Thursday, February 18, 2016

REVIEW: 'Scandal' - Olivia and Mellie Confront Their Past Decisions in Order to Move Forward in 'The Candidate'

ABC's Scandal - Episode 5.11 "The Candidate"

Mellie seeks out Olivia's help but may not be prepared for what that entails. Liz tries to convince Susan Ross to run for the presidency. Abby and Cyrus are at odds when a profile piece on Fitz comes into question.

Last week's midseason return of Scandal was a maddening mess because it couldn't commit to a direction for the second half of the season. But what was missing from that episode is in "The Candidate" with spades. Real-life politics are crazy right now. This election year has been outrageous and at times completely baffling and ridiculous. It seems fitting that Scandal would want to get in on that story by doing a presidential election plot as well. The show very smartly becomes heavily involved and invested with those plot developments too. This entire episode is about setting up for the future. It determines what everyone wants as Fitz's presidency reaches its final days. But it's doing so in a compelling way that only suggests that things are going to become much more entertaining and exciting this season.

"The Candidate" opens with Olivia once again offering a critique of Mellie's memoir. Mellie is only writing this book so that she can make a play for President of the United States. And yet, Olivia is still forcing her to dig deeper with her emotions and truly bare it all on the page. This is a fantastic episode for Olivia and Mellie. They have been through so much together. Their history certainly clouds their handling of their current dynamic. Mellie knows that Olivia is the best person to get her elected to this office. But the details of their past inform this book and forces both of them to confront the harsh realities of their previous decisions. This is a brutal episode for both of them. And yet, it is so rewarding to fans because the two truly get to bond over just how similar they were in dealing with Fitz. Their stories are connected for better or worse. And now, they just need to create a narrative that will help get them one step closer to the most powerful job in the entire world.

Olivia wants Mellie to reveal to the public why she chose to stay with Fitz after discovering that he was having an affair with Olivia. That's the question on everyone's minds right now. Mellie is coming off such an incredible high with her epic filibuster battle for women's health. It was a powerful and bold statement. She wants this book to be just like that too. She wants it to be the game-changer she knows it can be for this election cycle. That means Olivia needs to pull this chapter out of her. It's a grueling experience though. Olivia and Mellie know exactly why they chose to be with Fitz and why they eventually left. They just don't want to admit it to themselves or to each other right now. But they have to. Time is not on their side. This book needs to come out now if Mellie has any hope of getting in on this election as a viable candidate.

This episode is really so great when it's just Olivia and Mellie sitting in a room and talking with one another. It's frustrating to Mellie in the beginning when Olivia just wants to compartmentalize this entire experience. Mellie is paying for Olivia Pope's expertise. So that's exactly what she's getting. But it becomes a much more enriching and rewarding experience for both of them once they address their personal history. Drinking alone doesn't get Mellie to where she needs to be. She needs Olivia even though she was her former husband's mistress. Meanwhile, Mellie represents a new opportunity for Olivia to get closer to the power that she loved so much when she was with Fitz. These are two women who enjoy power and the freedom to wield it however they see fit. For so long, they were trapped because of Fitz. He's a powerful white man who needs a wife in order to tell him what to do. Right now, he's not even doing anything anymore. He's just sitting in the Oval Office watching the clock tick by until his final day on the job. The only thing that gets him excited is the prospect of dating again. The same can also be said of Olivia, Mellie and Cyrus. With them though, they are excited by the potential power that comes from being President.

In order to achieve that though, Olivia and Mellie need to do some deep soul-searching to help explain why they did the things they did for so long. At first, Mellie thought that she deserved Olivia. She was a woman defined by being a wife and mother - despite her impressive career ambitions before she met Fitz. She helped make him President of the United States. She was repaid by him sleeping with someone else. It was a fate she felt she deserved. But she was also incredibly grateful because of the power and freedom it meant for her. It's an explanation she can't write down in her book. The honesty is too much. She can't share that with the public. But she can use Olivia's instead. Olivia leaving Fitz was also her way of getting her independence and power back. These two women have realized just how strong they are on their own merits. And now, nothing can stop them from getting what they truly want in this world.

But this hour also takes the time to set up the obstacles that Olivia and Mellie will face in getting to the White House. Liz is trying to convince Susan Ross that she should run for President as well. Susan is a great character. She's somewhat scared of the job because of just how daunting all that responsibility really is. Liz recruits David to manipulate Susan into running. It's something that he hates doing. Susan really is a nice woman who David doesn't want to hurt. He is playing Liz's game for her and the sex is just too good for him to stop now. And yet, it works too. David helps Susan realize just how great and strong she is in her own right. She shouldn't let Mellie dictate her narrative. She can win this thing if she really wants to. Or it could be Cyrus and his new surprise candidate - the Governor of Pennsylvania. Cyrus is miserable with his current job. Even though he's back in power, he can't get Fitz to do anything. It's like he's talking to a wall when it comes to Fitz. He helped make him the man he is today. But he needs to focus on the future as well. He may have it with this new candidate. It's uncertain. The guy is new and a big wild card. His speech in the end shows he has the raw talents and Cyrus certainly knows how to work with that. Either way, it's going to be an interesting race this season.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Candidate" was written by Alison Schapker and directed by Allison Liddi Brown.
  • It seemed pretty obvious that Lillian, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, was interested in Fitz romantically from the first time she appeared onscreen. She doesn't seem like a good journalist at all though. But is it all too obvious? Is she really interested in him? Or is she manipulating him to get a good story?
  • Olivia and Mellie getting drunk in Olivia's apartment and writing Mellie's book is pretty great. But it's also wonderful seeing Mellie barefoot in the Olivia Pope and Associates office looking for any kind of food.
  • Huck warned Quinn last week that they shouldn't form any personal bonds with Marcus because they would corrupt him. And yet, this week Huck is openly sharing personal details about his son with Marcus.
  • David and Liz are still really forced as a couple. It's really noticeable considering just how natural he is with Susan - especially when she's enjoying a Gettysburger for the very first time.
  • Olivia also sleeps with Jake again. That was a pretty unnecessary moment. It showed just how empty she was feeling after her big fight with Mellie. She was willing to sleep with an enemy just to numb that pain. But Jake and Mellie didn't cross paths at all in Olivia's apartment.