, and "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" did a relatively solid job of accomplishing that task. Scandal put in a lot of legwork last season to establish Rowan's reach and power, so it wasn't much of a surprise to learn that Olivia found out about B613 through her relationship with Homeless Huck—or that she did, in fact, make a deal with her father to keep Huck out of the organization's sights, despite plain-as-day working in D.C. Still, Joe Morton and Kerry Washington were what made those flashback sequences so strong, by making sure to project the shifts in the characters' relationship despite the economical storytelling. The characters went from disliking each other to finding a comfort zone to engaging in full-on war in a small number of scenes, but the actors made it work. Morton was especially awesome; he clearly enjoys chewing up the scenery around him. His diatribe at the restaurant after Olivia discovered the truth wasn't quite as good as last week's directive at the airstrip, but it was close. Although I'm still curious as to Rowan's possible involvement in his wife's death, "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" still underscored why Olivia doesn't trust her father, or very many people to begin with.
Obviously, those flashback sequences smartly dovetailed with the present-day story involving Olivia and the team* defending Jeannine while the press tried to assassinate her character in the aftermath of the adultery news. Although I was bummed last week when the show moved on from Olivia being Fitz's newly revealed secret dance partner, this episode provided clear goals and motivations for the seemingly countless parties involved. Olivia needed to defend Jeannine to help get the public off her scent a little, but also because these are the jobs she takes. She knows how the government and the media can chew someone up and spit them out. Fitz, still delusional, wanted Oliva to come after the White House and his administration as much as possible, because he still thinks there's a happy ending at the end of all this pain (spoiler alert: he's wrong). Mellie wanted the 'truth' about Jeannine to come out so that Fitz couldn't move forward with his Campaign for Honesty, and Cyrus wanted that too (and needed Rowan off his back). However, if there was one thing we already knew about Rowan before this episode, and something that the flashbacks really reinforced, it's that no one can mess with him. His resources are undefined, and thus terrifying. His reach seems endless. Once he started making moves in the present, the results were basically like what happened in the past: He got exactly what he wanted. Fitz couldn't put pressure on him because of the Executive Branch's relationship with B613. Olivia couldn't do much because her father could axe Jake at any moment.
* It's only been two episodes, but there hasn't been much for the Gladiators to do thus far. They've served a narrative purpose, with Harrison making the big call last week and Quinn digging around to discover Olivia's deal-making and to keep Huck safe, but those stories are almost entirely plot-related. Although that's not new for the show, I do hope that the writers find something for the rest of the team to do in the coming weeks. I was certainly looking for more tension between Olivia and Harrison this week, but it was basically non-existent. She has bigger problems; I get that. But come on.
The level of high-stakes dealing going on this week was silly, and in the most Scandalous way possible. By episode's end, everyone had ended up with a little something, and a lost a little something too. Rowan, Mellie, and Cyrus all got what they wanted: Jeannine was railroaded when Fitz stopped her soon-to-air admission with his own admission. Olivia kept her name out of the adultery conversation, and Jake was released. Similarly, Fitz helped save his friend (and likely criminal cohort). But now, Fitz and Cyrus are probably due for a strong-arming by Rowan in the future, which isn't good. Fitz didn't get to naively profess his love for Olivia. Rowan had to give up Jake. And perhaps worst of all, Olivia was forced to both experience the kind of awful power her father holds and agree to spend even more time with him in the future. Hell, even though she's been labeled a bimbo, Jeannine's going to do the talk-show circuit, write a book, and cash out. Everybody wins, everybody loses.
Weirdly, I think Scandal could still stand to pump the brakes a little on some of these stories. Just like I wanted to see more of Olivia on the defensive, protecting her own name, I kinda would've enjoyed watching the team really try to break down the White House and keep Jeannine's rep intact over the long haul. That certainly would've created more tension between Olivia and Fitz than Fitz seemed to expect in that opening call, and probably would have raised some interesting moral quandaries for Olivia, something the show has done well in the past. However, Shonda Rhimes and company clearly have a big plan for Rowan, B613, and Jake, and if those stories are going to take precedence over the others, I understand the desire to just keep plowing forward. Rowan and B613 are something of a common enemy for everyone else on the show, but his hooks are so deep into everyone's lives and livelihoods that it won't be easy to overcome him—as this episode proved.
– It's funny, the things that become important in a flashback. The fact that we had to see a mini-origin story for Olivia's wine-drinking was both outrageous and satisfying.
– Though I understand why the show used him tonight in the flashbacks, I'm kind of ready for Edison to go away. I don't need Olivia to be with any man in particular, he's just a bore. (A.K.A. he seems like a cool, well-meaning dude, and everyone else on this show is basically a sociopath convincing themselves they're Good People.)
– Huck choking Olivia into admitting her father's true occupation was sufficiently intense, though I think both Guillermo Diaz and Kerry Washington can overdo it sometimes. This was one of those times. BUT: The "I have a couple of questions for you, literally two questions" line? Amazing.
– Like in last week's intense bunker convo, the show stripped away the score in the scene where Olivia confronted Rowan about his work, and it was darn effective yet again. Even the sound of her heels hitting the floor as she stomped off worked.
– David Rosen's flashback goatee? Not great, Bob.
– "How presidential are my balls now?" INDEED. But Fitz probably shouldn't tell Cyrus about his GREAT dream of a future involving Olivia popping out four kids (you already disregard the ones you have, bro), living in Vermont, and making jam at home. Domesticate that super intelligent, independent woman, white dude.
What'd you guys think of the episode?
AIRED ON 5/12/2016
Season 5 : Episode 21