Blogging Scandal: ‘It’s Handled,’ Season 3, Ep. 1

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“I thought I told you to take my white clothes to the cleaners, Harrison.”
“It’s handled, Liv.”

Stacia,

When we last left Olivia Pope and the “parade of monsters,” as my play-cousin Linda Holmes calls them, the putative queen of the fixers had just been outed as the President’s mistress. Blowing up the secret of Liv and Fitz’s not-terribly-secret relationship —  the central tension of the show, really — is some ballsy-stakes-raising.

Another show would have let a huge plot twist like that reverberate at least through a few episodes. But in Scandal-land, we were hurried along to the next plot twist — Liv’s people made it look like another White House staffer was Fitz’s actual mistress. It’s this addiction to the Big Twist that makes Scandal so fun and also so maddening. My friend Rhonda pointed out during the watch party at my house1 that the throng of reporters that descended on Olivia’s car to grill her about her affair 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 fundamentally changed: Liv and Fitz are still madly and annoyingly in love with each other, Mellie is still trying to use her broken marriage to further her political career, and Cyrus is trying to keep everything from blowing up. When we first started doing these recaps, I was going in blind since I ain’t watch the first season, and people argued that I was going to miss out on all kinds of important details. But that’s proven to be wrong: if the show doesn’t care about its fidelity to these details, why should I?

But really, I wanted to pick your brain about this Joe Morton situation, though. When Liv and her dad are having one of several shouting matches they had this week, he scolds her for not being more discreet, more careful.

“Did I not raise you for better?” he yells at her, spit practically flying out of his mouth. “How many times have I told you? You have to be what?”

Olivia is doing her cryface. “Twice.. as…good,” she says, trying to interrupt the snot bubbles before they happen.

“You have to be twice as good as them to get half of what they have,” her father reminds her.

Of all the things Scandal does that are frustrating — and there are so, so many — the thing that I find most jarring are its clunky, ham-handed attempts to inject racial commentary into the show. Last year, it was Liv’s ridiculous, sanctimonious invocation of Sally Hemings and Fitz’s hilarious insistence that the sight of an interracial first couple would jolt bigoted Republicans out of their ignorance. (Is there a more childish, naive view of the tenacity of racism  than the oft-repeated idea that we can fuck ourselves into bonhomie?)  Lots of black folks have gotten the “twice as good” speech from their folks: Obama referenced it in his commencement speech in Morehouse in May; it’s the title of Marcus Mabry’s very good biography of Condi Rice. Papa Pope’s reference here was obvious, but it felt less like a stretch than the show’s other acknowledgments of race.

But are we gladiators or are we bitches? (This is an honest question. My wardrobe choices going forward are contingent upon your answer.)

— G.D.

1Yo, Fight me, though.

—-
G.D.,

I think you may have answered your own question regarding the Papa Pope lecture. Because that “twice as good” ideology is part of so many black families’ realities, it’s a more organic, believable exchange than say, “I don’t want to be your Sally Hemings” (a reference that was only used as a direct rebuttal against multiple blogs that had raised the comparison).

The mention of race at all is a departure for Shonda, whose world-building trends toward racial silence (or, at least, away from race as such an overt part of her shows’ discourse). Race wasn’t addressed at all in Scandal’s first season, and I think its appearance in subsequent episodes is in response to deafening online discourse around it.

I’m glad it’s being raised here, I guess. Though always notably multiracial, none of Shonda’s other shows have ever been anchored by a black star. Any show that refuses to address race after casting a black lead — presumably asserting that casting black is the address (and the only necessary one) — is limiting its narrative possibility. Especially in our current political climate, race has asserted itself as a huge deal. Still. It would be disingenuous and strange to keep ignoring it here.

But I agree with you that most attempts to address it have been very clunky and that Papa Pope’s is the best of the lot.

Speaking of him, much has been made of the way Liv flinched when he went to touch her face in that scene, suggesting that he may not only be a verbal abuser but a physical one as well. The writers seem to underscore that when Liv stands up for herself later, responding to his warning that, “[the White House] would destroy her” with, “That’s what mom always said about you.”

It’s taken us two full seasons to get any substantial back story on the main character of this show (which is crazy, when you think about it). But I’m very interested to see what Liv and Papa Pope’s sparring reveals about how she became this quivery-lipped control freak to begin with.

For me, the strength of Scandal has always been its relationships (with the exception of Liv and Fitz’s, which just makes me really uncomfortable all the time). So I’ll leave readers to speculate about what’s in the file Cyrus saw and to discuss the plausibility of framing ol’ girl as the president’s mistress.

The last thing I want to say is: what is the deal with Harrison? He’s so weird, right? All these intense, quickly delivered diatribes that have (mostly) stopped yielding him the desired results, all this presumption about his closeness to Liv… he *does* know that Huck is Olivia’s constant, right? He does realize that she never confides in him or trusts him with anything much or listens to his long-winded hot air ego trips, yes? What’s his motivation? We’ve been speculating about him since episode one. Is he in love with Liv? Just beholden to her? A long-lost half-brother as yet unrevealed to us? I don’t understand him. Some context would be nice.

The rest of Liv’s Scooby gang also still annoys me. I’d be fine if she downsized her whole operation and just worked out of her bedroom, brainstorming with Huck under a comforter.

Notes on a Scandal:

- Charlie’s back!
- Sally Langston’s sanctimony may be giving way to a dent in her armor. (Is her husband a womanizer?)
- Liv’s mom’s no more dead than you and I are. Watch.

— Stacia

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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.

27 comments to Blogging Scandal: ‘It’s Handled,’ Season 3, Ep. 1

  • “fuck[ing] ourselves into bonhomie” is an expression I’m saving for future use.

  • socioprof

    This made me laugh so loud that I’m surprised people aren’t coming in my office to see what’ up: “But are we gladiators or are we bitches? (This is an honest question. My wardrobe choices going forward are contingent upon your answer.)”

  • Also this:

    The last thing I want to say is: what is the deal with Harrison? He’s so weird, right? All these intense, quickly delivered diatribes that have (mostly) stopped yielding him the desired results, all this presumption about his closeness to Liv… he *does* know that Huck is Olivia’s constant, right? He does realize that she never confides in him or trusts him with anything much or listens to his long-winded hot air ego trips, yes? What’s his motivation? We’ve been speculating about him since episode one. Is he in love with Liv? Just beholden to her? A long-lost half-brother as yet unrevealed to us? I don’t understand him. Some context would be nice.

    Without context, it seems borderline stalkerish.

  • whatever Harrison’s feelings are for Liv, he clearly needs to ponder them at great length at home. perhaps while in the shower.

  • besuited Harrison! (and Desmond from Lost, when he was on the show). also, desuited Harrison. this is a word. i have made it so.

  • re: Harrison… i talked about this briefly on twitter but i’ve noticed he’s been “shipped” with Abby, Quinn, *and* Olivia, probably because he’s the least developed. he also displays a kind of protectiveness towards these women that, combined with all that close-facing & deep-voicing, sends a mixed signal to the audience.

    in season one, i would’ve said the Scotsman was Olivia’s second-in-command, but now that appears to be Harrison. i can’t remember the character’s name, but the Scotman’s was the OPA’s sweet-talker- he was the one who’d purr at women for information, but once he left, Harrison seems to have stepped into that role. the difference between the two is that the Scotsman would close the deal and end up sleeping with the women he smiled at for info. we haven’t seen Harrison stir the honeypot, so to speak.

    but why does the team heed all his fast-talking as opposed to, say, Abby’s or David’s? what makes him the head guy to listen to when Olivia’s not around? i hope he’s not a half-brother. i think that would’ve been revealed during the kill-folder bit (which was a terrible way of relaying the lead character’s backstory, but whatever). however, i think the kill-folder segment was also a way of eliminating Harrison as a former lover since it established she likes older men with authority. Harrison doesn’t fit that pattern. so who is he? maybe he’s the son of one of those former, older paramours.

    • that makes sense. also, i just don’t like the idea of a Harrison/Liv storyline. Shonda did that a lot with Greys’, putting folk together without seeming to think through whether they worked as a couple for the purposes of showing [FLESH and sexy time] scenes.

    • Slb

      I think ol boy’s name was Steven. The difference btwn him and Harrison is that the writers went out of their way to establish their friendship. She talked him into proposing to a chick; he knew about the affair with Fitz when the rest of the staff didn’t, they went out for dinner/drinks socially. It was random, but very well-established. His replacement has become Huck. But Harrison seems to believe it’s him. It isn’t. She doesn’t consider him a peer of hers in any way. He’s a pawn and a subordinate. And he seems a self-appointed internal staff leader, in Steven’s absence. But his tactics only have about a 50% success rate. It’s weird how he’s written.

      • that’s right. Steven was probably the only person Olivia could’ve called a real friend. i wouldn’t say she has any friends left on the show- just a bunch of people who look out for her because she looked out for them. all the relationships on the show are about paying off debts, disguised as loyalty.

    • Okay. Can y’all explain shipping to me? I’m not sure I follow.

  • Latrice Davis

    I think Olivia’s “kill file” is, at best, half-true. Like most viewers, I don’t believe for a second that her mother is dead — come to think of it, I don’t think her real name is Olivia Carolyn Pope (but I digress) — but I DO believe she has an affinity for older men in positions of authority. One of the things I hate most about the cliched love triangle — and there are plenty of them! — is I don’t think she feels the same way about Fitz as he does about her. (To put it another way, if he lost his power, there goes the relationship.) This goes to the heart of her relationship with her father: she gravitates toward these men in search of what she may have seen in her parents as a child. (Think back to the final scene she had with Edison, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xbYex1E20pk .)

    • I love this review! Too much of the chatter revolving around Scandal is solely fashion based (which I admire as well). These comments are amazing! I wish I could invite you all to a watch party lol. I too am frustrated by the nonsensical way that Liv remains attached to Fitz. His best quality is his ability to assemble talented and intelligent people in his camp (Liv, Mellie, Cyrus, Jake etc). At his worse (which is where he usually is) he is a murdering, verbally abusive, liar who misuses his power to get what he wants (Liv). Liv has power on her own through her own actions (as far as we know). Why can’t she seem to shake Fitz? I get that he’s her weak spot but damn?! I don’t know what Shonda’s intentions are with the Olitz relationship but if she really wants to be ground breaking she should put Liv and Mellie together. They’d be a dynamic, diverse super power couple. Just imagine the exploits they would get into lol…

      • Thanks for the kind words, luna.

        And if you’re ever in DC, you’re welcome to come to my weekly watch party. Lemme know.

      • Latrice Davis

        I share your frustration, lunadesol, especially since the love triangle is SO cliched! Perhaps Fitz has some serious dirt on Olivia, because I just don’t see their relationship as one based on true love — especially on her part. Anyway, I wouldn’t want Olivia and Mellie to join forces; the show should focus more on her associates (will Shonda EVER get around to fleshing out Harrison’s character and demystifying Huck?!) and her dealings with David. Keep Cyrus as a mentor/adversary and add Mellie’s fixer, who I think could match wits with Olivia.

  • Man…ugh, I so did *NOT* want to watch this again. But, since NBC’s Hannibal don’t come back til Spring 2014, i got this. But yeesh…two seasons and we’re just NOW finding out about Liv and her daddy? and damn, Rowan DRAGGED Liv for that outstanding truth and filth. And why was *THIS* song playing in my head when he went in on her ass: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oo4Sqt2Bmag And I don’t believe her mama is dead either. I bet she’s alive and well and most definitely in some kind of position that is just as powerful and so very OPPOSED to Rowan’s…and Liv most definitely knows she’s alive too. So, since Angela Bassett is doing TV (American Horror Story), can we just cast her as Liv’s mom? Please. :) but this is a great essay. I swear I don’t come here near enough and need to start doing that more often.

  • Did you guys read this piece by the homie Neil Drumming over at Salon?

    http://www.salon.com/2013/10/04/scandals_racially_charged_motto_you_have_to_be_twice_as_good_as_them/

    But, seriously, I think plenty of black parents would be as incensed as Rowan if not more — and not simply because her choice of lover is white. It’s because, at every turn in the history of the show, she seems to be willing to throw away everything, her career, her reputation — I might argue, her dignity — for this man. And for what? Viewers are frequently reminded through dialogue that Fitzgerald Thomas Grant was to be a great president, that he deserved to win the election that Olivia Pope helped rig for him. But, as far as I can tell, President Fitz’s in-office agenda mostly includes ordering the occasional anti-terrorist strike, treating his actual wife like absolute shit, and banging his side chick in any available room in the White House. Oh, and there’s the aforementioned murder.

  • gillianrosh

    “Indeed, after everything that happened on the show in its first two seasons, nothing has fundamentally changed”

    -Oh good. I thought it was just me.

  • [...] attempts to prove his foreignness. It’s about the surveillance state. It’s, as Gene Demby and Stacia L. Brown point out at PostBourgie, about race to an extent that’s somewhat surprising for a Shonda Rhimes show, and shows some [...]

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