‘Scandal’ stuns viewers with abortion scene in the season’s winter finale

20 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Scandal’ Season 5, Episode 9 recap: Olivia has an abortion!.

Abortion storylines are rarely featured on prime-time television (with a few exceptions). Say what you will about last night’s winter finale of “Scandal,” “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”—I found it a little sloppy—but on the issues, it’s magnificent.It’s only fitting that Scandal knows how to put on a great Christmas episode: After all, aren’t red (wine) and white (popcorn, coats, Liv’s boyfriends) two of the holiday season’s main colors?There was a moment, at the beginning of this fifth season of “Scandal,” where it looked like the show was about to do a double-take it’s pulled many times in the past. And pointed: That title is macabre, given that we watch Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) go to a deserted clinic on Christmas Eve to undergo a first trimester abortion.

Amidst jazzy carols and twinkling lights, Mellie triumphs this week, while Liv finally realizes — and claims — what she’s really wanted all along. And we have another skillful mashup of real world events to carry us through the hour: Daylong filibusters, Planned Parenthood, and threats of government shutdown.

Show creator Shonda Rhimes’ decision to show Olivia Pope undergoing a procedure that most Republicans want to restrict earned her immediate kudos from Planned Parenthood minutes after the show concluded. “The millions of people who (watched) ‘Scandal’ learned that our rights to reproductive health care are under attack,” Planed Parenthood Federation of American’s Cecile Richards said in a statement. “Never one to shy away from critical issues, Shonda Rhimes used her platform to tell the world that if Planned Parenthood lost funding … millions of people would suffer.” The episode also featured a Congressional floor debate over funding for the group — a genuine ripped-from-the-headlines storyline. Over the past several seasons, Olivia’s both tried to end it with Fitz and tried to keep herself out of the limelight, and every time, it’s failed. “Scandal” casts Olivia and Fitz in a relationship of unstable and all-consuming passion, meaning that throughout even the most implausible obstacles—international warfare, an assassination attempt, and Olivia’s father killing Fitz’s son that one time—their love for each other endures.

Let’s start with Mellie: Virgnia’s junior senator approaches the three white dudes in charge of the budget bill because she’s noticed that they moved Planned Parenthood’s funding to the “discretionary” column — meaning technically the women’s health organization is still slated for funding, but the government can decide to, er, pull out at any time. In classic star-crossed lovers fashion, it seemed like “Scandal”’s operating plan was to constantly have Fitz and Olivia quiver at the edge of consummation and heartbreak, putting them through various melodramatic obstacles to maximize audience anxiety. In the middle of the episode, viewers suddenly saw Olivia arrive at a medical office and then lie down on an operating table as a doctor began the procedure. This doesn’t sit well with the former First Lady, so later on the Senate floor, she steps up to the podium and, without really planning it, starts filibustering.

In the second episode of the season, “Yes,” Olivia gets a car headed away from Washington, D.C., to investigate a case that is far removed from the crosshairs of a camera lens. There was no dialogue from Olivia – just the sound of “Silent Night” playing in the background, along with voice-over of Olivia’s father Rowan (Joe Morton) delivering this speech in another scene: “Family is a burden … a pressure point, soft tissue, an illness, an antidote to greatness. And it’s brilliant: She decides to read from a huge binder of things the government doesn’t put in the discretionary column, like a travel stipend for the “Alabama Watermelon Queen” and “$331,000 to study hangry individuals. She is running from the president’s declaration that he loves her, that he wants to leave his wife—the First Lady, who is also now the junior Senator from Virginia, in a brazen nod to Hillary Clinton—to marry her, instead. You think you’re better off with people who rely on you, depend on you, but you’re wrong, because you will inevitably end up needing them, which makes you weak, pliable.

It’s a granular budget distinction that even most pro-choice Americans wouldn’t know to fixate on, which is why Rhimes is making the most of it—drawing on Texas State Senator Wendy Davis’ famous filibuster in the summer of 2013. So the episode indulges in high bureaucratic drama for Mellie’s, with a last-minute savior (in the form of the vice president) and a countdown to midnight. Earlier in the episode: Papa Pope (Joe Morton) didn’t like the burger Huck (Guillermo Diaz) brought back to his hostage, but he did like screwing with his captor’s mind. It destroys you.” In her weekly recap podcast “Shondaland Revealed,” executive producer Betsy Beers interviewed Goldwyn and only briefly discussed Olivia’s pregnancy, calling it “the thing which is not spoken of.” Before Thursday’s show started, ABC teased that Olivia Pope would make the “biggest decision” of her life, and carried a “due to adult content, viewer discretion is advised” message.

Olivia, behind-the-scenes, sends help and gives pep talks, and by the end, her own righteous indignation on the topic leads her to break up with her high-powered boyfriend in favor of drinking wine and eating popcorn on her couch. Hangry.” To the rest of America she’s proving her point (in the Scandal universe, “#IStandWithMellie” apparently becomes the #1 trending topic on Twitter), but not to the tired senators who just want to go home.

Olivia, bored nearly to tears with her insultingly mindless First Girlfriend duties, watches Mellie on TV screens the whole time, impressed and more than a little jealous. This series of events is almost exactly what happened at the end of the second season and beginning of the third, when Olivia and Fitz’s relationship almost goes public. Shonda Rhimes, the showrunner and creator of “Scandal,” has no problem with shifting the political persuasions of her characters to best suit her mood. To help her out, she tries to get another female senator to ask a long-winded question, giving Mellie time to use the bathroom, but the senator refuses. In this case, a Republican junior senator turns out to be pro-choice, and though it should be completely rational, it is not, as the measure of debate in this country has indicated, entirely plausible.

How about we don’t give that little ladies’ organization the full amount they’re asking for?’ So you don’t,” she told her fellow senators. “And then, next year, you give them even less, and even less the year after that, and you keep chipping away at their budget until, before you know it, Planned Parenthood no longer exists.” So Mellie filibustered some help from Vice President Susan Ross (Artemis Pebdani), who stepped in to address the Senate. (“Now, I’m not up here to ask you about abortions which, as you know, only makes up 3 percent of all Planned Parenthood business … let’s talk about gonorrhea!”) Still, Mellie almost gave up because of exhaustion. “I don’t even know why I’m doing this, I’m a Republican,” she groaned in the bathroom to Olivia. “I just didn’t like (the other senator) telling me what I can’t do.” Eventually, Olivia gave her a pep talk and Mellie talked until the bill was dead. Moreover, budgets are tied to the fiscal year, not the calendar year, and Mellie’s ability to wear her high heels for even 20 minutes of that 16-hour filibuster really challenges the imagination. – I’m still not sure of the endgame for David and Liz, other than a love triangle to replace Fitz-Olivia-Jake, but it’s far from a compelling storyline. Where Olivia is a diminutive black woman possessed almost completely by her intense emotions—anger, passion, pride—Fitz is a tall white man, always clad in a suit and tie and flag pin. While she’s been stuck in that room, she’s become a hero to women across the country: Looks like we shouldn’t say goodbye to a President Mellie Grant after all.

But unlike the third season, where she covers up her relationship with the president and distances herself from the Oval Office, she instead returns to the scene of the crime. As Liv flits from White House function to White House function playing the part of the gracious hostess, making small talk with the wives — all of which she’s surprisingly good at — her father is tied to a chair in Huck’s mysterious warehouse. And when the first reporter of a hundred crowding around her asks if she’s the president’s mistress, she smiles and says, “Yes.” What has followed is the story of Olivia becoming the de facto First Lady.

The audience has no warning for what’s to occur until the procedure starts, and then, as the vacuum is turned on, the camera focuses on Olivia’s face, resolute but pained, and her hand, as she reaches out to grasp the side of the stretcher. Instead, they just talk: Rowan asks why he’s alive, knowing that Huck would be torturing him and enjoying it by now if there wasn’t something he wanted.

After the niceties get him nowhere, Rowan prods deeper, asking if Huck misses his child, and if it hurts knowing that Javi’s mom would rather her son think he’s a bastard than to tell him who his father really is. From that came B6-13, a shadow government that seeks only to consolidate power at any cost, and a brief war in (fictional) West Angola, after Olivia was taken hostage to manipulate Fitz. There is no clearer encapsulation than this choice over her own body, in an episode where lover and father and ex-lover are all quarrelling over whatever pieces of her are left for scraps. Little does Rowan know, mad dog Huck still has bark in him, even if he’s keeping his bite under wraps. “Did you have a TV in prison?” he asks Rowan. “I’m just curious if you heard all the things they were saying about your child.” Once the wound is opened, he salts it. “She hates you so much that it’s worth being unhappy with him [Fitz] just to spite you,” Huck says. “Do you prefer Jake? Both storylines—and B6-13 is ongoing—failed to really take narrative flight; an endless conspiracy and an unseen war are easy to introduce, but very hard to write well.

More than simply a message about abortion—including the revolutionary act of showing the procedure on broadcast television—“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is one about women going against the grain. Which white boy do you approve of being inside your daughter?” WOW, this is almost as bad as when Fitz was telling Rowan about what she tastes like, many moons ago. With season five, Rhimes has contracted the story back to its epicenter—Olivia and Fitz, the relationship that for better or worse is the show’s defining characteristic. Washington and Goldwyn will go down in history as one of the screen’s most compulsively watchable couples; even when you hate them, it’s hard to take your eyes off of them. Turns out it was Russell who initiated Lazarus One — although I think Jake might be “Lazarus”? (Honestly, I get really foggy with all these B613 missions, so if someone wants to clarify in the comments below, please, please be my guest.) Basically, Russell wants to resurrect B613 and continue its noble mission, the way it was “before Rowan lost his way,” as he says.

But Jake isn’t into this — especially since now he knows that it’s Russell who killed his wife, Elise. “That was on you,” Russell says. (Uh… that’s not how murder works? Women and minorities can assault the white-guy hegemony and attain power, sure, but the system is so deeply entrenched that it will warp anyone who grasps that power. Power is eternal; the people who wield it become masks meant to obscure its darkness. […] there’s no low the show’s fictional administration won’t stoop to in order to achieve its goals. As I’ve written before—the struggle of “Scandal” is the struggle for Olivia Pope to not need to be twice as good to go half as far, or, as Fitz routinely demonstrates, to be half as good to go twice as far.

I am looking forward to witnessing what commentary Rhimes has for us on what it means, for both Olivia and the world, when a woman who means well comes into great power. Obviously they had the whole Vermont fantasy, living in a cabin, making jam, being soccer parents… but we never saw Liv gazing dreamily at babies, chatting about becoming a mom someday. Thank you.” Fitz tries to ask where she was, why she missed a giant dinner (he had to make a huge decision: let the chef bring the courses out without Liv present, or wait longer). It always seems like he’s a foot away from using his fist. “It doesn’t matter where you were tonight,” he says. “You weren’t here.” “I didn’t want to go,” Liv admits. “Why would I, Fitz?

Liv goes even further: Not only does she call Fitz “ineffectual,” but she says he’s treated her like some kind of hostage, and that this all seems like punishment for her letting her father out and for asking Fitz not to kill him. Their voices crack, they’re full of passion and rage and sadness: Kerry Washington and Tony Goldwyn really brought their A-game to this midseason finale. As the small hours of Christmas commence, everyone seems to be where they need to be: Liv is at home, with wine, popcorn, and a new, gray couch, smiling at her totally-decorated tree (who did that?); Huck drops Rowan off at home (in one piece), and Jake ends up meeting up and making up with him now that he knows Rowan isn’t Lazarus; Quinn is with Charlie; Mellie’s with her two remaining kids; New Guy Marcus is with his family because he’s a normal person.

Oh, one last thing that’s been too hard for me to even discuss before this: David Rosen gets Liz North a bracelet, “something special for someone special,” and she brushes him off, saying they don’t need presents. “I hope you kept the receipt,” she laughs. Later, perfect angel Susan Ross gives Rosen a fancy bottle of alcohol to put in his eggnog (an inside joke from earlier, because they make inside jokes), and he scrambles around and gives Susan the bracelet. But when Liz spots the bracelet and “compliments” Susan on her taste, Susan confesses, “David Rosen gave it to me!” I think you could hear my heart crack into two pieces.

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