Scandal, Season 4, Episode 3, “Inside the Bubble”
Written by Matt Byrne
Directed by Randy Zisk
Airs Thursdays at 9pm EST on ABC
On this week’s Scandal, Olivia helps an old college friend, Rowan invites Jake and Olivia to dinner, Mellie finds a new cause to fight for, Quinn spends a night with Charlie, and David learns the cost of blackmail.
Scandal‘s very much a show where you love and root for characters based on their charm rather than their morality. No one is wholly good or evil, but that doesn’t really matter at the end of each episode–what matters is how likable each member of the cast is, how intriguing their storyline currently is, and how well they interact with other cast members on screen. This isn’t an insult to the audience, but rather a compliment to Scandal and the show’s creators–it has to be hard to make such morally-reprehensible people so compulsively watchable week after week.
To be fair, no one did anything too unforgivable this week (in the world of Scandal, sleeping with a hooker and kidnapping a fellow criminal are pretty tame offenses). David Rosen is too dull a character for his descent into the world of blackmail to be very interesting. At this point, it feels like a long-time coming. But, what does David want? Does he want glory, or power? His motivations behind his blackmailing are unclear to the audience, and that ultimately translates into a disconnect with the character.
Cyrus, meanwhile, pays for sex, and the audience still finds his character fascinating to watch every week. Though his actions are disappointing because they’re so stupid (especially for a character as smart as Cyrus–does he really think he won’t be caught?), his motivations are clear–he’s lonely, he’s grieving. Quite frankly, Cyrus probably doesn’t care very much right now if he is caught, because he’s trying to find the only happiness he can get his hands on. Cyrus, despite being a horrible human being, still feels more human than David, a semi-decent person, because the audience knows him better.
The audience knows Mellie, too, and largely adores her. Her storyline is probably the best in “Inside the Bubble” simply because she’s been brought so low by external factors that even the smallest defeat is heartbreaking. The audience wants Mellie to succeed, not because she’s a good person, but because she’s such a strong one. Mellie deserves a win after so many years of abuse and neglect at the hands of her husband and the people around her.
Despite being a show with so many twists and turns and cliffhangers, Scandal is a show about characters. It’s the characters the audience really loves, and it’s why the forbidden moments between Liv and Fitz garner so much more attention than each case of the week; the characters are what really drive people to tune in to the show. It’s why, when Olivia runs to her father–who is without doubt a villain on this show, even though almost the entire cast has engaged in villainous behavior–and tells him her return to D.C. is cold and hard, the audience cares. When Scandal really fails, it’s because a character is given too much undeserved attention, or a character isn’t given the attention they deserve. Scandal fails when it neglects character for the sake of story.
“Inside the Bubble” isn’t a failure on Scandal‘s part, but it’s not quite a win, either. There’s still a David Rosen problem. There’s still a Quinn Perkins problem (though Scandal‘s on the path toward remedying this by making Charlie a little more interesting and by repairing the Quinn/Huck relationship). The case of the week is interesting, sure, but not because of the twists and turns–it’s interesting because it pinpoints the strain between Abby and Olivia. If the mood of this season feels a little colder than seasons past, it’s because there’s a disconnect between the characters, and therefore a disconnect with the audience. We care about these characters largely because they care about each other, and it’s about time the characters find their ways back to one another.
Last week’s review can be found here.