Scandal Nation, we are gathered here to celebrate the life of James Novak. Husband. Father. Press Secretary, for some reason. Thoroughly inept journalist. “POOBLIUS.” Huge whiner. And, for all eternity, THHHEEEE WORRRRRRRSSSST.
James’s death affects the Scandalverse in different ways. Some, like Liv and Fitz, want to take a moment and let it sink in. Some, including David and grieving-husband Cyrus, want to bury themselves too:
Let me work. Let me do work. – Cyrus
Some, like Sally and Mellie, want to seize the dark day by cozying up to the gun lobby. But one — t-shirt-wearing, hiking-on-a-workday Jake Ballard — just wants to get off the phone so he can finish what he’s doing: throwing a couple of agents into a nice deep grave in the woods.
Sugar Trousers, you sexy grave-digging bastard!
The official story is that James died in a carjacking. “Random street crime”: that’s what it was. As we follow those who know the truth and those who just sort of suspect it, Cyrus flashes back through his entire relationship with his pushy husband.
You really think I’m gonna take fashion advice from a guy with a neckbeard? – Dearly Departed James
It takes a moment, but the Scandalverse snaps into action: Fitz wakes up to the fact that Sally’s on her way to court his gun people, and grounds Air Force Two. Olivia directs Huck to chase down a lead on the shooting, perhaps knowing where that lead will lead: to the discovery that B613 is behind the shooting. And we all know who B613 is, don’t we?
This was my call. I did that awful thing myself. James Novak died in a carjacking: bad things happen to good people all the time. – Jake to Olivia
As Olivia lets the truth sink in (all my boyfriends are murdering sons of bitches!), she seeks advice from the one person she knows is equipped to offer it: Daddy Pope.
I need Olivia’s Visit To The Summit Of Daddy Wisdom to be a weekly thing. Each time it happens, it is easily the best scene in the episode. I now believe that Eli/Rowan “Daddy” Pope is the one character entrusted with the secret meaning of Scandal; in James Morton, Shonda Rimes and company have found the best possible actor to reveal this meaning.
One hundred and eighty three. That’s the number of people I’m responsible for killing. I know all of their names. I know if they had children. They mark me; they stain me. But when you become Command, you are THE ONE. The hand of God. – Daddy Pope
Olivia asks him what “the point” of democracy is, “if there are no white hats. If no one is worth saving.” Her Dad, speaking as much to the big American “us” as his particular daughter, answers her question beautifully.
Everyone is worth saving. Even the monsters. Drag everyone into the light. – Daddy Pope
People call Scandal a lot of things: soap opera, guilty pleasure, high camp. But I think it’s time we start regarding this show as the best kind of satire: the rollercoaster ride through something that is more true (and darker) than any of us wants to admit.
Take Mellie, for example. This machine of a political wife recognizes that this event could hurt her husband’s support with the gun lobby. So she leads a shooting party, along with
her crush running-mate Andrew Nichols. Mellie, a great shot who grew up with guns, happily quotes the Second Amendment as she takes aim.
I’m willing to bet Scandal’s creators know how contentious the Second Amendment has always been. I’ll bet they’ve read how the inclusion of the words “a free State” were a direct nod to the slave-owning southern states at the time. And I’m damn sure they know what “a Militia” meant then: the armed search party charged with hunting down escaped slaves.
Who’s scared of the gun lobby? Not Scandal!
Fitz, always soft on guns, works with the still-not-grieving Cyrus to “steal some votes on the left.” In a televised address, he calls on the country to “work together to put an end to gun violence.” Fitz doesn’t just not care about the gun lobby: he wants to abolish it.
While Fitz is making his big statement, Mellie and her shooting buddy are having a spirited debate about gun control. It’s not Mellie’s finest moment (comparing a Beretta .45 to a Bloody Mary?! WHAT?), but it works for Andrew Nichols!
It’s a shame. That he can’t see you the way I do. – Andrew to Mellie
And they say there’s no middle ground on gun control. There it is, friends! Right there, having sex on the carpet!
While Huck and Quinn (ew) engage in comparable (but gross) near-shenanigans at Quinn’s place, Olivia takes her conscience to a meeting with David, the guilty survivor of the attack that killed James. She wants nothing less than to “dismantle B613,” but first she wants him to make nice.
We’ll do it together. Brick by brick. Lose this battle so we can win the war. – Olivia
He agrees, thus opening the door for Fitz’s shining moment: the one that will win the election. Cyrus, not trusting the deputy Press Secretary to handle the official announcement of the arrest of James’s “killer,” tries to do it himself.
As he freezes at the podium, suddenly seized by the grief he’s been avoiding all this time, Fitz steps out to lead his friend away. The President embraces Cyrus, gently drawing him out of the cameras’ firing range and leaving Olivia to deliver the statement.
When people talk about campaign “optics,” this is the moment they hope for: a candidate and sitting President being a strong and tender human being, right there on the world stage. All Sally’s notes and all Sally’s men (hi Leo!) won’t put her campaign together again.
Final Scandal thoughts:
Jake’s final scene, with the dying James, is a literal killer. “It’s okay. It’s okay. You’re almost there.”
Even more moving: Cyrus’s final James flashback. The two men come out as a couple, dancing at a formal White House dinner, to the strains of Gladys Knight and The Pips’ “You’re The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me.” It’s lovely and sad: a fitting end to a sweet love story. (Even if one of them did happen to be The Actual Worst.)
Does anyone else wish the gun lobby were an actual lobby? With a gift shop, concierge desk, maybe a nice bar? No? Okay.
Much as we all once anticipated it, the true beginning of Huckleberry Quinn is a complete (and squicky) disappointment. Cancel this couple, please. They’re dead to us.
Also a disappointment: Terrorist Mama Maya. It’s not that I don’t believe this lady’s a wrong number. It’s that I don’t care.
Fitz almost wins this episode. Almost. The moment when Cyrus almost, but not quite, comes out to his boss and friend is some of the best acting Tony Goldwyn has ever done. The look that crosses Fitz’s face is exactly how it feels when a person you love chooses not to come out to you. AGAIN. Even though you know, goddammit, and you love that person so much!
Line of the episode, of course: “Everyone is worth saving. Even the monsters.” When Daddy Pope’s in an episode, no one else really has a chance.