During the season five episode of “Scandal” titled “Thwack,” the story seemed to be zipping along. Then, with a “Thwack,” all momentum completely collapsed. Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington, “Django Unchained”), who has been held up as a white hat for justice (despite some dark marks on her name), murders the former Vice President of the United States. The episode revisits a point of huge emotional turmoil in Olivia’s kidnapping and was actually doing quite well up until the “Thwack,” but it changes her character in a completely unnecessary manner.

This episode is representative of the fifth season of “Scandal” as a whole. Every time the drama seemed to be taking a step forward in both regaining narrative focus and creating a compelling story, it took two back. For every episode focusing on a presidential debate, there was one pulling the show deeper into the B-613 hole. It’s frustrating because there are points at which the series puts out a moment, sometimes a fleeting one, which reminds me of why I loved it in the past, but those are starting to become fewer and farther between.

Many of “Scandal” ’s problems seem to revolve around one key group of characters, and the finale doubles down on keeping them around as key parts of the show. One of the major conflicts was an inane story involving Jake Ballard (Scott Foley, “The Unit”) trying to get Olivia to save him from her father, Rowan (Joe Morton, “Eureka”). It ends up not with an Olivia win, but rather with Rowan getting what he wanted all along: Ballard on the Republican ticket alongside Mellie Grant (Bellamy Young, “Criminal Minds”).

I’m tired of B-613 as both a group of characters and a plot device. The series uses it to artificially inflate the drama, but I can only listen to so many monologues from Rowan about how he’s not only doing this for his own power, but rather for the the people he cares about. There’s only so many times I can see Rowan commit some horrible act to gain power. There’s only so many times I can see Olivia lose to these people. The show views these characters as viable antagonists, but it’s repeating the same devices over and over again until they lose their impact.

Though Rowan and Jake were involved the whole way, the election storyline was a glimmer of hope among the B-613 bullshit. The Republican battle between Mellie and Vice President Susan Ross (Artemis Pebdani, “Another Period”) made for compelling television. The plot twisted and turned in a traditional “Scandal” manner, as the characters plotted to win their ideal candidates the nomination. The campaigns fought bitterly, stabbing each other in the back and digging up dirt on each other, and the ups and downs of their candidacies were highly entertaining.

What especially made the fight engrossing was how it tested the relationship between Olivia and Abby (Darby Stanchfield, “Mad Men”) by pitting them against one another. Their friendship has always been a powerful core of the show. Olivia has always been a mentor to Abby, so to see them battle, and to see Abby betray Olivia by thinking about using Liv’s abortion against her and accidentally telling President Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn, “Tarzan”) about it, pained my heart. It brought a new level to the relationship, and, in a season in which the series used quite a bit of repetitive storytelling, it made a huge difference.

All “Scandal”’s problems are a damn shame, because there’s still a great show somewhere in there. Shonda Rhimes (“Grey’s Anatomy”) and crew have driven themselves too far into the weeds. The finale pushed further into the depths of this terrible storyline, which doesn’t leave much hope that it can course-correct and save itself. Maybe there’s a glimmer in the next season only being 16 episodes, instead of 22 (requiring tighter storytelling), but unless they dump B-613, the potential could easily be lost.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *