October 6, 2017

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Premiere Review: “Scandal”


SCANDAL:  Thursday 9PM on ABC

How tough is Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), newly minted as both Chief of Staff to President Mellie Grant (Bellamy Young), and head of secret intelligence and torture bureau B613?  As Season 7 of SCANDAL has it, Olivia is so tough that when she has Huck (Guillermo Diaz) train a sniper rifle on a little boy in a playground in order to pressure the boy’s father, a foreign diplomat, into freeing a US hostage, no one–Olivia included–is sure if she’s bluffing.

That’s Scandal as it begins its final season before voluntary retirement.  The series has come a long way from its beginnings as a procedural about a Washington crisis manager, through tortuous rounds of soap opera and international intrigue, to its present mix of political thriller, feminist fantasy and battle for its protagonist’s soul.

Shonda Rhimes wrote the Season 7 premiere herself (the director was Jann Turner), and the decision to hinge the hour almost entirely on Olivia’s power games (she acquires a new boyfriend by the end of the premiere, but even that’s presented as a flexing of her might) leaves much of the cast in the dust.  Poor Olivia Pope & Associates, renamed after Quinn Perkins (Katie Lowes), is barely able to find a client, and when they finally do, the missing professor they’re asked to rescue turns out to be a secret intelligence agent whom NSA Director Jake Ballard (Scott Foley) wants assassinated lest he break under torture and disclose the identities of other agents.  Jake goes behind Olivia’s back to Mellie, which provokes a scorching Olivia monologue to each of them, first breaking up with Jake and then instructing Mellie that the President must not trust any man above Olivia, and that only she can make Mellie a “monument.”  In her spare time, Olivia runs a con on Vice President Cyrus Beene (Jeff Perry), putting the next Democratic Presidential nomination in his hands if he’ll betray Mellie and tank a free college bill, just to test his loyalty.  (He passed.)

This version of Scandal is very nearly a one-woman show, with every other character reduced to doing Olivia’s bidding or hearing her wrath.  But Rhimes doesn’t appear to have the nerve to go full-on Breaking Bad:   when Olivia has Huck threaten the boy in the playground, she’s doing it to save the missing agent’s life, against Jake and Mellie’s advice to let him die.  Even at her most brutal, Olivia has her principles, and that feels like Rhimes pulling her punches.

The Olivia-as-queen approach to Scandal threatens to be a one-note affair, even with Washington’s fiery charisma and Rhimes’s gift for eloquent invective.  But with 17 more episodes ahead, it wouldn’t do to underestimate Shonda Rhimes, who chose to end the show this season, and is almost certainly planning some grand dramatics on the way out.  For now, Scandal is entertaining but not wholly satisfying, neither as scary or as outrageous as the real-life daily news out of the nation’s capital.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."