Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Trail - Scandal, Episode 6

We open where we left off in episode five: Olivia, “Why are you here?”  Fitz, “I didn’t kill Amanda Tanner.”  Olivia, “I know.”  Fitz then says, as if it’s Olivia’s fault, “You left me.  She was there.  It was one time.  A mistake.”  Olivia, “You cheat on your mistress with your girlfriend?”  Fitz, “She’s not my girlfriend, and don’t ever call yourself a mistress.”  Fitz holds up the sex tape.  “You need to hear this.”  Olivia believes it’s a tape with Fitz and another woman; she refuses.

Superimpose titles: TWO YEARS AGO

The then Governor Grant is giving a speech about how Sally Langston is beating him. She won Iowa and they're in danger of losing New Hampshire. He asks his campaign team for ideas.  Olivia speaks up and tells him the problem is his marriage.  “It looks like you don’t screw your wife.”  People want to vote for people they can invite into their home, have a beer with, like George Bush ‘cos he looks like fun.

This is actually an interesting speech because the same holds true for television viewers; audiences watch shows that contain a ‘family’ with which they resonate.  Even if it's a family with extreme faults, it provides them with characters with whom they can sympathize, even empathize.  In some cases, it makes them feel better about their own lives, family, jobs.  It’s why people invite TV characters into their home week after week.  And in this episode, we will develop a kinship with Olivia and Fitzgerald Grant.  Instead of seeing them as the untouchable President of the United States and high-powered Washington DC fixer, we will relate to them as two people deeply in love who, because of circumstances and timing, can’t be together.   If you have a romantic bone in your body, this episode will break your heart, which is perhaps why the show scores high across all Key Women brackets (ages 18-34; 18-49; and 25-54) 

Continuing, the Governor asks, “And you are?”  And, there’s our sweet, diminutive protagonist standing proud, “Olivia Pope.”

In Cyrus’s office, Fitz tells Cyrus to fire her.  When he turns around Olivia is standing there.  She takes off.  Cyrus gives another of his sharp speeches in which he describes himself as a sausage-maker, a nitty-gritty, back-alley brawler for which politics is his hallelujah, heroin and reason to breathe.  But, Fitz, “You don’t have the stomach for it, so you go on and make nice with Olivia Pope.  Ger her back or you can go find another sausage maker.” 

Fitz chases after and catches up with Olivia.  They stand toe to toe, warriors facing off.  She explains that she gave up her job in order to volunteer for his campaign, she would eat, breathe, live Fitzgerald Grant every day and “You’d be lucky to have me.”  He agrees, “I would be lucky to have you.”  Now they’re eye to eye and it’s clear that he means something more; the attraction is mutual and it’s palpable.  “Is this the reason you fired me?”

They resolve to get back to work and we cut to: both campaigns working a Veteran Pancake breakfast in New Hampshire.  A happy, eager intern delivers a schedule of events to Olivia and Cyrus.  It’s Amanda Tanner.  Cyrus thanks her, “regardless of what party you’re voting for.”  This seems like a throw away comment, but every piece of dialogue in Scandal either advances the story or contains sub-text.  In direct contrast, we cut to a close-up of Amanda Tanner laid out on a slab in the morgue.  The DA calls Alissa, “We’re working late tonight.”  Oh! This is not going to be an ordinary night, which we already know it isn’t because across town the President of the United States of America is in his lover’s apartment without the benefit of the entire secret service to protect him.

Amanda and Gideon have fun in bed.  She’s about to leave when he tells her to stay to night; he’ll go into the living room to work.  At the DA’s office we finally get to see Alissa, an Asian Barbie doll with a penchant for eight-inch heels who is one bar-test away from becoming a lawyer.  The DA, David, tells her, “We have a murder to solve.”  He outlines the Amanda Tanner situation… “Don’t you at least find that interesting, incongruous, intriguing?  If so, what would be your first question?”  Alissa replies, “Who in the White House would want her dead?”

We’re back in the past and Mellie is aghast, “You cancelled all our events?”  Cyrus and Olivia leave Mellie and Fitz to discuss the situation.  A screaming argument ensues in which Mellie outlines everything she’s done for him including giving up her career and having kids.  Fitz retorts with, “If living on Pennsylvania is that important to you, suck it up and start acting like this isn’t a dead marriage.”  Cyrus and Olivia hear every word.

The Governor and Mellie are questioned by reporters, with James asking the leading question, “Five points down in the polls, isn’t it risky to be taking time off?”

Preparing for a morning talk show, Olivia and Fitz share an intimate moment when she replaces his tie because the one he was wearing was bad for the camera.  Cyrus and Olivia look on as the interview is underway and we learn that Mellie was first in her class at Harvard Law.  Mellie makes a joke.  Cyrus says, “Not bad.” Olivia says, “Yes, but they’re still not touching.”  At the next Grant campaign event, an ice-cream social, Mellie proffers an ice-cream cone to her husband.  He licks it and lands up with some on his chin.  On the sidelines, Olivia is silently urging her to wipe his chin, wipe it.  Seconds pass by and Mellie finally wipes his chin and then licks the cream off her hand.  He kisses her and it’s a great photo opp that makes TV headlines, causing Sally Langston to virtually have a fit because the tables are turning on her and it is not God’s intention that she should lose.  She wants to know who’s running the campaign.  Her wrath is aimed at Billy, who will do everything in his power to find out what’s going on in the Grant campaign.

The night before the New Hampshire vote and the Grant campaign is jubilant.  Cyrus breaks the news that they’re not going to win because a story is going to hit early in the morning announcing that Mellie is having an affair.  Little Uh Oh!  We certainly didn’t see that coming.  Olivia comments to Fitz that she thought he and Mellie were doing great.  He replies, “I think you underestimate how good a politician I am.”

Sally wins the New Hampshire primary and Billy tells Olivia, “You can’t spin a dead marriage.  Sally and Doug can’t keep their hands off each other; they’re like teenagers.”  We’ll eventually find out the truth of that, but not in this episode.  Billy offers the VP slot if they’ll concede before South Carolina.  Olivia declines and Billy comments how confident she is for someone with no cards left to play.  Olivia, “I always have cards left to play.”  

At Grant HQ, Huck, barely recognizable through wild dreads and an unkempt beard, chows down on pizza.  Fitz, “That’s the man who’s going to save my campaign?”  Earlier that day, Olivia brings coffee to a homeless man on the street.  He announces, “You’re late.”  Olivia asks if he’s ready to enter the real world today.  Back to Grant HQ and Huck is debriefing the team on the man who has been following Mellie for six months photographing all her meetings and late-night conferences with the man who heads up the Literacy Program.  What makes things worse is that he isn’t denying the affair, leaving the media to conclude that it's true.  Huck has hacked into his bank records and points out strange, incremental deposits that have been going on for thirty years. 

Olivia calls Abbey, still baking in Olivia’s kitchen, “Are you ready for something new?”  Abbey says, “I’m thinking of going savory.”  Cut to Abbey walking into offices bearing a tray of baked goods.  “What goes on here?”  It’s a ‘specialty’ film company.  Olivia tells Fitz and Fitz jokes about how they’re going to use the information, who are you going to surprise me with next?  Olivia, “I got a guy, another guy.  Technically, he’s on probation.”  Cut to Harrison watching porn in the Literacy man’s house; apparently the Lit guy has a fetish for sucking toes... that's the specialty film!  The Lit guy walks in and Harrison delivers his smooth, persuasive dialogue that leaves the opponent no options.  The Lit guy will make a statement denying any untoward relationship with Mellie.

It’s the night of the Republican Presidential Debate in South Carolina.  Sally gets in the first digs about immigration, wanting to protect the nation's borders, suggesting that perhaps, “Governor Grant open his Santa Barbara home for amnesty.”  The next question for the Governor addresses his marriage, even though infidelity has been dismissed.  Fitz gives a great political speech, because he manages to tell the truth a la Clinton that leads everyone to believe one thing when actually he means another and that is after 20 years of marriage, there’s only one thing he can say with absolutely certainty and that he is, “a man in love with an incredible woman.”  His eyes meet with Olivia’s across the room.

In an elevator, Olivia and Fitz stand alone, close, but not touching.  He slowly inches towards her and turns just as the elevator door opens and Cyrus, in a hallway packed with the campaign team, pops champagne.  Fitz exits, leaving Olivia alone, quietly devastated.

Meanwhile, back in real time, Gideon is burning the midnight oil on the phone tracking down Amanda’s Golden Retriever, the one that she claimed the president gave her.  He learns that her boyfriend has the dog.  “Her boyfriend.  Really?”  Alissa is analyzing the White House logs, determines that Amanda never goes home, concludes that whoever she’s doing it with, she’s doing it in the White House, leaving 56 possible male candidates.

Super Tuesday is around the corner and Olivia is busy at Grant HQ.  Fitz follows her into the hallway.  Theu face each other. “I’m married.”  The situation is impossible.  He asks, “Can we just stand here for one minute?”  They stand eye-to-eye, close, but not touching. “Just one minute.”  She says, “One minute.”  It’s testament to this show’s cast and crew that two people standing silently for the best part of a minute in screen time can be sexy, poignant and full of tension, which is broken by the ebullient Mellie bursting in, horrified at what Wardrobe wants her to wear that night.  She hustles Olivia away, but not before giving her husband an arched eye.

On the Grant Campaign Bus, Cyrus reads polls, announces they’re still down, not winning women votes.  Some dirty campaign tricks are proposed and Fitz says, “We’re playing this game above board, win or lose.”  The scene ends on Mellie. 

At a campaign stop before a crowd of Southern pie-baking women, Mellie can’t take it any more; she tearfully confesses that the stress of the campaign trail caused her to lose their baby.  "Though it was only 8 weeks, it was a party of our family…" Bring out the tissues.  Fitz had wanted to quit, but she wouldn’t let him because she knows he’s the best man for the job… The crowd eats it up.  Mellie turns to hug her husband, “I think that ought to take care of it, don’t you?”  End on Fitz’s astonished face.  Ouch!

In present time, Gidoen learns that Amanda was pregnant; while Alissa goes through all the pics of White House employees, discarding each one as fat, old, ugly.  She ends on Billy.  “He’s cute.” 

It’s night and it’s dark and quiet on the Grant Campaign Bus.  Olivia takes her coffee and retreats to the back of the bus to sit next to Fitz.  She offers her condolences, asks whether Mellie shouldn’t take a break.  Fitz replies, “Twelve campaign stops in two days, she’s thrilled.  Nothing keeps that woman down, not even a fake miscarriage.  She’s a real catch my wife.  I’m a lucky man.”  He continues, “I’m looking down at myself wondering how did I get here?  Why didn’t I meet you sooner?  What kind of coward was I to marry her and not wait for you to show up?”  Though I’m running this dialogue together, this is a long scene with a lot of quiet moments and extreme close-ups.  Fitz asks Olivia to say his name.  She says, “That would be inappropriate.”  He asks again, “Say my name.”  Olivia struggles; eventually she says, “Fitz,” and their hands inch towards each other.

At the hotel, Cyrus is leading the charge to his room, says good night.  Olivia’s room is next with Fitz’s at the end of the corridor.  He tells her to go into her room, pretend this never happened.  Her back is to him and we can’t see what she’s thinking, but eventually she turns and leads the way to his room.   We next have a series of intercuts mixing up and shortening the series of events.  Nonetheless, for broadcast TV, it’s hot and heavy.  The only words uttered are by Fitz, “Take off your clothes,” and as her panties fall to the floor the camera pans to a recording device beneath the bed.

The person listening on the other end picks up the phone, announces he has something and, soon thereafter, a package is delivered to Amanda Tanner with the message, “This goes to your boss.”  Amanda delivers the package to Billy, and we cut to a montage of Amanda being pulled from the water, photos of men at the White House, ending with Billy hitting on Amanda.  Amanda is a huge fan of Sally Langston.

Gideon, still burning the midnight oil, watches footage and ends on Billy.

We zip through an historial montage of Fitz and Olivia that brings us back to present time with the sex tape as V.O. culminating in Fitz, “Take off your clothes.”  Olivia is stunned into realization. “They’ve had this for two years.  Why now?”  Because all they had was a voice, they needed a girl.  “They needed Amanda Tanner.”  Oh No!  We’ve reached the point of what the whole Amanda Tanner story is about.

Meanwhile, Alissa proposes that they subpoena the men at the White House for blood samples.  The DA says, “We can’t subpoena.  We have a suicide and a hunch.”  Gideon, however, is forging ahead.  He’s on the phone asking to speak with Billy, when Quinn appears from the bedroom and announces she’s off to get bagels.

Back in the past and Billy presents Sally with a flash drive containing the sex tape.  Sally, however, has just accepted the position of Vice President.  Billy begs her to listen to the tape, but Sally is in full holy-roller stride telling a story about a farmer and his crop.  “One day God will burn the weeds and save the fruit, but for now, let them grow.”  Billy is sorely disappointed.

In Olivia’s apartment, dawn is breaking and Olivia tells Fitz that he needs to get back to the White House before the press corps comes in.  The President stallw, “I imagined your place a thousand times.  I like it.  It looks like you.”  They both agree that he should go, but, like other lovers, parting is such deep sorrow.  Fitz says, “One minute?”  She says, “one minute.”  They sit on the sofa, his arm around hers, and then she curls into him.  Time passes, eventually she stirs.  They stand and she helps him with his jacket.  They stand face to face.  He says, “Goodbye, Olivia.”  She says, “Goodbye, Mr. President.”  And the audience screams, at least this one does, “are they never going to see each other again?!”

At Gideon’s apartment, Gideon confronts Billy with the information he has that points to Billy being Amanda's boyfriend.  Billy rants about the morons that surround him, how he handed the story to Gideon on a plate, sent him photos, logs, did “everything but draw you a picture of their (president and Amanda) stick figures doing it.  “It was an easy script, big letters, small words, you could follow it in your sleep.”  It dawns on Gideon, “You sent her in to sleep with the president.”  Billy admits he may be a joke but a dead White House intern carrying the VPA’s love child is still a story.  Billy stops in his tracks, cold murder literally crosses his face.  When Gideon goes to fetch the coroner’s report, Billy stabs him in the throat with scissors. Twist-a-Roo!

Two years earlier:  the President and VP are on stage with Billy, Cyrus and Olivia applauding in the wings.


It’s fitting that as we draw to the close of the season we are given insight into our characters' backgrounds and how they came together, revealing what makes them tick and how this creates "characters who plot their own play." [Egri, 1946, p.100]  This is done so cleverly, intertwined with the love story of Olivia and the President and the murder mystery of ‘who killed Amanda Tanner?’

And, if we weren’t rooting for our lovers to be together, we are now as Mellie is revealed to be a cold-hearted, political animal, whose aim in life is to be First Lady.  Judging by the speech that she gave, i.e. I had children for you, we may ask, “Did she ever love Fitz or was the White House always her goal?”

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