Blogging ‘Scandal’, Season 2, Ep. 4: ‘Beltway Unbuckled.’


In the opening scene of last week’s Scandal, the President of the United States is sleeping on a couch. Why is he sleeping on the couch? Presumably because it’s a universally understood shorthand for marital discord, even though the White House residence has other beds in it. Nine other bedrooms in fact, according to the pregnant First Lady, who uncorks some early morning contempt and sprays it his way. He shouldn’t sleep on the couch in their future baby’s nursery, but he can’t share a bed with her, she says, because he gets boners in his sleep while he dreams about Olivia Pope, whom he presumably did sex to. You know, in case anyone missed the point.

Disclaimer: I’m recapping this more or less cold, having never seen an episode of Scandal before last Thursday’s, so all the soap-y exposition and underlining of that exposition helped me get reasonably up to speed. All I know is that once a week, my Twitter timeline is overrun by OUTRAGE and SHOCK and “I am here for Olivia’s suit!” My homie Akoto astutely pointed out that even while this running commentary seems tinged with some ironic distance, it has a different tenor than the regular hate-tweeting that accompanies, say, The Real Housewives of ______.

And I get why people ride for Scandal. Everyone likes Kerry Washington (although my feelings toward her are complicated by the fact that she’s been trying to trap me with a baby for years). And of course, she’s a black woman who is the lead of a primetime network drama — which hadn’t happened in three-and-a-half decades prior to this show — that also happens to helmed by another black woman and manages to still do solid Nielsen numbers. (It was the third highest-rated show among black folks last week, after Sunday Night Football and 60 Minutes.) That this show exists and is thriving is an accomplishment on par with electing a Negro to the Senate. So, yeah. ‘Scandal’ manages at once to be both a B.F.D. and, if this episode is any indication, colossally, eye-rollingly preposterous.

Anyway, this episode. I have questions. Why would the family of a missing young woman contact a “crisis management” firm? Why would the head of said crisis management firm be in the woods ID’ing a body (in heels, no less)? Why would Olivia and her underlings be in the autopsy room? I asked folks on Twitter what exactly it is that Olivia’s firm does, and folks said something about “white hats” and “dark hats.” (Um, thanks, guys.) The specifics of the missing-lady case — the fact that she was likely killed by some foreign mucket-y muck who has diplomatic immunity and how it could hurt relations with “East Sudan” or whatever — don’t really matter, since it’s just perfunctory noise to get Olivia and the president in the same room. (Not that his schedule is that busy. POTUS seems to have a lot of time to stare contemplatively out of windows.)

More questions: are we supposed to be rooting for Olivia and POTUS to find a way to be together? Because while that outcome seems completely implausible, all the star-crossed lovers talk seems like it will get old real fast. (Seriously, when The Old Sage Supreme Court Justice Lady says to Olivia, “I see you two together, you breathe in sync,” I was finna abort this whole undertaking.) It’s just too ridiculous a storyline to be sustainable for too many seasons. I’ve gathered that this is the show’s central tension, but this is my first ep, so I’m not invested in their tortured little dyad. Are you, regular viewers?

There’s some intrigue-y stuff involving a powerful oilman named Hollis. Or at least, I’m assuming he’s an oilman, since he has a gold-plated model of an oil derrick on his desk and all the cartoonish accoutrements, like a folksy twang and the head of an elk on his wall. In my head, he’s chomping on a cigar, leaning back in his chair and kicking his big cowboy boots onto his desk with his ankles crossed, although I’m pretty certain that didn’t actually happen. Will BaileyDavid Rosen meets with Yosemite Sam in order to ask questions about some shadiness. Judging from the way Yosemite Sam’s poker face falls apart — subtlety! — we know he’s hit on something.

The First Lady is erupting at folks and yelling about being surrounded by incompetents. She’s resentful that she had to do some First Lady-ass something or other for some stupid kids and their stupid parents. And in every scene she has with the president, she basically tells him, unprompted, that she wishes he would die in a fire. Is she too broadly drawn? Put it this way: would it be surprising to anyone if she ends up giving birth to a shadow monster that stalks the night and kills Renly Baratheon?

The FLOTUS is hard for me, y’all. We’re supposed to believe she’s a shrewd manipulator even though her only weapon seems to be…haranguing people? Then she reaches out to Olivia, whom she understandably hates, to agree to fake-demand the dead lady’s killer be brought to justice? I wasn’t clear about why this was such a brilliant tactical move or what it accomplished. I’m sure I missed a detail about why, exactly, it was bad for the president. But he basically said, my wife and my side jawn are plotting against me and it was bad for me, so I guess that’s the important takeaway. But the lady in the FLOTUS role goes hard with her scenery chewing. Respect.

Meanwhile, Abby, who works for Olivia and looks kind of like Donna Moss, is upset that the closed-off Olivia just isn’t letting her in and sharing her secrets. (Some help here folks: is there a reason why Abby thinks she’s entitled to be Olivia’s confidant? She’s your boss. Fall all the way back.) I love how they illustrate to us that Olivia has a lot on her mind, by having her pace her office ostentatiously, and getting her coworkers/underlings say to each other that she’s pacing because she’s got a lot on her mind. The snooping David happens to be Abby’s new boo, and he has a wall covered with pictures of her and important-looking papers, a la Lester Freamon, because this is Hollywood code for “meticulous obsession.” There’s some sinister plot that he thinks Olivia’s at the center of, and he’s going to get to the bottom of it! But David’s assistant tells him that if he doesn’t want to spook his new lady, he would do well to make sure she doesn’t see his conspiracy-nut diagramming. That exchange is overlayed with Abby breaking into his apartment — he’s not telling me everything! — and discovering it. Abby wants answers. But David should want answers too, like, the reasons why this nosey-ass lady burgled his fucking crib. (And I feel you, David: I have a giant wall in my bedroom dedicated to Kerry Washington, too.)

The president arranges a meeting with Olivia at “their restaurant.” The place empties out as the Secret Service files in, and he appears at her side and sits down. He tells her he can’t do anything with the foreign muckety muck killer, and that his hands are tied. He then apologizes for loving her — which, GTFOHWTBS — and asks her to travel with him to the G8 Summit aboard Air Force One. She rebuffs him, because WTF? Then he’s like, I’m letting you go, I need to be a better husband and father and president and this isn’t right. Okay, the president is a dick. Just a second ago he was trying to leave the country with her and now he’s getting all sanctimonious?

Yosemite Sam is presiding over a meeting of some kind of Council of Evil: the Supreme Court Lady, Cruella de FLOTUS, the president’s chief of staff, and — shocker! — Olivia Pope. “We have a David Rosen problem,” he says to the assembled. This seemed to be a big reveal that caused Twitter to explode. What problem would possibly require this particular assortment of folks to fix it? Whatever it might be, I’m certain it will be completely ludicrous.

Shutter snap, shutter snap, jump cut!

Other tidbits:

  • People warned me that the people on this show talked fast. And I was a fan of both The West Wing and Gilmore Girls, so I figured I’d be ready. But holy shit, do these people talk fast. I think this is in part to give scenes the feel of forward motion even when it’s just people spouting off expository dialogue to each other and also to camouflage just how noisome much of that dialogue is.
  • I wonder how much of my ambivalence toward this show’s pacing is related to its networkiness. I don’t own a TV, and the only dramas I watch are cable shows like Homeland that don’t have to hit all the cliffhanger-y beats before commercial breaks.
  • Flannel Shirt Dude, who is apparently a bloodthirsty killer trying to wean himself off the wetworks, kills the foreign muckety muck who killed the missing lady, lest he get away scot free. This seemed unnecessary. But also, wouldn’t the suspicious death of American soil of a foreign official implicated in a murder be met with serious suspicion from his country? Also, henceforth, Flannel Shirt shall be known as “Deus Ex Machina.”
  • For you geography nuts out there: East Sudan is north of Wakanda, and abuts Equatorial Kundu to the west. The more you know.
  • Can someone explain this Lindsey/Quinn thing to me?


Gene "G.D." Demby is the founder and editor of PostBourgie. In his day job, he blogs and reports on race and ethnicity for NPR's Code Switch team.
  • Well, that about sums it up. Having watched all of the episodes to date a few note:

    1) The Olivia/President/CruelaDeFlotus storyline is already trite. TheMrs and I are both way over it.

    2) That aside, the next most annoying thing about the show is the sheer number times the viewer is expected to believe the implausibilities Olivia accomplishes weekly just because she’s Olivia Pope. It’s like… “got my homegirl of an unbeatable murder rap… how.. “I’m Olivia Pope.” “Need to access to classified materials… but I have no security clearance … no worries… I’m Olivia Pope.” The whole show is based around the fact that we were told, early on, that Olivia Pope is important and we’re just supposed to believe that.

    3) I agree, the out-of-place expository dialogue always stands out.

    In general, it’s an entertaining show, not a great show. Folks who think it’s anything more probably aren’t people who take the time to watch great shows. ‘Networky’ is a great word.

    That said – watch Boss … the first season is on Netflix. It’s the best show on TV right now.

    • Yeah, you and a few other people have been stumping for Boss pretty seriously. I’ll definitely holler at it. I may have some time to do so while we ride out this storm.

      And this:

      2) That aside, the next most annoying thing about the show is the sheer number times the viewer is expected to believe the implausibilities Olivia accomplishes weekly just because she’s Olivia Pope. It’s like… “got my homegirl of an unbeatable murder rap… how.. “I’m Olivia Pope.” “Need to access to classified materials… but I have no security clearance … no worries… I’m Olivia Pope.” The whole show is based around the fact that we were told, early on, that Olivia Pope is important and we’re just supposed to believe that.

      THIS. In this one episode, each of the characters literally explained what their motivations were, sometimes several times, and then explained how they mattered to the plot. Columbus Short says he doesn’t ask questions, he just trusts Olivia enough to do what she says. And there’s a way to say something like that in a way that isn’t so hokey and obvious. (see Slim Charles’s “We fight on that lie.”) But there were several instances when characters simply remarked on her reputation. Maybe she’s just Ray Lewis at this point, and her actual performance is sort of immaterial.

      I unwisely watched the latest ep of Homeland in between watching Scandal and writing this review. Cable dramas have so much more room to maneuver in terms of plotting and pacing that they almost seem like almost entirely different animals.

  • Lisalis

    You’re missing a lot of back story and nuance because you haven’t seen the previous episodes. Get your Netflix/Hulu on so you can get up to speed.

    • I’ll cop to missing a lot of backstory. More skeptical about the “nuance,” though.

  • beks

    I like the show. I think it is tough to believe the cliffs if you come in the middle and aren’t invested. true, the cliffs aren’t always believable but that isn’t necessarily a barrier that most network shows would pass. it’s a solid network show and Ms. Washington is doing a good job with tons of pressure.

    • it’s a solid network show and Ms. Washington is doing a good job with tons of pressure.

      could you explain what you mean here?

      • beks

        Sure! The solid: I think the plot points are very dramatic (the same way I feel when occasionally end up sitting by with my mom as she watches her soap operas) but they are creative, interesting and thoughtful – well put together(solid). I mean this specifically because the main character is African-American and they are showing a flushed out character, this doesn’t happen very often.
        Pressure: The fact that any show makes it past the first season is a well known accomplishment. The fact that is is headed by a black woman makes it momentous. Additionally, there has been some heat from the “negative” portrayal of black women floating around. So, lots of pressure. If this show had failed, I suspect there would have been 33+ years again before they tried it again…

        • meh, i’m skeptical about all of this.

          Additionally, there has been some heat from the “negative” portrayal of black women floating around.

          heat from whom and which portrayals and floating around where?

  • laura

    definitely suspend all of your notions of political dramas (or political plausibility-there’s a scene in last season where White House staffers are all sitting IN THE OVAL OFFICE on the phone trying to fix a scandal.) Scandal is written by someone who clearly knows jack squat about politics, D.C. or even the law.
    i agree about catching up on previous episodes- POTUS was actually a bit more likeable last season; this season he’s behaving like an entitled douchebag.
    also, Shonda Rhimes does not do subtle. she does Lifetime movie-esque drama. but her plot lines are never slow, they move at break-neck speed. she’s also known for facilitating hook-ups that don’t seem to make sense (which is why i abandoned Grey’s Anatomy).
    i view Scandal the same way i view Revenge and Ugly Betty: over-the-top soap operas that are highly entertaining. for a network TV show that has some nuance and subtlety, i would suggest The Good Wife.
    best of luck on that baby-trapping thing. Chiwetel Ejiofor keeps blowing up my phone (dude, i’m BUSY) so i feel your pain.

    • also, Shonda Rhimes does not do subtle. she does Lifetime movie-esque drama. but her plot lines are never slow, they move at break-neck speed.

      The only episode of a Rhimes show that I’d seen before this was an episode of Grey’s in which Coach Taylor was trying to help them get an unexploded bomb out of someone’s chest? Pretty much kept my distance after that.

      What’s the over-under on an assassination attempt on the President?

      best of luck on that baby-trapping thing. Chiwetel Ejiofor keeps blowing up my phone (dude, i’m BUSY) so i feel your pain.

      Why won’t they let us live???

      • laura

        to be honest, i’m shocked that there hasn’t been an assassination attempt already, followed by a frantic “i’m-so-relieved-you’re-not-dead” sex scene between Olivia and POTUS. but give it time.
        but DO watch the rest of the season, because there are other (equally outrageous but intriguing) plot points you’re missing, one particularly big one involving the POTUS chief of staff. you’ll also understand the Quinn/Lindsay thing.
        and trust me…Shonda has gotten even MORE ridiculous than the chest-bomb episode.

        • to be honest, i’m shocked that there hasn’t been an assassination attempt already, followed by a frantic “i’m-so-relieved-you’re-not-dead” sex scene between Olivia and POTUS. but give it time.

          entirely plausible in its implausibility.

          Are you still watching any of her other shows? And what’s on your DVR in general?

  • What possessed you to blog about a show you’ve never seen in the middle of season 2?

    • *shrug*

      It seems like a fun, silly show. Why not?

  • beks

    and the fact that it is based on a real (black) women makes it even more sweet.

  • Shameless fan here to answer your questions! **Spoiler Alert Warning** for anyone who cares.

    1. The Quinn thing- Quinn’s real name is Lindsay. She dumped her boyfriend after finding out he was cheating on her & left a drunk voicemail saying she wished he was dead. The next day, the building he works at is blown up and he & several of his coworkers are dead. She woke up in a hotel room in D.C. with new driver’s license, passport etc and takes the free pass. This comes out in the course of some other intrigue (I forget what exactly, it wasn’t much of a story arc) and David brings her to trial, the case is open & shut since the only proof of Quinnsay’s innocence is her protests. Olivia pulls some strings and Quinnsay gets off. Everybody in the firm is slightly peeved that Olivia doesn’t explain any of this, but by now they all (except Abby) have gotten over it. This season, we found out that Olivia & Deus Ex Machina are responsible for the cover up.

    2. Abby feels entitled because she views Olivia as a friend. Abby’s husband was beating her, so Olivia broke his kneecap with a tire iron and got her an awesome divorce lawyer. There was a scene during that flashback where Olivia came over to Abby’s house while she was baking, so perhaps they actually are friends turned coworkers in which case Abby’s nosiness is (slightly) less out of line.

    3. D.E.M. killing the ambassador was definitely unnecessary, but I guess they were trying to make sure we know that he is addicted to killing.

    4. FLOTUS is actually pretty darn devious. She may or may not have been involved in killing Fitz’s pregnant jumpoff Amanda Tanner. She routinely makes media statements that force him to take actions he doesn’t want to; covered for him when audio of him & Olivia having sex is revealed in exchange for him impregnating her. Not to mention she got one of the Secret Service detail to reveal Fitz had been with Olivia. Cyrus is the only one crafty enough to actually outmaneuver her, although Fitz can momentarily put her in her place with some cutting words.

    You make some valid points about the soapiness and illogicality of this show and yet I still love it! What can I say , it’s like brain candy :-)

    • Thanks for this thorough response, sis. And the Abby thing makes more sense now.

      I get that they had D.E.M. kill whatshisface to underscore that he’s addicted to killing, but they’d already underscored it pretty hamfistedly throughout the episode. That bit seemed kind of networky to me, in which the bad guy doesn’t get to escape unpunished.

      I’m glad FLOTUS gets some better shading, because it seemed like being was so monstrously one-note would venture into implausibility: why would anyone marry this lady?

      • No no no. I don’t think it was just used to show he’s addicted to killing. DEM killed that diplomat because he didn’t want the dead girl’s father to take revenge himself. He warned dude that killing would always stain him and that it wasn’t worth it. Then we see the father getting ready to go out and kill the diplomat despite DEM’s warnings but is stopped by a news report saying he was already dead. This was DEM’s way of falling on the sword to prevent others from going down the hole into which he’s already fallen so deep.

  • strong_cookie

    1. the show is ridiculous, even more than the usual Shonda show, but I can’t seem to look away (I suffer from this issue with TV)

    2. I noticed someone recommending Boss. Only the first season is good, after that it goes really really downhill.

    3. I would love for you to do this again with another ridiculous show – Revenge, perhaps?

  • Wildwhuck

    1. The family of the missing girl was associated with a Senator, whom Olivia got fired off a sub-committee because he was her ex-finance and Fitz was jealous. The Senator called in a that debt to force Olivia to take on the missing girls case.

    2. Huck killed the Ambassador to spare the the missing, now dead, girl’s father from killing the Ambassador. Huck tried to talk the father out of killing the Ambassador and saw the father wasn’t receptive to his advice, so he did it himself.

    3. There have been moments and scenes where FLOTUS was soft and tried to repair her marriage. As soon as she thinks she has made inroads in her marriage, Fitz will get jealous about Olivia and withdraw from her.

    This is a standard Rhimes drama, high pace, and action packed. Even though I have a hard time rooting for adultry, I enjoy the chemistry Olivia and Fitz have.

    • isn’t adultery a Rhimes staple, too?

  • I have a hunch that the pace of the show also serves to hide the “details” that don’t make sense. For example: @shanselman pointed out that there are various scenes in which Huck starts talking about tech, and none of it actually works the way he’s describing it. Basically, Huck says stuff that’s akin to someone saying, “I favorited your retweet on Facebook”. Shonda’s writers are obviously relying on us not knowing how the tech (and politics, and the law) actually works, and just tries to trip up everyone who DOES know with fast

    The awesome thing about the fast talking? BLOOPERS! (Which, of course, will probably only be available on the

  • Sophiiblu

    Hi. I stumbled across your post via Twitter link and am intrigued both by your fresh perspective and the fact that you wanted to voice your opinion without any real background research on the show. Not that any of us do extensive research when we start watching a show, but usually before we offer an opinion. Some of your questions/insights/observations sound like you’d already decided not to like the show. But that can’t be, right, bc this was the first epi you’d watched? To each his own. I enjoyed reading it. :)

    • Scandal isn’t The Wire. It’s not Homeland. Not having sat through a dozen previous soap-y episodes doesn’t take anything off the table. Besides some minor character details, like Abby’s pushiness re: Olivia, what did I miss? They made it pretty clear, repeatedly, that Huck was addicted to killing, that the president and the First Lady hate each other, that Olivia and the president love each other but just can’t. be. together.

      Is the argument that any newbie would like the show *more* had they started at the beginning? Because if they’re all like this, I would have bailed by now. It’s also worth noting that my blogmates Stacia and Whitney have been recapping this season on PB. I just wanted to pinch-hit.

  • mdub

    re: flannel shirt guy aka guillermo diaz, whom i have loved since this:

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