Scandal’s Season 4 closed with a happy ending, or as close as it gets: Olivia and Fitz fell into bed together, all obstacles set aside. The premiere of Season 5, “Heavy is the Head“, promises us a fairy tale. With a beautiful princess, a bloody huntsman, and an evil queen foreshadowing the whole season, you’re watching Scandal.
So, best parts of the episode: First, as we open, Olivia (Kerry Washington) is described as a “beautiful young woman, a commoner, an all-American girl, who falls in love with the golden son”. And she makes a really good princess, ball gown and all. Remember that we live in a world where black women simply don’t get to be Disney princesses – and Olivia Pope lives in a world with evil that’s larger-than-life. So watching her swan around in a beautiful dress is just such a treat.
Second, she yells at Fitz. Watching her slam the door on the President of the United States just never stops being awesome! And watching the president act like a petty teenager, as he threatens to prosecute her and makes these dumb pouty faces, never stops entertaining. He accuses her of “undermining national security” because his ego is hurt! And she sets him straight: it’s not about him. It’s about her work, and it’s about doing what is right. The President has to do what’s right for the whole country, and sometimes that means they disagree. But he tries to make it about their relationship.
But you know what? He listens to her, in the end.
And the third best thing about the episode: she gets a win. “Fairy tales don’t always have happy endings, no. But evil queens? They always go down.”
We open with narration from Sally Langston (Kate Burton), orating on her televised podium as if she’s one of the witches in Macbeth. “Betrayal!” she cries, as Fitz and Olivia roll around in bed together. “Mr President! I see you, sir. What other secrets are you hiding?” Of course, what she sees is our case of the week, a lovely sideways homage to the real life fairy tale of Princess Diana.
Meet “Princess Emily,” an all-American sweetheart, who fell in love with the “Royal Prince Richard of Caledonia.” She’s the common everywoman who got swept up by Prince Charming. She’s America’s princess, and we love her.
Hilty Bowen plays “Princess Emily”, and she does a remarkable job of it with only one scene of dialogue. Emily is just such a sweetheart! “People get weird when they see me,” she says, apologetically. She wasn’t raised as royalty – she was raised in Iowa. But she’s not shy; she’s well-spoken, and she knows what’s what. “For most of the world I’m not a real person anymore,” she says. “I’m just … a spectacle.”
(She’s also blatant double-talk for Olivia. “One day, you’re a regular person, and the next day you’re the most famous woman on the planet, and only because of who you’re in love with. Suddenly, that’s all you are …” Scandal has constantly threatened to bring Olivia public, and turn her into The First Mistress. Or worse; Mellie keeps calling her “America’s Whore.” More on that later.)
Her story carries this theme of dehumanization – which is always present on Scandal – and spins it into a tale of the Collective versus the Individual. First, the collective “eye of the public” (and the primary antagonist), represented by the media as a ruthless and intrusive presence. They can only be satiated by this disgusting, gory bit of grief porn.
The very human emotion of love and grief, performed for your entertainment. Olivia gives them this image as if appeasing a hungry beast.
The second antagonist is “Her Majesty Queen Isabel of Caledonia”, who needed only one thing from Princess Emily – “an heir, and a spare”. And third, the President of the United States, who doesn’t care about the murder of America’s princess when it would prevent them from building a naval base. These two are, in fact, another face of “the public”; because the leader of a country has to represent the nation as a whole, the collective sum of its people and interests.
And that’s why I’m glad Emily got to tell us these things in her own words – because against all of that, she holds her own. It’s easy for the collective viewpoint to overwhelm and overshadow the truth. But with Hilty Bowen’s powerful and genuine performance, instead, Emily’s character overshadows everyone else, and demands that we see her. She’s remained gracious and understanding under tremendous pressure; she’s kept her goodness despite her more questionable actions; and she doesn’t deserve this shit.
And since her story is also Olivia’s story, I’m glad Olivia got to meet her.
But here’s the other crux point of the episode: Olivia has this bad habit with her boyfriends, see. She gets wrapped up in them and ignores everyone else. In this case, she isn’t there for Huck (Guillermo Diaz) – which is fair, to be honest. I don’t know if she’s really equipped to help him. But more than that, she’s not talking to Abby.
Abby (Darby Stanchfield, always adorable) already knows about her thing with Fitz, at least in theory, and she gives Olivia an opportunity to vent about it. She opens up about her own professional frustrations. Abby thinks they’re friends, they’re family. But Olivia lies to her face – twice – and by the end of the episode, Abby knows that they are not friends.
Meanwhile, Mellie gets served with divorce papers – again. And it hurts – again. As always, Bellamy Young’s performance is flawless; we are forced to remember that from Mellie’s perspective, Olivia is the evil queen, or the wicked witch, and Mellie is losing her husband. This is the cost of Olivia’s happiness. The real measure of Mellie’s pain? She goes to Cyrus simply as a friend. She pretends it’s for a political alliance, but truly, she just needs to talk to someone who knows what it’s like to be rejected by Fitzgerald Grant.
So these are the alliances set up for this season. Huck goes to Jake for help; Mellie goes to Cyrus; Olivia is still with Fitz, despite their arguments; Abby finds a friend in Liz North; and David Rosen is still quietly allied with Olivia.
And then the bombshell hits.
“LOVERS OF LIBERTY; THE END OF A FAIRY TALE! SOMETHING IS ROTTEN WITHIN THE WALLS OF THE WHITE HOUSE.”
Sally Langston, our wicked witch, is fully centered for her shocking montage. “Mr. President, I see you, sir.” She knows about the affair with Olivia – and she has proof. And now the whole world knows.
…. Or do they?
Do I sound cynical? I am. The show has danced around this from the first season finale, when Fitz chose Olivia over his political career … and then changed his mind. They’ve walked back and forth on this multiple times. Maybe Sally’s photos aren’t all that. Does she have a photo of them kissing? If not, then they can still walk it back. We’ll see.
What’s far more important is this one question that Sally Langston asks us in the beginning of the episode. “And even if it is true, even if it is the single greatest true love story of all time – Should we care? Look at the cost.” She points out the cost of the royal reception; and just so, Olivia and Fitz’s affairs have cost the country a surprising amount. It’s caused personal pain to dozens of people, from Mellie on out, and most recently last season, their love sent the country to war. Is it right? Is it a betrayal?
These are the questions for the season. It looks like it will be of Shakespearean proportions.
BY THE NUMBERS: Scandal 5.01
Directed by Tom Verica; aired 9/24, 9pm EST
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