Blogging Scandal: ‘Happy Birthday, Mr. President,’ Season 2, Ep. 8.

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Dear Stacia,

We have to talk about this red hoodie.

The big reveal at the conclusion of last night’s episode was supposed to be that it was Huck — ever the deus ex machina — who shot the president. But what he was wearing got a lot of attention, and it was this plot detail that finally pushed my friend Akoto over the edge. “I think I’ve finally broken my Scandal addiction,” she said.

This encapsulates just why Scandal is so polarizing. You either can walk with the show’s writers as they set up the idea of Huck as an efficient and highly trained assassin who nevertheless wears a fire-engine red hoodie and fumbles around for bullet casings when he carries out an historic crime...or you can’t. You either take issue with the idea that this show is ratcheting up the stakes even as it almost certainly doesn’t have the nerve to carry them through to their logical conclusions — Fritz actually dying or Huck getting caught and thrown in prison or killed — or you don’t. I don’t personally need a show to be hyperrealistic to bang with it; nobody is itching to see a federal commission question Liv about her friendship with (and employment of) a would-be assassin, for example. But it should have its characters adhere to the show’s own, internal logic. Maybe Huck isn’t an idiot and he actually wore the hoodie for a reason? (Meh. That’s still pretty silly.)

So I have a confession: I wouldn’t mind if Fitz were gone. That may sound mean, but we’ve been talking about how unsustainable this Liv-Fitz thing is since we started recapping. The flashbacks to the earlier days of the relationship underscore just how hard it is to keep shoehorning the two of them into the same script; this episode actually let the writers go back to a time when it made sense that they would be in the same physical space or when Liv would have seeming unfettered access to the White House. But it also showcased, yet again, that Liv and Fitz are also the most unsecret-est secret lovers in the history of the world. (Isn’t Liv’s whole job supposed to be discretion?) She has a history of having hushed, rushed conversations with the president in the corridors of the White House, where she is presumably checking in and out at ungodly hours. She’s at his bedside in the hospital after he’s shot. She essentially takes over as press secretary after the press secretary is shot. (Twitter says that that was Liv’s job at one point, but that still doesn’t make sense.) The First Lady knows. The president’s chief of staff knows. A Supreme Court justice knows. Persistent rumors about presidential affairs and impropriety have been based on much less.

Someone asked me to unpack that Sally Hemings line that Liv spits at him, but I wonder if their little dyad is worthy of that level of consideration. The comparison seems hyperbolic, and I think people who buy that formulation are too cavalier about the agency that Olivia has relative to Hemings and the broader context in which she wields that agency. (It is the show’s first allusion to race, or at least since I’ve been watching.)

But just because the Jefferson-Hemmings parallel is too simplistic doesn’t mean there isn’t a huge disparity in power in their tortured, apparently joyless secret relationship. (Um, he is the President of the United States.) During my first recap, I raised my eyebrow at how nakedly manipulative he was toward Olivia. (He asked Liv to fly to Europe with him on Air Force One, she declined, and then he gave her some sanctimonious speech about how he couldn’t be with her because of his newfound commitment to his wife and his office.) In his dealings with Liv, Fitz adopts the mien and disposition of an unhinged teenager. (Remember the sobbing as he looked at surveillance photos of her and #SenateBoo?) When they’re about to get it in on top of the Resolution Desk in the Oval Office, Liv tells him to stop — twice. When he’s telling Liv that he belongs to her — that he wants to give all his love to her — it didn’t seem romantic, but like passive-aggressive bullying. You told me that last season he offered to leave the presidency to be with her, which is such a dick move. This is all in your hands.

Miss me with that, Fitz.

G.D.,

I, too, cannot deal with the red hoodie. Huck has never worn anything other than earth tones, black, and plaids since we’ve known him. I just… no. Also: the big reveals that have viewers’ caps-lock and exclamation keys working overtime each week don’t always play for me. Sometimes, as in last week’s case, they’re no shock at all, having been spoiled in promos leading up to the airdate and telegraphed with really obvious, hammer-to-the-head dialogue a moment before. Sometimes, the “shocking twist” ending is too cheap or sacrifices logic and storytelling telling just to mine maximum audience awe (Read: Huck rocking a red hoodie). It’s hard to know how they’ll resolve this, but since we’re 90% sure that Guillermo Diaz’s job security isn’t in question, as he seems to be most folks’ favorite character next to Liv, we know it won’t make much sense.

Huck in the red hoodie is this season’s Quinn pulls scissors out of dying boyfriend’s artery. Pure shock. Zero logic.

Speaking of Quinn, we now know Foghorn Leghorn set her up to take the fall for the explosion that killed seven–something we could’ve guessed, since Liv and Huck were so invested in securing her a new identity and lying to her about it. Is there anyone more adept at scenery-chomping than the dude playing Foghorn Leghorn?

Onto the dreaded Sally Hemings thing. Full disclosure: I wrote an article that evoked that comparison last season, and man, did it come back to bite me. When I brought it up, it was to speak to the imbalance of power you’ve mentioned. Consider the things Fitz does to win and maintain Liv’s affection. He fires her. He sends Secret Service to her house and has her brought to him in the woods, where he literally pins her to a tree and gropes her as Secret Service looks on. He brings his wife to her cabin. He lets her touch the original founding documents of the country. He calls her house from the White House–often and against her protests. No never means no to him. No never has to mean no to him; he’s the most entitled man in the country. She repeatedly uses phrases like, “You own me,” or “I don’t belong to you.” We get the sense that even Liv feels like their seduction involves Fitz treating her like his property.

I don’t know. Liv/Sally Hemings is a lazy comparison and Lord knows I’ve owned that in the months since I wrote that piece. But to say that POTUS and Olivia Pope are “equal” or that Liv is actually wielding the power in their relationship–as the Scandal writers had Fitz suggest last night–is equally lazy.

Also: the Mellie-Liv dynamic has been an uncomfortable extension of those master-slave allusions. The way Mellie views Liv (as a sexual object necessary for her husband to feel powerful and even functional), the way she addresses her, and the way Liv looks (quivery-lipped, chastised, and teary) after almost every exchange they share… it’s unsettling.

This show’s treatment of women in general is troubling. Too often, we find Cyrus or Fitz dressing women down, barking at them, asserting their perceived authority over them. Even when the women bark back, they’re at the mercy of men’s whims. I suppose that’s a spot of political realism, but it can be wearying when the show is so insistent on calling itself a work of women’s empowerment.

There’s a lot more I want to say, but I’m gonna stop here and let the readers take over.

Notes on a Scandal:

  • So Liv’s back in the White House staff. Hopefully this last beyond the “winter finale”* so that we can see her in what seems to be her natural habitat. The scandals-of-the-week have never convinced me of her unparalleled talent as a fixer the way her White House appearances have (in present-day and flashback).
  • Speaking of flashbacks, I’m not sure we needed those. They revealed a little: Cyrus was closeted; Foghorn killed The Seven; Huck was hirsute (but we knew that from other flashbacks); Liv and Fitz like to use political artifacts as foreplay. But I would’ve liked to spend this episode entirely in the present. I would’ve liked more onscreen discussion of who could’ve possibly had motive for this assassination attempt before they revealed Huck’s involvement
  • How’s POTUS gonna recover from a bullet in the head? It would’ve been one thing to have him with a nicked artery and some internal bleeding. But “brain swelling?” Unresponsiveness? A coma?
  • That inauguration scene with the rack focus was nicely done. Seeing a close-up of Fitz and Mellie (who looks bemused at best) with a blurry shot of Liv smiling broadly in the stands did more for me than seeing him pull her panties out from under her dress. Just sayin’.
  • Shout-out to @BellCV, who suggested the clever alternate episode title, “A Tale of Two Sallys.”
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Gene "G.D." Demby is the founder and editor of PostBourgie. In his day job, he blogs about race and ethnicity for National Public Radio. He is a native of South Philly and reads and writes and runs and rants. You can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to him on Facebook.

16 comments to Blogging Scandal: ‘Happy Birthday, Mr. President,’ Season 2, Ep. 8.

  • nichole

    full disclosure: i cannot stand this show. i’ve been hate-watching the last two episodes, which is not something i believe in doing, but i keep getting pulled back in so that i can logically and fairly discuss why i dislike this show so much. lol

    ok.

    Little Red Hiding Huck:
    i think Huck was hired/instructed to make it look like an *attempt* on the president’s life; however, someone wanted the job done for real, hence the multiple, hesitant shots and why Huck seemed so flustered when he’s usually pretty calm about his work. we’ve had a dozen or so episodes that have made it clear that Huck doesn’t eff up when it comes to “drinking his whiskey.” if Huck wanted Fitz dead, Fitz would’ve been dead.
    the red hoodie was such a poor choice; i wouldn’t be surprised if he bought it from a teenager, shortly before setting up.
    and isn’t Huck also a technogeek of some kind? wouldn’t he have scoped out the friggin’ surveillance cameras in the area and avoided them?
    what kind of sloppy assassin work is that?!

    Putting (it) on the Fitz:
    wow. that Oval Office sex scene was steamy for network tv, even at the 9 o’clock hour.
    it’s interesting that for all these flashbacks, for all these R&B lyrics of asphyxiating love that get SHOUTED at one another in the White House gardens, for Pete’s sake, all we know about the affair between Fitz and Olivia *is* the steamy sex.
    where’s the flashback showing them eating ice cream together and talking about their favorite books? yeah, he called her from the WH at the end of each night for a while to tell her about his day, but that’s about it. what makes their “love” so powerful, beyond some pretty intense lays?

    Oh no, Miss Mellie! I’se Right Sorry!:
    i’m not really going to touch on the Hemings/Jefferson issue bc oh boy! but yes, Mellie talks to Olivia real crazy. much of it is deserved: “I gotta deal with my husband’s mistress everywhere I turn? This is too much.” so i get that Mellie is going to have some slick ish to say, but if Olivia is going to be so bold as to keep coming back to the WH, back into Fitz’s life, she needs to have the backbone to stand tall in front of Mellie. Olivia doesn’t have to be a chickenhead and be all “Yeah, I f’ed your man. AND WHAT?!” but it would be great if she stopped cowering every time Mellie appeared.

    • I meant to touch on this, actually:

      wow. that Oval Office sex scene was steamy for network tv, even at the 9 o’clock hour.
      it’s interesting that for all these flashbacks, for all these R&B lyrics of asphyxiating love that get SHOUTED at one another in the White House gardens, for Pete’s sake, all we know about the affair between Fitz and Olivia *is* the steamy sex.

      exactly. it’s just good sex.

    • slb

      I think the foreign and domestic policy pillow talk and her painstaking work to handcraft his image is supposed to be the other attraction. He’s attracted to her ability to “fix” him; she’s attracted to his power. It’ll be interesting to know how/if his feelings change when he finds out about the rigged ballot boxes and her role in that. She didn’t “win him the presidency” through by “knowing him better than he knows himself,” as he seems to think–and I think that’ll crush him (especially when he learns that she worked with Mellie, Cyrus, and every other unlikable person in this cast, except Abby) to do so.

      Random: I kind of ship Liv and David Rosen. Or I did in Season 1. They need more scenes together.

      • nichole

        yes @ Olivia & David. they had a kind of grudging respect that could easily translate into tv passion. like- the reason they butt heads so much is because of unresolved sexual tension, etc.

        i could see it, but i don’t think he’s traditionally handsome enough for a large section of the audience to accept. (although *i* totally think he can get it).

        based on several twitter reactions, part of the reason folks don’t like the SenatorBoo is because he’s not obviously handsome.

        • slb

          Norm Lewis (SenateBoo) also doesn’t have palpable chemistry with Liv. Malina might could ratchet that up. Maybe. If they gave him a crack at it. But you’re right; it’s not a pairing most viewers would root for.

  • Foghorn friggin Leghorn!!! G.D., that is absolutely THE perfect description of that man. LMAO!

    I’ve been a Scandal fan from the beginning but the show is starting to wear on me. I never took it as more than fluff, but I have honestly been more surprised by plot twists on Days of Our Lives. Most of the flashbacks were pointless because we already know their chemistry is crazy–they almost got down against a tree in full view of no less than FIVE Secret Service detail. I’m with you in that I want to know WHY they’re in love with each other? Is good sex really enough to stay with a man who is at best codependent, at worst possibly emotionally abusive (mind games & manipulation are NOT cool)? Not they’ve done much fleshing out with Senator Edison, but at least he (pretends?) to be genuinely concerned about Liv’s feelings and treats her like an equal. When he started courting her again, he played by her rules instead of habitually line-stepping the way Fitz does.

    The whole Huck thing is clearly a red herring. Literally, given the color of his hoodie. I’m sure he’s covering up for somebody and/or purposely botched the job because that whole setup was unbelievable.

    • slb

      I’m inclined to think so (Huck=red herring), but that still makes the fumbling with the casings and whatnot unexcusable. Huck’s never been sloppy, right? In addition to the bait-and-switch/fake-out, my other theory is that he may’ve snapped. They’ve been building to a mental break for him with the AA meetings and the increased inability to cope. … But it’s probably the former.

  • That sex scene was similar to a Grey’s Anatomy scene also involving a married man, his mistress and their co-star – panties.

    I don’t understand Shonda’s obsession with the other woman. She turns the wives into villains and makes the mistresses’ these victims as though they are not grown women making these choices. At the very least in this situation it makes sense that he can’t leave his wife. Can you imagine the POTUS leaving his wife? It’s inconceivable.

    But, can we just ignore the ridiculousness of this show and talk about how pretty Kerry Washington is? she is so. pretty. The gown she was wearing in the hospital (as Stacia noted last week, that is another Shonda trope)

    I don’t know why I watch this show, and I should stop, but #cantstopwontstop seems to apply here.

    • slb

      Yeah. In Shonda’s shows, panties should get their own line in the opening credits. And the evening-gowns-in-the-hospitals should get a guest-star line. Also: #cantstopwontstop *does* apply. For all its plot holes and camp, this show is compulsively watchable.

  • I thought this flashback episode took any goodwill viewers had for the Liv/Fitz relationship and shot it in the head (not that I was one of those viewers). Fitz came off as incredibly creepy and uncomfortably aggressive.

    Aside from Huck wearing a bright red sweatshirt to an black tie assassination party, he missed. We’ve been led to believe that Huck is an efficient, meticulous killing machine. You’re telling me he failed to kill the president in four shots?

  • fitz really was uncomfortably aggressive.

  • I haven’t finished reading any of the comments, but I had to stop real quick to say, Harrison pointed out that a red hoodie doesn’t narrow down much in the hometown of the Redskins. Also, I think the red hoodie is part of the agreement that Huck made to shoot Fitz, in the first place (but that’s just a theory). Ok, I’m back to reading.lol

  • Ok, now that I’ve read . . .

    1 – It wasn’t until this episode that I realized how disrespectful Fitz really is. While I wasn’t a fan of his relationship with Liv, their chemistry was undeniable. But, now? Chemistry be damned. I want him to live so that we can watch Liv outgrow him. (I completely understand this may be wishful thinking lol).

    2 – I watched the first episode of season 1 before this episode aired, and I’m starting to feel like that was the best episode this show has had, to date (with a very close runner-up being Liv & Fitz’s first flashback episode). Olivia actually “handled” things in season 1, now it feels more like she just gets handled.

    3 – Tweet-watching the show really makes a difference. The ending of this episode was anti-climactic. If I didn’t throw myself into the “let’s figure out why Huck shot Fitz” game, I’d be over it. Not in a “I’m fed up” way, more like, “meh, what else is on?” As it stands, I’m not hyped for the next episode.

    4 – Mellie’s moment of truth was so refreshing. I’m not here for her too often, but I loved that moment. I’m waiting for the day I get to tell someone “don’t sit down next to me, like we’re friends!” I have it written on an index card, in my back pocket, to ensure I don’t mess up the line.

    Also, if Shonda Rhimes does an Oprah interview in which we find out that she had an affair with a married man, and she’s a Victoria’s Secret fan, I wouldn’t be surprised.

  • sojtruth

    Great commentary! What I love about Scandal is what you think you saw happened is not what actually happened.

    Hollis did have someone killed but my bets are on the press secretary who knew too much about Sytron. Fitz was collateral damage and a warning to Cy, Olivia, and Mellie from Hollis. I think Mellie knew something was going to happen to scare Fitz, not kill him.

    I think it was Huck’s creepy former compatriot Charlie, the one who tortured and maybe killed Billy and killed Amanda Tanner, who for sure was the shooter. Remember Huck said you sit and listen to the radio for the call to mobilize – I think he was the decoy and told to wear a red hoodie (maybe he was drugged so he could be manipulated).

    I think the real clincher will be that all those who know about Sytron are going to be targeted James is going to be killed (Cy’s ambitions are going to cost him the one person he loves) and David is going to have an attempt on his life, but survive. Olivia’s part in driving apart David and Abbie will surface. Olivia will have to cope with how her ambitions almost cost her Fitz for good.

    Just speculating…

  • [...] with Fitz seemed to be indifferent to the fact that Liv was rescued by Huck, who of course was the lead suspect in an assassination plot on that same president last season.  Indeed, after everything that happened on the show in its first two seasons, nothing has [...]

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