Scandal, Season 4, Episode 2, “The State of the Union”
Written by Heather Mitchell
Directed by Allison Liddi-Brown
Airs Thursdays at 9pm EST on ABC
On this week’s Scandal, Olivia is blackmailed by Cyrus, Abby breaks through to Mellie, Huck and Quinn address their issues, Fitz seeks Olivia’s advice, and Rosen adopts Olivia’s methods for “winning.”
One of the best decisions Scandal is making this season is allowing the deaths of Harrison, Jerry, and James to hang heavy over the characters. Rather than quickly moving past everyone’s grief, as fast-paced shows have a tendency to do, season four is keeping the dead present in almost every scene. As a result, this season is much darker than past seasons, and Scandal is already better for it. This show has frequently crossed into melodramatic territory, but the healthy dose of realism is doing an excellent job keeping Scandal grounded.
“The State of the Union’s” melodrama, and weakest storyline, comes from Olivia’s case of the week. The b-story’s titular couple–an army vet and a paralyzed teacher–are so awful and one-dimensional that their story serves only as a distraction from the better stories of the week (like the tabloid exploitation of Mellie’s grief-striken condition). And the way their relationship so obviously echoes Huck and Quinn’s is groan-worthy–of all the storylines from season three that should’ve been dropped, Huck and Quinn’s “relationship” is at the top of the list. All of their interactions feel awkward and unnecessarily complicated, and not at all in an entertaining way. Honestly, the actors deserve better.
Luckily, Bellamy Young delivers the episode’s best performance and easily distracts from the hour’s weaker moments. By the end of the episode, it’s clear that Scandal has only brushed the surface of Mellie’s grief thus far. Everything Young is doing this season is devastating, even when she’s merely eating chips in a graveyard. Mellie has always been one of the most put-together characters on the show, making her mental–and physical–collapse so much harder to witness. As heartbreaking as she is to watch, Young is one of season four’s strongest highlights.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is David Rosen, whose character is a little bit of a joke right now. Rosen has always been a pawn of Olivia Pope and Co. and the White House, but he’s quickly heading down a questionable–and definitely hypocritical–path all on his own. He’d be so much easier to root for, especially when considering his noble quest to take down B613, if he weren’t complaining about Olivia’s methods one second and then using them the next. Rosen was the remaining white hat in a show full of morally-ambiguous characters, but Scandal seems determined to strip one of his most defining characteristics away from him. Unfortunately, instead of making Rosen or his storyline any more interesting, the show’s decision is having the opposite affect–Rosen’s screen presence feels as empty as the spiteful couple’s this week. It’s a shame, but it’s also only the season’s second episode, meaning there is plenty of time for improvement.
Despite a few weaknesses, “The State of the Union” is a very impressive follow-up to last week’s season premiere. Scandal clearly isn’t losing it’s touch for strong and emotional character drama; if anything, the show is only getting stronger and better as it ages. If the first two episodes are any indication, Scandal is headed in a very promising direction.