Thursday, October 8, 2015

REVIEW: 'Scandal' - Olivia, Mellie and Abby Have to See the World for What It Really Is in 'Paris Is Burning'

ABC's Scandal - Episode 5.03 "Paris Is Burning"

Olivia and Fitz face some very big consequences and Mellie brings in an old friend to make sure she gets her way. Abby shows Olivia she is fully capable of handling working at the White House.

Olivia delivered a stunning declaration at the end of the previous episode. She confirmed to the press that she was indeed the President's mistress. It has a shocking moment that infused the show with a strong creative direction. "Paris Is Burning" has to pick up the pieces. The characters have to figure out what they want to do. Fitz and Mellie had a plan to sit down for an interview in order to address the allegations. That plan is thrown out as soon as Olivia opened her mouth without warning. She was willing to step into the spotlight to embrace the life she wanted. She loves Fitz. She has chosen him. And yet, she has also created a lot of chaos. This episode is messy. It's also filled with a lot of reversals of what the characters want. It's intriguing with some compelling bits - but also some extremely frustrating ones.

Soon after Abby pulls Fitz and Mellie out of their big interview, Mellie hires Cyrus as her office advisor in order to negotiate for what she wants out of this arrangement should Fitz tell the truth. She is absolutely furious at Olivia and Fitz doing this to her. They are willing to share the truth and destroy everything she has ever worked for in one fell swoop. She desperately wants to become the first female President of the United States. She is firmly on that trajectory. Everyone believes that she can do it - and that she'd be a wonderful President. That is never in question. She could probably be a much better president than Fitz ever was. This scandal has the potential to stop her entire career. The entire life she sacrificed in order to serve as First Lady would be meaningless if Fitz and Olivia followed through with this plan.

And yet, Cyrus has a fantastic piece of advise. She cannot afford to act like a human to this situation. That's the sad truth. If she wants to be President, she can't act irrational. She needs to calculate her perfect response in order to keep that dream on track. She is able to bury all that animosity and negotiate with the President's team. Cyrus is very effective at his job. However, it's Mellie, Olivia and Abby who figure all of this out in the most sensible way possible. The men have moments of acting sensibly. But by the end of the episode, they are the ones acting in the spur of the moment because of spite. Mellie and Olivia know the sacrifice that comes from telling the truth. They are able to see the situation for what it truly is. The show's gender dynamics are very on point in this episode. It's fantastic seeing all of these women take the situation for what it is and not what they desperately want the future to be. Olivia wants to be with Fitz. Mellie wants to be President. Abby wants to be seen as good at her job. But are their dreams worth making this crucial sacrifice? They are the ones who have to weigh the costs because Fitz and Cyrus are allowed to act irrationally. Fitz is already the President of the United States - and he'll remain in office for the next 18 months. Cyrus doesn't work there any more so he doesn't have much left to loss.

The men of this show are going to complicate and make things difficult for the women. Fitz wants to make the sacrifice in order to be with Olivia. He agrees to spending the rest of his presidency with Mellie. And yet, he has promised that same thing over and over again but the conversation always finds a new way of coming up again. It's grown tiring. It could be a huge mistake for Mellie to distance herself from Fitz and the White House. She only acts that way because she listens to Cyrus, who is severely scorned after Fitz refuses to bring him back yet again. She is being manipulated and that could cost her the job she dreams of having. It's all because Cyrus got in her way. He was no longer objective to the situation. Fitz hurt him so he wanted to hurt him back. It's a short-sighted plan that contradicts everything Cyrus told Mellie not to do in this situation. He can't even follow his own advice. Mellie put her trust in him and it backfired.

That also forces the White House to turn the conversation onto Olivia and how she is the villain of this story. The show isn't afraid to paint Fitz in a really unflattering light. He really isn't a great guy at all. Olivia and Mellie understand how the world works while he is still very idealistic. He continues to demand to get his way. This time, no matter how passionately he proclaimed, he didn't get it. Abby went down to that press room to turn the weight of the country against Olivia. It was the only option left after Mellie left the interview. Sure, there was a lot of needless back-and-forth between the various parties in this episode. That did squander the momentum a little bit. But again, the ending of the episode is so strong. Olivia and Fitz are embracing as the White House destroys her credibility. Olivia wants to keep everything she has worked for with her firm. Her associates aren't doing anything right now. Even they couldn't stop the devastation that is coming for Olivia though.

However, the episode does not end there. Jake goes to visit Rowan in prison because there's some mysterious message being broadcasted at the bottom of all the news channel saying that the Louvre is on fire. It's a message strong enough for them to worry about something. And yet, it's just hard to care about this latest grand mystery. It's easy to understand why Scandal keeps bringing Rowan back. Joe Morton has never been better in his career than in this role. But it's a character that has been played out. It doesn't seem like the show is aware of that though. Rowan has run his course. It was an exciting prospect for this season to turn away from Rowan and B-613. It was refreshing. That's what made these first episodes back feel different and stronger. Bringing Rowan back now threatens to derail everything that the show has going for it at the moment. It happens just to create a new mystery that will somehow impact the characters. More plotting won't make the show exciting right now. Character based drama will. The show should stick to that. Sure, the episodes this season have been very conversation heavy with it hard to keep track of who feels what and why the audience should care in any particular moment. But that also gave the show a narrative spine that was a change up from last season. Bringing a conspiracy heavy plot back into the fold could make the show more ridiculous and less enjoyable to watch at this point.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Paris Is Burning" was written by Matt Byrne and directed by Jann Turner.
  • Characters on this show consuming alcohol has always been very delightful to watch. In this episode, Jake, Huck and Quinn spent the day drinking an entire bottle of vodka while Mellie searched desperately for her bottle of hooch in order to deal with the pressures of this day.
  • The tension between Olivia and Abby regarding whether or not Olivia thinks Abby is good at her job was filler and nothing more. Olivia knows Abby well enough to trust her to handle this potential scandal. She's not objective to the situation and needed someone like Abby - who she could trust - in order to do all the things she normally would do.
  • Fitz sure does threaten to fire people a lot. And yet, he never actually goes through with it because he never has a legitimate reason to do it. 
  • This isn't a particularly busy episode for Liz. She is shut out of the negotiation early on so that Abby can move up in prominence. She does get to stand up to Fitz but that's about all she really does. 
  • You just know the final threat that Jake and Rowan tease is going to be huge because the episode both ends on it and is named after it. Ugh, that's just something I don't want right now.