Thursday, February 11, 2016

REVIEW: 'Scandal' - Olivia Helps a New Client While Jake Makes a Play for More Power in 'It's Hard Out Here for a General'

ABC's Scandal - Episode 5.10 "It's Hard Out Here for a General"

It's been six months since Olivia and Fitz have broken up, and they are both handling their newfound freedom in very different ways. The Pope and Associates team take on a case that could lead to a national case.

"It's Hard Out Here for a General" is a very transitional episode of Scandal. It has to find a new direction to head in following Olivia and Fitz's breakup after really trying a relationship. And yet, this episode is largely and aimlessly wandering around with no real sense of what it wants to do. It's basically just an hour trying to find a way to get Jake promoted to the head of the NSA. That's basically all this episode does. It's a power grab for Jake and Rowan. But it hardly makes any sense at all. It only plays as a big betrayal because Olivia had started sleeping with Jake again. And yet, none of it is all that emotionally affecting or meaningful. It's simply the show setting up for something in the future. It's just not doing it in a very entertaining way.

Six months have passed in the show's timeline since the last episode. That's a huge time jump. However, it never feels like a whole lot of time has passed. Olivia and Fitz are still just awkwardly trying to move forward with their lives again. A new story is being introduced. But it's very much on the fringes while everyone is so distracted with this whole potential NSA leak. It's meaningful that the first episode back features Olivia taking on a new client who is directly a part of Fitz's administration. That forces them back into each other's lives for a little bit. Except not really. Abby is the only link between them and she has a responsibility to do her job for the President. Olivia is trying to focus on her work. She's glad to be working on such a high-profile case again. This is how she wields her power in this universe. And yet, this hour basically proves that she is severely off her game now that she is no longer connected to the White House.

And frankly, an Olivia off her game really isn't that compelling to watch. Her client apparently knows more than her at one point. But also the case at the center of this hour just isn't all that interesting. It wants to have a meaningful conversation about the NSA and the role of gender in leadership positions. But it doesn't really have much to say about either subject. The hour purposefully introduces Project Mercury - aka the NSA spying on leaders of other countries covertly. That's the whole whistleblower angle in this episode. But it's largely just Jake manipulating events so that he can get his own power at the White House. It's incredibly foolish for the gladiators to become so fixated on this one potential suspect in this case. They are convinced that the boyfriend of the NSA director stole these documents. They also want to believe that Jake is an ally. He's working alongside them. But they should know better considering he's willingly hanging out with Rowan again. The case is a mess. But again, it serves no point except in finding a way to get Jake to this new position. Does Jake need this promotion? Not really. This hour presents no reason why he needs it except in saying some grand and cryptic thing about his predecessor doing a poor job.

But all of this is suppose to be meaningful because when Olivia calls Fitz at the Oval Office he declines to take her call. It shows that he has moved on and won't just fall into the same pattern again that they've always done. But the show itself still falls into those very familiar trappings. Olivia talks to Abby about her fears of being sucked into Fitz's orbit again. She needs to do the right thing for her client. But her personal feelings are clouding her judgment which ultimately keeps her from doing a very good job. Olivia knows how to be in control when it comes to dinner with her father. That scene proves just how evolved she has become over this season. When it comes to calling Fitz again, it feels like the show refusing to go an episode without that coupling being a major focus. All it does is make Olivia look weak. But the show still forced it to happen. They were presented with an opportunity to interact in the first episode back. That was a mistake. The show should have spent a couple of episodes getting back into the swing of things with a new plot before complicating it with what Fitz and Olivia's dynamic is now.

And Olivia does have solid moments that could tease some great things for the future. She really fumbles when it comes to her NSA client. She takes those frustrations out on Jake and her father. But it's much more interesting when it comes to Mellie approaching her about her presidential campaign. Mellie has written a book about her life in the hopes of it clearing up many of the issues that could plague her campaign. Her story in this episode is entirely about the book. It doesn't showcase how she's doing post-divorce and with a booming career as a Senator. And yet, that doesn't matter. Olivia is brutally honest in critiquing Mellie's plan for the future. Olivia will help Mellie get elected President of the United States. That's how Olivia plans on gaining power again. She felt powerless returning to her office and not being able to help her client. She has a complicated relationship with Mellie. And yet, Mellie values Olivia's opinion regarding her campaign. She's the only person who can steer the ship correctly. Plus, Olivia wouldn't be plagued by the same issues that ultimately doomed her relationship with Fitz.

Olivia wants to be the woman in charge. She had that for a time with Fitz. She got to be the woman holding the President up and whispering into his ear. That responsibility now falls onto Abby, who is more annoyed by the constant late night calls than alluded by the power it brings. That's not true of Olivia though. She loves that feeling of control. Power is lucrative in this town. Olivia understands that. But more importantly, she has positioned herself perfectly to take it. With Mellie, Olivia won't be forced into the wife role. She can be a crucial element of the campaign and potential administration. Olivia understands Mellie. They've had a working relationship for years that was complicated by Fitz. With him out of the picture, perhaps they can now change the world together. That would be a sight to behold. And yet, this episode really doesn't do a great job at setting up that story.

Some more thoughts:
  • "It's Hard Out Here for a General" was written by Severiano Canales and directed by Tom Verica.
  • Quinn and Charlie's relationship is still going strong. In fact, he's the reason why Quinn notices that the director of the NSA's boyfriend is almost too good at going underground. He can't be found and that's because he's dead and isn't the whistleblower after all. 
  • Marcus is still just finding his place in the office. He wants to be a part of this operation. He forces his way onto the mission where Quinn goes to find the assumed whistleblower. But Huck wants to keep him at a distance because he doesn't want to corrupt someone else with the disturbing life he and Quinn are currently living.
  • Cyrus takes much delight out of just sitting back and watching Abby squirm in dealing with Fitz. He knows exactly what's going on. He can't fulfill the wife role for Fitz any longer. That responsibility now falls onto Abby. He's amused by it. But he's not captivating enough to listen to Abby complain about it.
  • Abby does get one benefit out of her new dynamic with Fitz. She steals a bottle of his beloved scotch to share with Olivia. Of course, that only goes so far. Her life is being completely dominated by Fitz who doesn't want to take no for an answer until she's feed up enough to storm into the Oval Office late one night.
  • Are Jake and Rowan up to something nefarious? Or is this power move just a way for them to get some control back in their lives? They want to be at the NSA so that they know what's going on in the world. Or do they want to just manipulate something that's already in motion?
  • As if the theme of power plays wasn't apparent enough, Sally Langston pops up at the beginning and end of the episode to completely underline that topic's importance.