[Editor’s Note: ‘Scandal’ season one through six spoilers ahead.]
The seventh and final season of ABC’s Scandal is launching tonight, and we’re betting anything you’ll be puzzled to hear that we at playboy are looking forward to it. Otherwise, like the manly men we are, we don’t exactly consider ourselves prisoners of Shondaland.
In case you don’t know, that’s the name of series creator Shonda Rhimes’s production company. It’s also the nickname for the all-Rhimes-all-the-time Thursday-night trifecta that includes How To Get Away With Murder, which at least keeps Viola Davis in steady work, and Grey’s Anatomy, which first aired shortly before the United States entered World War One. (That’s a joke, people. It really premiered during the Cuban Missile Crisis.) Unlike the other two, though, Scandal has taught us a lesson we feel is worth imparting: Your Girlfriend Is Not Always Wrong About TV.
Among other things, if she’s a fan of Rhimes’s bonkers, Washington, D.C.-set soap opera, she’s got a cast-iron stomach for the sight of blood. Blood sprayed by power drills in outrageously gleeful torture sessions whose zest makes 24’s Jack Bauer look like a lily-livered ACLU spokesmodel, blood splattering people’s pretty clothes in the assassinations, attempted assassinations and plain old street killings that keep things lively the way a Trekkie joke does on The Big Bang Theory in a pinch. Whatever we thought we might be in for the first time we got nudged to tune in, it wasn’t Quentin Tarantino going nuts with a ketchup dispenser.
Last season, we got mildly queasy when Abby (Darby Stanchfield) was rooting around in a murdered POTUS-elect’s gory innards on an autopsy table to fish out the bullet that killed him and swap it for a planted one. But when we covertly checked out the World’s Coolest Girlfriend’s reaction, she wasn’t batting an eye. If this isn’t the basis of a healthy and inventive sex life, what is?
The more of a Washington junkie you are, the more of a kick you’ll get out of this show’s indifference to elementary savvy about our system of government.
Scandal’s signature moment came back in season three, when a trio of presidential candidates faced off in a debate and our heroine, Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington, twice nominated for an Emmy for her work here), realized with a dismayed chuckle that all three of them were murderers. GOP incumbent Fitz Grant (Tony Goldwyn) had smothered a Supreme Court justice in her hospital bed before she could go public about his rigged election, his Bible-thumping Veep had impulsively dispatched her husband to a better world after discovering he was gay and the Democratic candidate had killed his wife’s lover and gotten off scot-free. Then again, by season five, Olivia herself was beating someone’s head in with a metal chair until his (former) face looked like gazpacho in a soggy bread bowl, so she’s not what you’d call dainty.
Admittedly, we tend to snooze or check our social-media feeds whenever the focus is on the hot-and-heavy love triangle of Olivia, Fitz Grant and eternal also-ran Jake Ballard (Scott Foley). It’s like watching a supermodel decide whether she’d rather adopt a worm or a rabbit, and even the W.C.G. could care less whether Wormhole or Bugs eventually wins. But we perk up whenever Fitz’s estranged wife Mellie (Bellamy Young) swans or stumbles into view, mainly because Young comes on like she once played Tennessee Williams’s Maggie The Cat in a high-school production of Cat on A Hot Tin Roof and has never looked back. By the season six finale, Mellie had recovered from booze, infidelity, divorce and her teenage son’s murder by a rogue Secret Service man to be the newly inaugurated president of the United States, a plot twist that probably made more sense back in the far-off days when Shondaland’s elves were anticipating a Hillary Clinton victory.
Then again, Scandal has never depended on making sense, let alone corresponding to anything resembling political reality. (The series did introduce a Donald Trump stand-in last season, but didn’t keep him around.) The more of a Washington junkie you are in real life, the more of a kick you’ll get out of this show’s delirious indifference to plausibility or elementary savvy about our system of government. It’s deliberate, because the idea is that “the Republic’s” visible institutions—from the White House on down—are just a façade anyway. True power is all about behind-the-scenes skulduggery without legal or Constitutional constraints, exemplified by the enigmatic guardian agency known as B613 and intermittently headed by Olivia’s rascally, imperious father (Joe Morton).
One reason the actors are fun to watch is that everybody’s allegiances and motivations can switch on a dime. So can their jobs, for that matter. Poor Jake alone has gone from Navy intelligence officer to B613’s interim boss to heading the NSA without changing his beseeching facial expression even once. Their personalities and tics are consistent, but beyond that, the characterizations are pure gobbledygook. One week’s stalwart moral stand gives way to the next week’s rotten-to-the-core complacency without a hint there’s any discrepancy involved.
That’s why our favorite performer on the show has become George Newbern as Charlie, who ambles through the series with the same quizzical aplomb whether he’s incarnating a happy killer or an even happier father-to-be. If the series wraps up with Charlie blowing Olivia, Fitz and Jake to kingdom come before he and his honey Quinn (Katie Lowes) skip off to enjoy parenthood by teaching their little one the pleasures of using power tools to turn taciturn people chatty, we won’t complain. We’ve always believed that love conquers all, but Black & Decker makes wonderful he-and-she Christmas gifts.