“Power is in charge!”
Scandal is back and in full form! The power of a scandal can make some of the most desensitized monsters drop their jaws to the floor. In the season three premiere of the political drama, “It’s Handled”, the biggest scandal yet has dropped in D.C. and everyone is clamoring. You barely get a breathe throughout much of the episode and when you do, there’s another drama-bomb dropped just for good measure. You’d think that one’s father would be just a smidge sympathetic given the situation of being named as the President of the United States’ mistress, but no. In Scandal, expectations are rarely settle in normality. The very setting flares with crisis and life-altering allegations. This one is no different, except the fact that it flips the entire series’ premise on its head. What happens when Olivia Pope is at the mercy of power?
Meeting Olivia Pope’s father is a bewildering experience. Eli Pope (Joe Morton) is a totally different kind of animal in an arena of them that bark and bite in a particularly ferocious manner. Some of the words that come out of his mouth are unbelievable. Eli certainly pulls no punches. The opening scene was like a father brutally reprimanding his child after getting a B on an exam they should have gotten an A on. And it’s an electrifying moment that also displayed a troubling reality about a practical piece of advice for any young person of color, especially a young woman of color, highlighting a significant reality of racial politics. “What did I always tell you? You have to be twice as good as them to get half of what they have!” In a sense, Olivia can’t be like other women, which speaks partially to her tragic position. Yet this assertion about having to outperforming one's white peers is all too familiar. Honestly, it’s hard not to get chills watching that and hearing those words--words of which kind of prepare us for the fallout of the rest of the premiere and even preps us for the rest of the season. Not only that, but it does well to develop the mystery that is Olivia Pope and display why she is the way that she is today. Take note that Olivia’s whole demeanor alters around her father. She’s not the confident, fierce crisis manager in the white hat we’ve all known her to be; she’s staring to the ground, turtled into herself and flinching with every word her father is bouncing of the walls and right into her ears. It’s kind of emotionally abusive. It makes you cringe.
Olivia is a grown, intelligent woman very much aware of her situation, telling her she has no power. There is a tactic of control in that, just to get Olivia on the plane. Necessary in some way just to snap Olivia into just how disastrous her predicament is. But at the same time, he’s not directly handling the situation the way he ought to, especially as a parent. The harshness and crassness of Eli’s words and actions toward Olivia in their scenes together tell the reality that he’s been this cruel to her throughout her whole life. He just wants to throw Olivia under the rug so to speak to eliminate the situation, which is the nature of his work. Eli destroys people--totally eradicating them in some way shape or form for a living. Essentially, he’s doing that with Olivia. Eli handles her like she’s his business. Killing the situation, in a figurative way--slicing her down: “Do you have to be this mediocre?” It’s like Eli insisted that he had lost total respect for his daughter. Later in the episode, it is revealed that Olivia and Eli were basically estranged for a while after (and maybe before) her mother died in an airplane crash (a point I don't fully believe yet). So there is some neglect there Eli threw her into boarding school. He basically comes at all situations involving Olivia with a hand of forceful control, not love. Maybe his wife’s death has something to do with it or maybe there are other variables in the situation. We’ll certainly find out later. As well as these things Eli hints at about to Olivia--things she doesn’t even know--of what comes at the price of power…
When one is at the mercy of power, they are likely to lose a bit of their legacy. The brewing scandal that has paparazzi buzzing and America slobbering for more juicy info also has Olivia’s legacy on lockdown. After the entire dramatic bout with her father, Eli, the worry white hat wearing Olivia makes her way back to her gladiators all of whom are just as awe-stricken as she is, but ready to do their jobs nonetheless. But clients are dropping out like flies. Harrison is the one to rise above and handle the situation like a gladiator should, but at the same time, one thinks that Harrison and the others might be a little in over their head, and even if they weren’t, Olivia would still reject their help anyway. Harrison goes to Cyrus Beene for help in this situation simply because he and the others have no choice. Their entire home is in disorder. Their not surprised at all, but they’re ready to have her back. Olivia still doesn’t feel like she’s worthy of this sort of help (partially due to her upbringing) and she must deal with it by herself. Harrison is the initiator of the plan that unravels involving another minimal West Wing player, Jeannie Locke. Yes, the Locke situation is another, slightly humorous mess that further muddles things. In a way Harrison’s plan worked out in the best way. It gets the press off of Olivia’s back and gets them a new client: Jeannie Locke. It speaks to how Olivia may underestimate her team. Or maybe Olivia doesn’t allow herself to think they are worthy because they are a direct extension of her being and legacy, which she struggles with…
But before Harrison and the others handled the situation, D.C.‘s worst secret service agent, Hal let it slip that Fitz is indeed sleeping with someone other than his wife, but Fitz is the one behind leaking Olivia’s name as a very strategic tactic in getting the American public to slowly, yet surely back his relationship with Olivia. The scene that takes place in the secret bunker is probably the most essential of the premiere. It brings in all three major pieces of the disastrous puzzle and forces them to confront one another. First off, the mere fact that Olivia had had a providence card from Fitz in the first place speaks volumes. As the scene goes on, Olivia and Fitz agree to use the truth in order to soften the situation, but the truth isn’t viable for one of them. Mellie never sees the use in truth. Her life is very coated in a saccharin sheet of lies, so that’s all she knows. Therefore, in some ways, Mellie facing the truth that Fitz is in love with another woman, it being Olivia Pope, is something of willful ignorance. Still bursting with anger, Mellie flips the script on everyone. Olivia and Fitz’s plan--while frustrating in the sense that Olivia once again ignores her own wants, further pushing her and Fitz away with all of her fixing--is pretty straightforward. However, it ignores Mellie, who is still chomping at the bit, trying to prove herself as more than the ornament Fitz once insisted she was. Unbeknownst to him, Mellie is very functional as First Lady (a woman of power in her own right), but she is unbearably bored with it and has been for a while now. Fitz is always looking to Cyrus as the only political monster with the function to do some dark things and that is where he slips up in his plan. The aforementioned Jeannie Locke situation is a surprising blow that Fitz intends to strike back on. “Give me a war to run” says Mellie. Jesus Christ. She surely started one that she might not know how to get out of. Or maybe she does?
One point in the elongated scene in the bunker that seems imperative is how Mellie forces both Olivia and Fitz into a corner long enough to make them realize (probably without Mellie even knowing this) that they both have some unhealthy habits that are probably involuntary. Fitz’s loves the aspect of power and winning things--it gets him sexually excited--makes him feel like an emperor conquering kingdoms. Apparently, it is something that could be read as Olivia being driven and controlled by men of power--controlled by power. In that case, what Eli asserts at the very beginning of the episode is true: Power is always in charge. It rings in Olivia’s head. Is she being controlled by power, letting it ruin her legacy--one she had to be twice as good at to get? This highlights the influence of power on Fitz and Olivia, especially their relationship. However, that power does happen to be shared between the two of them instead of held to one’s chest for their own selfish indulgence. Fitz loves power, but he also loves sharing that power with the woman he loves. So although power is an obvious initiator in some of these cases, we are sure to witness the love that still bonds these two lover together. Both Olivia and Fitz are beginning to realize their unhealthy dispositions, which will only get worse before they get better.
Amongst it all, we discover more about Sally Langston as well. Her character has taken some great turns throughout the series as we delve more and more, little by little into her own personal life and values, some of which one might agree with. In the premiere, we get to see Fitz starting to actually treat Sally as though she is part of the team, which is something no one else does, most of all Cyrus. So for the first time ever, when Sally slapped him down one might feel like it was deserving. In that same likeness, we continue to discover more about Olivia when Cyrus starts a kill folder when evidence of her and Fitz’s alleged affair surfaces. Cyrus uncovers more than what he could ever perceive. One can tell that he doesn’t enjoy being the animal to shred his longtime friend, but altering circumstances have called for it. Realizing just how tragic Olivia’s situation has been is even a little troubling for him--Olivia’s monster is concerned. How rare is something of that caliber? And in Cyrus’s discovery, we uncover much about Olivia’s disposition. And then there is Quinn, who still seems to be on a high from her violent outburst in last season’s finale. Good luck trying to wrangle that one. And Abby and David; yep, there is still something there…
White is the only color Olivia Pope wears throughout most of the series and especially in this premiere…until the end of the episode. She’s not the wearer of the white hat anymore. Olivia’s legacy is already darkened with the whisper of a scandal. Even as her gladiators insist all is golden at the moment, Olivia knows just how deep and dark this scandal can and will get. And now, so does Cyrus. What could be so horrid that could make Cyrus exclaim “Oh my God!”? Scandal’s return has been long overdue and its dramatic return does well to reinvigorate television. Surely, all gladiators will look forward to another season of hot-white Scandal. If the premiere is any indication in how it will all unfold, then I think we’re in store for something special. “It’s Handled” gets 5 out of 5 stars!
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© Patrick Broadnax 2013