The Moment 'Scandal' Transformed From Guilty Pleasure Into a Hate Watch
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The Moment 'Scandal' Transformed From Guilty Pleasure Into a Hate Watch

By Dustin Rowles | TV Reviews | December 10, 2013 | Comments ()


Let me begin by saying that I was a first-comer to Scandal. I got hooked on it when it was still a struggling mid-season replacement, when the show was about a political consulting firm that got out ahead of scandals, and when the series was seemingly told from the point of view of Quinn. Henry Ian Cusick from “Lost” was still on it, for some reason, and it was salacious, provocative, and madly addictive.

That seems like so long ago now, and yet it’s only been a season and a half since the improbable but completely believable (by the show’s current standards) murder of an intern by the Vice President’s Chief of Staff. That was before Scandal all but abandoned the political consultant premise at the center of the show, transformed the naive Quinn into a murderer who gets off on torturing people, and before Scandal decided it needed to be more like Alias than The West Wing meets Dallas.

Scandal has become completely unhinged, and not in a good way. It’s unmoored from what made the show so compelling. Shonda Rhimes has Ryan Murphy’d the show, and last week’s episode was like the alien in the second season of American Horror Story: It no longer tracks. Some may argue that the characters on Scandal have become so unlikable that it’s no longer relatable, but the show’s problems run much deeper than unsympathetic characters. Scandal has lost its way: In it attempts to up the ante in every episode, it ran out of room, and in order to continue chewing through plot at the same pace, it had to become a different show, a show I don’t really like anymore.

And the thing is, no one asked for this. No one applied any pressure on Scandal to keep upping its stakes. I think most of us woud’ve been happy if the series had continued to use its procedural elements — the consultant cases where Olivia and her team put out fires before they turned into blazes — to allow Shonda Rhimes to dole out series’ arc in smaller chunks. There’s something to be said for suspense — Breaking Bad told a story in five seasons what Scandal might tell in half a season — and it’s not as though we were feeling impatient, anxious to arrive at the next huge plot twist before we’d even managed to process the most recent one.

Notice how little screen time Joshua Malina (the reason I checked out the show in the first place) has gotten this season. That says so much about what’s happened to Scandal: Malina’s David Rosen was the voice of reason on the show, the white hat the kept the storyline in check. As far-fetched as the voting scandal in season two might have been, Rosen and his investigation into it lent it some plausibility. Now the show barely bothers with opposing forces: The narrative just barrels ahead from one ridiculous plot twist to another. Olivia’s love affair with the President (and their once insane chemistry) has grown stale and been pushed to the background, along with the the show’s other most reasonable players: Harrison, Abby, and Quinn.

The breaking point, for me, had been coming on all season. When we found out that Olivia’s Dad was running a secret shadow organization that basically holds more power than the President, the series began its descent. But then we found out that the President — when he was still in the military — shot down a civilian plane, presumably with Olivia’s mother on it, under orders from Olivia’s Dad; the front-runner for the Democratic nomination (Lisa Kudrow) had to drop out after her sister (who was secretly her daughter) tried to torpedo their opponent’s campaign; and oh, Fitz’s first child is probably not his own, but the his father’s, who raped his own daughter-in-law 20 years ago or so.

But this winter finale? Jesus. It wasn’t the fact that the Chief of Staff set up his husband to f*ck the Vice President’s closeted husband that broke me. It wasn’t even the fact that the VP shot her husband dead for the affair that did it. The fact that Olivia enrolled the President’s help in order to help her mother — presumed dead for the last 22 years — escape the country, only to find out that she’s a terrorist, didn’t help, of course. But no. What really broke me was the torture scene between Huck and Quinn. Not that it was too violent (I don’t care about that), but that it was so completely out of character for both of them. Quinn doesn’t accidentally kill another guy, and not immediately tell Huck about it, and Huck doesn’t torture — and lick her face while doing so — Quinn without first trying to find out what’s going on. They were incredibly close, and Huck’s murder addiction and Quinn’s thrill-seeking excuses neither development.

It was dumb, and everything that came after it — especially the revelation that the VP had shot and killed her husband — was one forehead slap after another. The only scene in that episode that was any damn good was when Sally Langston called Cyrus on his bullshit blackmail threat, because for once there was a check — briefly, it turned out — on the narrative fast-forward button.

I’ll still watch the show — for now, at least — because I’d like to think that Rhimes can reset it, put it back in its own universe. I’d like to think that the political scandals of other people, and the impending presidential campaign might refocus the show. But a show can only drop so many bombshells before we become numb to them, and that’s exactly what has happened to Scandal: The twists aren’t surprising anymore; they’re par for the course.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Alias Darker

    When i read "Shonda Rhimes has Ryan Murphy’d the show" , believe me or not i ran to the kitchen, made pop corn to read this article LOL, the author is so spot-on and funny

  • Great review and , unfortunately, so true, so true, which makes it such a shame 'cause the cast is really good...SMDH

  • Cheyenne

    The thing is, the scene between Huck and Quinn was not out of character. Huck got addicted to torture when he was in B613 and he's been trying (unsuccessfully with therapy) to break himself out of it. Quinn got her first tast when she tortured Billy Chambers and she's been on a high ever since.

  • Russell Duckett

    I lovet the show it's so much bettter now than when it started. I can't even believe this is on on regular television.

  • Sirilicious

    Agreed, last episode jumped the shark.

  • gert gert

    i gave up this season, and won't watch again. and even lusting after olivia's wardrobe isn't enough to bring me back. shonda rhimes took a great premise - that felt like it COULD happen - and made it so ridiculously soap opera-esque that no longer feels in anyway realistic. its exhausting to suspend disbelief 1,349 times in one hour.

  • Skeptic

    It would be great fun to take this opportunity to blame the over-rated "one trick pony", Shonda Rhimes but, alas, I must conclude that it's an ABC thing. Look what happened to "Revenge"... and even "Lost"! Once a first-season goes well at ABC, all the "geniuses" in suits start making ridiculous demands on writers and then the shows proceed to go off their creative rails.

  • Ben

    holy shit I thought this was just a political drama, that quick recap makes this show sound bugfuck insane.

  • Maddy

    It also doesn't help. and I feel like I'm alone in thinking this, that the actor who plays Huck is not great - I generally find his scenes painful to watch. Quinn has never really even been a proper character, she was a plot device at the start and once we found out her secret, they never bothered with anything else. Poor Harrison never gets anything to do, but at least Abby and David are cute together.

  • Merski

    Yes!! I totally agree about Huck, you're definitely not alone. A lot of people seem to think he's great but this actor was on 'Weeds' and he flat out annoys me like hell. His character was exactly the same there! It's like the guy only comes in one flavour: SUPER INTENSE! :/

  • Maddy

    I get that I'm supposed to feel sorry for the Huck character (I think) but he always just looks like his eyes are going to bug out of his head because he has such intense feelings. This must be how a sociopath feels. The fact that I don't particularly care for the majority of these characters is a bit of an issue for me, even if I get that this show is more about plot than character development. I just want a spinoff with Cyrus and Mellie snarking and manouvering politics behind the scenes without useless Fitz.

  • JAG

    Ummm...the show has been like this from the very start. It's playing well within the rules it set for itself. Are you new here?

  • Maddy

    There are still elements of a good show here - I like all the political intrigue stuff with Cyrus and Mellie, and I really liked Lisa Kudrow's character and I don't understand why they got rid of her - I really wanted her and Olivia to boot Fitz out of office because Fitz is the worst (not that Olivia is much better). The Quinn and Huck stuff was AWFUL and made no sense for plot or character reasons - I'm pretty certain you don't need to torture her dude, she seems pretty willing to talk. The Operation Remington stuff is freaking ridiculous, and I've managed to accept lots of ridiculous stuff on this show.

  • Skyler Durden

    Nope, I can't agree. I'm still loving it. It's bonkers and I just want MOAR.

    That being said, I don't need it to go on indefinitely. I'd be happy with four bananapants seasons. Turn it up to eleven and drop the mic.

  • e jerry powell

    At least Shonda has said that she sees an endpoint for Scandal already, which is more than she's said about Grey's.

  • Cheyenne

    Grey's is long past its expiration date. I totally lost interest in the show and everybody in it. I haven't watched it since the middle of last season.

  • I think you hit the nail right on the head. I've been struggling to catch up with the show--I'll forget to watch it live and then a couple of weeks will go by before I remember I have a couple of episodes to watch...and then when I do, I just feel like it's a bit of a chore. I don't have fun watching it, or at least not as much fun as I had before. It's lost the soap opera tone it had and just become about MURDER! SPIES! EVERYTHING IS LIFE OR DEATH! Nothing seems important when EVERYTHING is important, you know?

    I hope that things get back to a more restrained place when the show comes back. If it just keeps going this way I feel like more and more weeks are gonna go by without me catching up and then it'll just feel like too much work. Give us more David Rosen, less Quinn and Huck (gawd just kill them both off), do something with Jake Ballard, and just give us more fun

  • Donna SHerman

    Sounds a bit like exactly what happened to Grey's Anatomy, only faster.

  • I've only watched a couple epis, but get a regular dose of "OH MY GOD YOU WOULD NOT BELIEVE WHAT JUST HAPPENED" from those around me. This toe-dip into torture porn confirmed my choice: as much as I like Kerry Washington - and I've loved her ever since she taught Julia Stiles how to look SLAMMIN' - my hatred for Grey's Anatomy won't allow me to get sucked into another Shondaverse. Shonda me once, shame on you; Shonda me twice....

  • e jerry powell

    ... and Shonda puts you in a book.

  • Kate

    I started hate-watching at the end of the first season. I've given up watching now, it's just too stupid. I don't get the Kerry Washington love either, her acting is terrible, it's like she can't emote so she compensates by making the most ridiculously over the top facial expressions. And her character, who again everyone seems to love, is so bloody annoying. The President's an unhinged murderer, she could bring him down, but she can't because of the FEELS. Pathetic.

  • Todd Sikkema

    ^The Angela Bassett School of Acting?

  • ed newman

    Totally with you on Washington. She's got one move. You can't go three scenes without her giving that "verge of crying" look to someone: Fitz, Huck, the mailman, the pet gerbil,...

  • Rebecca Hachmyer

    I blame the material. It's like Rhimes took the most over the top dramatic monologue from Grey's and said "let's make a show where people are this intense and condescending and speak in fast, clipped, purple prose ALL THE TIME. Like from the very first scene in the very first episode. "Gladiator in a suit"? Seriously??

  • el_mediocre

    This all happened on one show?

    I guess I'm not entitled to complain about Sons of Anarchy anymore.

    Bah, I'm still gonna do it.

  • Cree83

    I gave up on the show when the President of the United States murdered a Supreme Court Justice, but it had been wearing me down even before then. It was mostly the acting on the show that really grated. I blame the directors, since I've seen most of those actors be competent in other shows, but it seems like it's either flat and catatonic (Fitz), or dialed up to 11 Sean Penn in Mystic River "Is that my daughter????!!!" levels of overwrought.

  • I'm really glad you wrote this. I felt like a grumpy chapped asshole complaining about this nonsense show for the last month. Feels good to have company.

    Hard to lay the blame on one culprit. ABC ridiculous 24-episode demands don't help, neither did the decision to market the hell out of this show to the Entertainment Weekly/People demographic. I can just see network execs, permanently ascribed to the "More is More" philosophy, huddling around reading EW recaps screaming "MORE TWISTS!!! ADD A LOVE RHOMBUS!!" into Shonda Rhimes' voicemail.

    The recent episode reduction (from 24 down to 18) may help tone down the absurdity, but I'm not optimistic. Feels too far gone at this point.

  • DeaconG

    If the suits were the problem, she should have done what JMS did with Crusade when the TNT execs started interfering with the show too much in the first season...he said "Fuck you, we're done, the 14 eps you got is what you got, kiss my ass, goodbye."

    At least she'd still have her dignity, even if ABC never did any of her shows again.

  • e jerry powell

    To be fair, the original order for Scandal season 3 was only twenty-two episodes, and last week the network cut the order to eighteen because Shonda decided that Kerry Washington's pregnancy (more and more a filming factor every day) would not be written into Olivia's storyline.

  • I'm glad to hear they're not writing in a pregnancy. It'd be way too expected and not fair to Olivia's character.

  • dizzylucy

    I noticed earlier in the season that in practically every scene, the drama is turned up to 11. That's kind of exhausting for the audience, isn't it?
    I don't know what it says about me, but the only character I actually like on the show is Mellie. Abby annoyed me from day 1, Quinn seems a little derpy and now ridiculous, Harrison doesn't have anything to do, and I can't stand the cadence of Huck's speech, especially when he gets all worked up about murderin'.
    I think I'm still watching because I like Kerry Washington, love her character's wardrobe, and enjoy Mellie's bitchiness.

  • Can't. Stand. Huck. His dramatic readings are so grating.

    I like Olivia and Mellie. Fitz is pretty hot but kind of a dope. But I just enjoy the love triangle.

  • Nicole_OCTV

    Yeah, I loved Guillermo Diaz on Weeds but I do not like the crazy acting choices he's making on this show. It's so over the top that it seems...laughably bad. His past work makes me think that he's being told to do this so I won't fault him for it, but I wish the powers that be would let him do it in a way that doesn't seem like he's auditioning for Passions.

  • jennp421

    I love Mellie.

  • Genevieve Burgess

    First the bad news: the last episode was not the fall finale. The fall finale is this coming Thursday.

    I would be more inclined to believe Huck went off the deep end with Quinn if he hadn't licked her face. The elements are there; he's tortured someone relatively recently in the show's timeline and gotten a thrill out of it. He confronted Rowan and found himself unable to focus on eliminating the man when there was a waiting victim. Quinn HAD been creeping around him trying to learn all his dirty secrets, which he knew and resented. Quinn was also already keeping things from him, like the gun purchase, because Huck was shutting her out. All the elements were fine, until he licked her face. That took it from "Huck strips people naked and binds them with duct tape before torturing them, because that's what Huck does" into some very creepy territory.

    As for the rest of the show, it is nuts. I'm also enjoy the very specific Shonda Rimes fantasy of a cheating man with great hair offering his mistress a big house in the woods to raise children in as a reason to stay with him. It worked so well on "Grey's" why not use it again!

  • e jerry powell

    At least in Grey's the house wasn't already built.

  • Belphebe

    Fair criticisms but I think that the torture scene was a misdirection. I believe that it was for B613's benefit and that it's part of a bigger plot to get Quinn out of the mess that she has gotten herself in.

    And I recognize that I might be working overtime to avoid accepting the direction that my once favorite show is going. It was going to hell at the end of last season but they mostly pulled it together by the last episode.

  • But he was still going to torture her at the beginning! Up until he went in with the pliers (EEK) and she convinced him, he was totally going to do it! Blergh.

  • Modernlove

    I'm with you on that. I think Huck and Quinn were in on it together and it's part of a much larger set-up to help bring down Papa Pope.

  • Todd Sikkema

    Just power-watched Scandal this weekend. It became unwatchable about three eps into the second season. It just became so ridiculous/unbelievable. i'm disappointed because I liked the original premise of the show.

  • AvaLehra

    I've never seen this show, but that header image is enough to make me say, "No thanks."

  • NateMan

    Hope they worked out a safe-word alternative!

  • emmalita

    They did not. And it was non-consensual. Two automatic fails.

  • e jerry powell

    And Guillermo Diaz is still gay, so it's only happening on a pro-dom basis.

  • essme

    It's not that she's Ryan Murphy'd it, it's that she's Shonda Rhimes'd it. This is exactly what happened to Grey's Anatomy -- they kept upping the stakes and lost track of the characters. It's only a matter of time until someone lies on a bathroom floor in a prom dress for a whole episode.

  • Jake

    Then are attacked by terrorist bears.

  • This is exactly what I thought when I read that line. There's a reason I stopped watching Grey's Anatomy, and gave up on Private Practice after two episodes: because Shonda Rimes thinks that what she's doing is good storytelling, and I do not.

  • dizzylucy

    Completely agree - I started off loving Grey's and by the end of Season 2 was saying WTF is this?

    When you Ryan Murphy something, it means you start off with an interesting premise and have a great episode or two, and then the whole thing immediately falls off the rails and there's no story, just some talented actors trying to hold the whole thing together.

  • Rebecca Hachmyer

    And then performs surgery on a deer and has sex with a ghost.

  • JJ

    Which sets the stage for the dramatic series finale: it was all a McDreamy.

  • Rebecca Hachmyer

    Haven't read the post yet, but my vote is for when Mr. Katimski puts a hit out on Paris Gellar.

  • Nicole_OCTV

    I love this comment, and everything that it represents. I can still hear Mr. Katimski calling Enrique over to the school play sign-up sheet.

  • Rebecca Hachmyer

    Oh gee whiz

  • JoannaRobinson

    I miss you, Becky.

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