April 20, 2018

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Finale Review: “Scandal”


The bar for crazy was so high when it came to the series finale of SCANDAL that its general sense of anti-climax may well have been inevitable  Not Shonda Rhimes’s biggest hit (that would be Grey’s Anatomy, still purring well into its 2nd decade), but perhaps her signature series, Scandal was the grand opera (and often grand guignol) drama that proved Rhimes wasn’t just a superior soaper, but an actual TV auteur.  Its stock in trade was the jawdropping twist, and the willingness to push stories and characters beyond the bounds of mere logic.  By Season 7, though, it had so stretched rationality that little that was left felt tethered to any kind of reality.

In its final season, Scandal tried to recapture some semblance of its one-time soul, and particularly of its heroine Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), who had started as a canny Washington fixer and once-and-future mistress of President Fitz Grant (Tony Goldwin), and ultimately became not just Chief of Staff to the new President, Fitz’s ex-wife Mellie (Bellamy Young), but–following in the footsteps of her father Rowan (Joe Morton)–the all-powerful Control of the ultra-shadowy B613, a government agency that specialized in assassinations and other dark matter.  Season 7 saw Olivia leave the White House and tenuously rejoin the “Gladiators” she had employed at her crisis management agency, despite the murders and betrayals that had passed between them.  Together, Olivia and Fitz, along with Abby (Darby Stanchfield), Huck (Guillermo Diaz), Quinn (Katie Lowes), Charlie (George Newbern), and unofficial Gladiator David Rosen (Joshua Malina), the US Attorney General, worked to stop the show’s eventual Big Bads, Vice President Cyrus Beene (Jeff Perry) and NSA Director Jake Ballard (Scott Foley).

In the end, an hour written by Rhimes and directed by series veteran Tom Verica, events worked out happily, as long as you weren’t David Rosen, naive enough to take a poisoned drink from Cyrus.  (Olivia, given the chance to poison Cyrus almost identically a few episodes earlier, couldn’t make herself close the deal.)  Rowan decided abruptly to admit his own part in B613, although “admit” isn’t quite the word when Joe Morton got to deliver one last monologue of magnificent hostility and scorn, blasting a panel of white Congressional committee members for not even realizing their government had been controlled by a black man for the past 30 years.  In any case, that confession put Jake in prison, forced Cyrus to resign the Vice Presidency, and freed all the Gladiators and Mellie.  It allowed Olivia to stroll in her whtie trench-coat through the real Washington DC (previous visits had been a combination of sets and CG) and have a reunion with Fitz.  An epilogue in the National Portrait Gallery suggested that Olivia ended up as President of the United States herself.

Scandal was enormous fun for a long time, a festival of unhinged plotting and impossibly eloquent speechifying, and it deserves credit as a broadcast network series for its relatively fearless approach to race and gender, but it was never not a mess.  Attempting to follow its timeline of events would just give one a headache, and when the time came to claim some morality for its cast of killers and schemers, the result was unconvincing and finally uninvolving, as the declining ratings made clear.  (One could fairly argue that real-life current events outpaced even Scandal‘s ability to be bizarre.)  Whatever its flaws, though, the show’s gall was staggering (in a good way), and the hunks of dialogue and soliloquy were pure red meat for Washington, Perry, Young and Morton, in particular.

The end of Scandal marks the end of an era for Shonda Rhimes and ABC.  She’s moving on to Netflix, where she won’t have to deal with network standards and practices rules, advertiser pressure, timeslots or formats.  What will the creator of Scandal create when there are no restrictions on her?  The Rhimes administration to come may make her ABC platform look staid.

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."