Thursday, November 19, 2015

REVIEW: 'Scandal' - Olivia & Fitz Discuss Their Relationship While Mellie Filibusters a Bill in 'Baby, It's Cold Outside'

ABC's Scandal - Episode 5.09 "Baby, It's Cold Outside"

Olivia is feeling more and more frustrated as she takes on "First Lady" type responsibilities at the White House. Mellie proves just how powerful she can be. Jake and Huck continue the hunt for Rowan.

"Baby, It's Cold Outside" is a somewhat scattered episode of Scandal. It features many different plots. Some of them effectively bring the core narrative of the season so far to a close while others keep things as messy and percolating as they were before. It is a very successful episode for the show to close the year with. When the show works, it's emotionally dynamic and wonderful to watch. There are a handful of really strong moments in this episode. They take things in much appreciated and unexpected directions. The show has broken out of its formula this season. This episode proves that. It hasn't been wholly successful. But it's still very impressive.

The show has grown comfortable with using its finales in order to explode the formula. They would reveal some new piece of information that completely twists the dynamics around or just shocks the audience so they are so exciting and anticipatory for new episodes despite the upcoming hiatus. "Baby, It's Cold Outside" goes in a different direction. It instead chooses to go out with character based drama. The major conspiracy of the fifth season so far really hasn't been all that exciting. It's largely just been an excuse to give Jake, Huck and Rowan something to do. But the character work has been so impressive. This has been the year of Olivia and Fitz taking their relationship public. It's been incredibly messy and complicated. That's what has made their stories this season so compelling. It was the typical story the show has done already. It set out to do something new and refreshing. It took the characters to some dark places. It worked too. This episode is the climax of all of that in a way that may reset things next year in even more interesting ways.

Olivia truly embraced power this season. She saw her opportunity to bring about change in this country and she took it. She liked it too. That was the thing she loved the most in this relationship. That's troubling because Fitz was a man she once loved and wanted to have this incredible life with. He found out about this horrible thing that she did in releasing Rowan from prison. He's responsible for making her his official First Lady of the United States. That's a role that Olivia doesn't want for herself - even though she's incredibly good at it. This episode points out that she can still be decisive even when it's picking out china for a cabinet dinner. But she has had a taste of power. This is no longer that. Her happiness is no longer there in the relationship. Now, she is just going through the motions. She's doing the responsibilities of being First Lady but it's not the job she wants. She is still lurking in the shadows aware of the issues happening elsewhere in the world. Now, she is the one inside the box looking out at the amazing things other people are accomplishing.

The person this week who is affecting the most change is Mellie. She has largely disappeared from the show since her divorce from Fitz and helping Olivia get her father out of prison. But this week she stands up for herself. She doesn't back down just because her fellow Senators don't want to take her concerns over this spending bill seriously. During the vote, she decides to get up and not yield her time until the day is over. She is doing a filibuster. It wasn't pained. It's not some grand stunt to gain publicity. It's not a stab against Fitz's presidency. She is simply standing up for what she believes in. It's a controversial opinion to have as Republican. She wants to make sure the funding for Planned Parenthood is fixed and cannot change. She wants to make sure that women across this country can have the right to medical coverage no matter what the circumstance. The show isn't afraid to tell that story. It's going to be very divisive. The show doesn't back away from that though - showing the complexities of the issue. This is an arduous thing that Mellie has decided to do. She can't lean on anything. She can't eat. She can't take a bathroom break. She has to stand before her fellow Senators and talk for the next sixteen hours to make sure that they can't vote.

Olivia is able to see right away what Mellie is doing. Fitz and Cyrus are convinced it's a publicity stunt to make them look bad. But Olivia sees the energized spirit in Mellie's eyes. She sees just how determined and passionate she is about this issue. Even though Olivia's own day is hectic with First Lady duties, she makes sure that Mellie has the support she needs to make it through this filibuster. She makes sure someone in the room is able to ask a lengthy question so that Mellie can go to the bathroom. She reaches out to Susan Ross because, of course, she would want to help with this issue. It's in that moment where Mellie and Olivia are connected. They both want to make a difference in this world. They don't want to be First Lady to Fitz. They want to be the ones in control of the situation making a difference. Mellie needs a confidence boost and Olivia gives her one. She knows that Mellie can do this. It's because of her divorce that Mellie is able to go through with such an action. She is free to do whatever she wants. It feels good too. She is successful in the end too. It's a victorious moment for her. She finally accomplished something and it felt great.

Sure, it's a little ridiculous that the episode cuts from that victory to Olivia actually going to get an abortion. But that also signals just how much Olivia wants to regain control of her life. A child would trap her story to Fitz's. It's a relationship she fought for. She wanted the time between them to actually figure out if there is anything real to this relationship. And now, she is coming to the realization that there isn't any. Olivia wants to use Fitz because of the power he has. She was the leader of the country for a little while because she had the President's ear. Now, he is much more cautious around her after learning that she got Rowan out of jail. He moved her into the White House in order to better control her. He may be lying to himself about why he did it but that's the reason why. Olivia knows that. She understands how both of them have been acting lately. They are acting out of their own self interests. They are no longer working to preserve themselves as a couple. They both enjoy the individuality of it. They both want power. And now, they are realizing that this relationship is no longer working in a healthy way. Olivia sees that and wants to get drunk on Mellie's secret stash. It takes a moment for Fitz to come to that realization as well. But that moment of clarity does come. It's such a beautiful moment too.

So now, Fitz and Olivia are officially broken up. Unlike all the previous times though, it feels like this time it will stick. They had the time to figure things out as a couple. They had to do it in the public spotlight. That brought about so much change this season. It forced Olivia to analyze herself and figure out what she truly wants in this world. She wants to be in control of the situation. She wants people to come to her needing her help. When a woman needs her help in finding a cookie recipe, Olivia feels defeated. That's not what she wants out of life. She wants to make a difference. So in the end, she is back in her apartment. She is no longer in a relationship with Fitz. It's a sad realization. But she is also taking this moment to build herself up again. She is stronger than she has ever been before. She knows exactly what she wants. It's not always pretty. She's capable of doing some truly monstrous things. That better not change in the new year. But it's a moment that works so well because it focuses on Olivia making this massive change to her life. She thought she wanted Fitz. Now, that story is over. The next part of her journey is starting. She signals that with the purchase of a new couch. It's dark and doesn't go with the rest of her white furniture. But it does symbolize what her life has become and all the possibilities she has now that she is no longer attached to Fitz. That's a powerful moment to end on. Things are always going to be uncertain in this world. But now, Olivia is willing to face that knowing exactly who she is.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Baby, It's Cold Outside" was written by Mark Wilding and directed by Tom Verica.
  • The conclusion to the Lazarus One arc is pretty lame. Basically Russell is revealed to be the one who started the protocol. He hasn't been seen at all this season. He pops up just to give an answer to this ongoing mystery. It's more important that Rowan and Jake are now reunited and planning on taking back the world. 
  • Speaking of Rowan, Huck doesn't hurt him. It was a story of Huck putting temptation right in his face to see what he would do. It includes a couple of great speech moment for both characters. But it largely signals just how far Huck has gone to control this problem - so that he can return to his family again.
  • David sure is making a mess of things in his current love triangle. Liz wouldn't accept his bracelet present so he decides to give it to Susan instead. That's only going to create awkwardness and trouble in the future because Liz knows the truth.
  • A point is also being made about how lonely it is for Quinn right now working at Olivia Pope and Associates. Marcus still has a family and a life outside of work. With Huck gone, Quinn has nobody. That is until Charlie pops up again. A relationship that isn't interesting in the slightest.
  • The two other prominent Senators - the ones who also headed up the investigation into Fitz's relationship with Olivia - continue to just be one-note villains standing in Mellie's way of bringing change to the country.
  • Susan Ross: "Let's talk about gonorrhea."