In “Scandal's" third episode, a frantic, resigned Mellie whisked around her posh closet of the residence in search of a mason jar of moonshine. As she did so, she ranted about the spirit-crushing doldrums of being the first lady—it was all lunching and decorating and smiling and sacrificing. And she was glad to be rid of it. Bellamy Young absolutely nailed that complicated (and hopefully Emmy-worthy) scene in which a long-scorned wife passed the baton of her marital duties to the love-blinded mistress. It was foreshadowing of what was to come, two women on opposing trajectories eclipsing each other on newfound paths.
Just five episodes later, Olivia Pope, bereft but resolute, scrambles around the same closet seeking out the inherited moonshine to soften the pain of the decisions she just made, the delicate situation she just handled.
“Baby, It’s Cold Outside”—arguably the best episode of the season—catalogs the deaths of professional fixer Olivia Pope and the “Shut-Up-And-Smile” First Lady Mellie Grant. It ushers in the age of Senator Grant—a Republican woman who survives a 16-hour, Wendy Davis-inspired filibuster to protect the funding for Planned Parenthood. The brilliance of the moment is that it essentially makes use of her years as a governor's wife and a First Lady, entertaining the Washington elite in stilettos. She lists the insane federal commissions that have guaranteed funding, which Shonda Rhimes confirmed via Twitter are real. The most absurd: a study on gambling habits of monkeys and ‘hangry’ individuals.
Just as Mellie is about surrender, as “the elasticity of her urethra” is about to snap on the House floor, the Vice President arrives so Mellie can yield to her and take a long overdue bathroom break, thanks to Olivia. She offers encouragement to Mellie when she is wavering, “You’re the biggest bitch I know. Don’t tell me you can’t do this.” Senator Grant can and does complete the “longest filibuster in modern times” to protect the rights of American women. It's a bold statement, and it is more glorious than even I could imagine for one of my favorite characters.
While Senator Grant is soaring, Olivia Pope, who had become the President's interim First Lady, who had traded her OPA offices for the gilded cage of the White House, her white hat for brightly colored party dresses and days spent gladiating for tracking down cooking recipes for forgetful senators’ wives, is breaking down. In fact, the first thing she says to Fitz is to remind him that she has a brain. If watching Olivia Pope play a dopey, lovestruck woman in an interview was painful, First Lady Olivia in Stepford wife realness is humiliating. Of course it's worse than we can imagine.
Most television shows can’t help getting swept up in the sentimentality and goodwill of the holiday season (even "Scandal" had Charlie, the assassin, “shoplift Christmas" for Quinn), “Scandal” opts to juxtapose elegant Christmas trees and Aretha’s Franklin’s “Silent Night” with Olivia getting an abortion as Rowan Pope rhapsodizes about the pitfalls of family: “Family is a burden—a pressure point, soft tissue and illness, an antidote to greatness. You think you’re better off with people who rely on you, depend on you, but you’re wrong, because you will inevitably end up needing them which makes you weak, pliable. Family doesn’t complete you. It’s destroys you.” The imagery is pointedly shocking, and not something you'll soon forget. And that's the point.
Mellie Grant literally stood up to protect the sanctity of a woman's right to choose, including a rich, connected, educated woman in a relationship. Senator Grant endured so Olivia Pope could decide if she wanted to have a child that would forever tie her to the White House and Fitzgerald Grant and their love affair that's so sick with secrets and so volatile that it's toxic.
And we are back to the closet and the bottle of moonshine and the inevitable end of the most torrid love affair on television.
Liv and Fitz's break-up is so viscerally raw, it's simultaneously cringe-worthy to watch as a human being and revelatory as a consumer of entertainment. Kerry Washington and Tony Goldwyn turn their beguiling chemistry into something nefarious and violent as they deploy truth bomb after truth bomb like an emotional blitzkrieg, finally realizing that they "were already broken before they went in" and that they had tried. Their intimate war ends with the damning declaration that means more than Fitz will ever know: “There is no Vermont. There is no jam. There is no future. Not anymore.” And it seems as if there never will be, because Olivia Pope—gladiator, big dog, fixer—still has one more A-bomb to devastate Fitz if he tries to pull her back into that destructive orbit, and we know she’ll fire it.
The last season of “Scandal” was the television equivalent of The Fast and Furious franchise’s “Tokyo Drift”—an installment that was so horrendous everyone pretends it doesn't exist. This season of “Scandal” needed to redeem itself. "Baby, It’s Cold Outside” cements the fact that it has. Mellie has left the embarrassing versions of herself ("Drunk Mellie," "Smellie Mellie," "Scorned Mellie") and carved out a bit of history with her name on it. Liv has regained her power (even if it's in that same cursed apartment); and even Huck overcame his sadistic addiction and found out that words can cut deeper than power drills (I still haven’t recovered from the “Which white boy do you approve of being inside your daughter?”line).
"Scandal" returns in February 2016, and it just might be more powerful than ever.
Small Screen Girl
I am an unabashed pop culture and TV-aholic with no plans to ever seek treatment. Explore this blog and see just how deep my obsession goes.