Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Dirty Little Secrets - Scandal, Episode 2

I had intended to post on a regular basis, but life has a way of intervening that actually allows for more reflection and aids in the learning process.  While my original intention was to come to grips with how a moral premise creates character and drives story, I have become much more fascinated with the structure of how characters and storylines are introduced, developed and interwoven within an episode, a season and over several seasons… all the while maintaining an eye on that elusive morale premise.  With its references to “gladiators in suits” and Olivia Pope being the ultimate gladiator who wears the “white hat,” we may be lead to believe that Scandal is a morality tale in which the good guys always win.  However, with such a complex television series as Scandal, I don’t believe this is the case… and since I have hindsight (having watched the entire four seasons, I know that the “good guys” have not always behaved in exemplary fashion).

Lajos Egri presents the morale premise as a somewhat simple proposition, e.g. “Intelligence conquers superstition.” [Egri, 1946, p.6]  A more contemporary proponent of the morale premise, Dr. Stanley Williams, presents the morale premise as a double-barreled equation:  [Vice] leads to [defeat], but [Virtue] leads to [success]. [Williams, 2006, p.61].  In my analysis of the season pilot, I hypothesized that the premise is “A person should be allowed to be themselves and love openly, because such secrets lead to scandals.”  Extrapolated into Dr. William’s format, it might read as, “Deceit leads to scandal, truth leads to respectability.”

Without further ado, let’s see how our characters are doing.  We last left Pope Associates with a new client, Amanda Tanner, the intern who claimed she had an affair with the president.  We open Episode 2, “Dirty Little Secrets” with a close-up on Olivia’s face.  Today the president will announce his Supreme Court nominee, the subtext of which is his work on the “Right to Privacy” statues.  A woman compliments Olivia, “You did a nice job getting him elected.”  While on the face of it, this is an innocent compliment, it contains subtext and hints of things to come.  The woman also asks Olivia why she left the White House.  “Nobody leaves the West Wing.”  The woman is the new client who is waiting with Olivia while Abbey, Harrison and Huck retrieve items from the woman’s house, with Stephen on watch outside.  When the DA drives by, Stephen announces, “You have ten minutes.”  Abbey and Harrison hustle to gather items as Huck wipes computer's hard drive clean.

Cut to Pope Associates’ office where the DA delivers a speech about how he’s the upholder of the law, he’s the good guy, ending with, “I wear the white hat.” Olivia responds, “My white hat is bigger than yours.”  Olivia outlines the consequences and, since he doesn’t have a warrant, the DA is obliged to leave, just as the team exits the other elevator carrying their box of illicit goodies.  Remember how Olivia delivered a box to save the day in episode one?  The ever-curious Quinn, still trying to learn the rules of the game, introduces herself and it’s revealed that the woman is “DC’s finest madam.”  So, like episode one, we open with a surprise.

Following the titles, Cyrus tells the President that Olivia is representing Amanda Tanner and we hear one of Cyrus’ catch phrases, “I’m on your side.”

A montage of the client’s case ensues and, as in episode one, the clue to solving the case is something the client says; in this instance, it’s “did you get the photo albums?”

At the White House, Olivia learns her clearance is revoked.  The VP’s chief of staff, Billy, comes to her rescue and she gains access.  Meanwhile, a new problem arises in the form of a reporter sniffing around Amanda at the hospital.  Olivia tells Quinn that under no circumstances is she to let Amanda out of her sight.  Inside the White House, Olivia advises Cyrus that the Supreme Court nominee is on the Madam’s list of clients.  Billy is keen to move forward (foreshadowing his subversive character) but Olivia points out, “dirty little secrets have a way of coming out, don’t they Cyrus?”  As Olivia leaves the White House, she passes a room in which the President is giving a press conference.  Their eyes meet.  Olivia keeps walking.

Back at the office, the DA arrives with a warrant, “Where’s my Madam?”  As cops handcuff the Madam, Olivia tells the DA that her client had better be provided suitable accommodations.  The DA is about to poke Olivia to make his point, when Huck steps in, “Do not touch her.”  This is the beginning of the extent to which we will see Huck go for Olivia.  Meanwhile, we have a new problem:  Amanda is gone from the hospital.  We are at the 17-minute mark.

The Supreme Court nominee shows up with Billy at Olivia’s office and gives a speech about his dedication to the law, reiterating the DA’s speech from earlier.  Billy begs Olivia to not ruin the man’s reputation.  Olivia asks the judge to withdraw, explains that his name is on the Madam’s list.

At the police station, Stephen tells the Madam that she has to give up the list if she doesn’t want to go to prison; goes on to outline living with choices, being able to spend time with her grandchildren.  The Madam tells about her life as a single mom, how her daughter hasn’t spoken to her since she found out what she did for a living, hasn’t seen her grandchildren; she knows about “living with choices.” The Madam concludes with “those men have grandchildren too.” This seems to sum up this episode’s moral dilemma - the choices and sacrifices one must make in life.  So, while this is not the moral premise of the show, it’s a moral dilemma akin to what we saw in episode one.

Back at the White House, the Amanda Taylor problem escalates in the form of two sentences in a blog post, which Cyrus reminds the President is how Watergate began.  Mellie enters on cue (half-way through the show) and asks how the nomination is progressing, indicating that Mellie has an active interest in politics and the presidency.

Quinn arrives at the office and announces that she screwed it up.  She needs Huck to help her trace Amanda. Huck asks if she did the obvious – “Did you try her home?” Olivia enters, the DA right behind her with a subpoena for the Madam’s list of clients.

Harrison and Abbey approach a former prostitute, now mother with her kid, in the park, to ask questions about the prostitute with whom the judge had relations.

At Amanda’s apartment, Olivia is forced to admit that Amanda told the truth about the president then lays out the consequences of what will happen to Amanda if she continues her course of action, i.e. scandal.  Amanda closes the door.  Olivia tells Quinn to write a note on her card and slip it under the door, “She’ll be calling you.”  “How do you know?”  “I’m good at my job.”

At the office, Abbey is casting aspersions on Stephen and asking why such a man would sleep with a prostitute.  Olivia states, “We don’t judge.”

At the entrance to the White House, Olivia is back on the approved list as requested by the President.  She delivers a dozen red devil muffins to the security guard, further evidence that Olivia cares for people; she’s a nice person.  Olivia confronts the judge’s wife, who is indeed a former prostitute who was on her first date when she was stood up and, instead, met the judge.  She maintained the lie of dating him to protect herself with the Madam, while the judge lived on in ignorance.  Across the room, the President and Olivia lock eyes.  A minute later she reminds him, “I don’t work for you.”  The President retorts, “Love is stronger than mistakes,” which is definitely a theme of the show as we shall see!  They touch hands.  Olivia leaves.

With seven minutes left in the show, we reach the screenwriter’s “All is Lost” moment. [Snyder, 2005, p.86]  At this point, our heroine, Olivia, gets an idea.  The ‘johns’ on the list are among DC’s most powerful men.  The team goes to work, resulting in all the ‘johns’ convening in Pope Associates’ conference room.  They will exert their influence to quash the story; case solved. 

At the White House, the President is pleasantly intoxicated discussing with Cyrus how Olivia saved the day.  He announces, “Liv is the love of my life.”  Cyrus, “I’m on your side.”

On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Quinn tells Amanda how Olivia saved her, "I was alone, I was in trouble. I would have given anything to have someone by my side and Olivia Pope... she wears the white hat."  Back at the office, we have a new problem when Gideon shows up and finds Quinn, Olivia and Amanda together.  Now he has a story.


While the problems and their escalation are not hitting the mark to the exact second (as compared show by show), they are following a pattern, which appears very much like that laid out by Ellen Sander in the TV Writer’s Workbook, elegantly described as:
Little Uh Oh!
The Big Uh Ohhh!
Oh No!
The Twist-a-Roo

This is the second show in which Olivia’s client’s problem mirrors her own as it relates to her relationship with the President.  Furthermore, there isn’t any dialogue that doesn’t contain subtext, reveal character, or advance the story and I can see that I will have to look beyond a moral premise to identify story lines, A, B, C and more, as well as look at how the interaction between characters affect and influence the story.  The best is yet to come!