Did 'Scandal' Wait Too Long to Get Truly Scandalous?
To refresh your memory, Scandal is that political-intrigue drama from producer extraordinaire Shonda Rhimes' ShondaLand empire that titillated your parents well before last year's Fifty Shades film adaptation. And with good reason, as it’s pretty steamy stuff. Amid lengthy monologues on the Republic, Jack Bauer-worthy military subterfuge, and occasionally gruesome guest-star turns by the likes of Lena Dunham, the most alluring scandal within Scandal has always been the torrid, adulterous affair between crisis manager Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) and married US President Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn). Despite its procedural format, the show is ultimately a romance with toppings. Beyond Olivia and Fitz, the rest is basically just terror cell-flavored garnish. For four years, their push and pull has rattled Tumblr with every kiss and declaration of "impossible love."
Rhimes has, accordingly, mastered the "Olitz" tease, often bringing the pair together and tearing them apart within the same episode. Will they? Won’t they? They won’t, and hey, look the vice president is evil. At some point, the audience’s quivering lips gave way to a protracted yawn. As a possible response to the audience's yen for freshness or at least a specific narrative plan, the currently airing fifth season has not only brought Olitz together but swiftly outed their romance to the public. Olivia is now experiencing her Mistress America arc as she faces media scrutiny over being white president's black mistress, and their relationship's ripple effect on the show's merry gang of occasional murderers.
For the most part, it's been a great pivot, leading to some of Scandal’s strongest character moments. Long-suffering First Lady Mellie (Bellamy Young) has been freed from the shackles of a cuckolded political wife, and a recent episode showcased one of Olivia's finest monologues as she defended her affair to both a fictional audience and Scandal’s own viewers, many of whom were hoping she would move on to one of the other haphazardly shirtless men the show kept throwing her way. (We're still on team Jake, for the record.)
Still, we can’t help but be a bit underwhelmed by how... predictably it has all played out. “Exactly what you imagined” rings disappointing for a series that has specialized in dishing out twists, cliffhangers, and the trapdoor option for nearly half a decade. Indeed, the lone surprise (spoiler!) was the source of the reveal: Olivia herself, who answered affirmatively when confronted with a camera crew asking point-blank if she was the president’s mistress. Scandal may simply have waited too long to let its Olitz genie out of the bottle. While Olivia vs. the world is our favorite Olivia, the oomph of her disclosure didn't quite rival of the melodrama of the couple's many near-misses.
The question of what happens next is tricky. Upping the romantic stakes can devolve into nonsense. (Looking at you, Chuck and Blair.) As for the possibility of an Olitz baby, all parties have been warned: We will throw my remote at a hospital-nursery kidnapping. For now however, Scandal should be commended for committing to a path. Its hook has decisively veered from, “Will Olivia and Fitzgerald get together?” to the consequences of it happening. The surer foot bodes well moving forward. Frenetic pace and grand conspiracies aside, Scandal's also shown it can cool its heels. (B613, anyone?) Explored the new status quo through the dual lenses of Olivia’s personal ambivalence and Fitz’s looming impeachment will hold viewers' interest for now. And if you tailed off after season four, catching up on the five hours that have aired this fall so far would be worth the binge. Just don’t expect anything as all-consuming addictive as those early Scandal bites.
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Ben Philippe is a fiction writer and occasional comic who splits his time between New York City and Montreal. Unlike the rest of America, he has not forgotten that Fitz suffocated a terminal cancer patient with a pillow.