Like you, I watched the first two episodes of Season Two of ‘Scandal’. The production values are higher. The style of the show is handled much better. Olivia Pope, at least, in the first episode, felt stronger. She was making decisions and leading the charge.
Last night, however, the show started to lose me as a viewer. I am still rooting, 100%, for this show to succeed. However, in terms of Drama, it isn’t delivered in a way that keeps my interest. Serial dramas have to unfold in a way that keeps you asking-“what will happen, next week?” Mainly, “how will the central character wrestle with their moral dilemma, next week?” Olivia’s journey is already clear. But for interesting side storylines that may occur, I get it. And, that’s the problem.
Mind you, there are enough elements, in the show, to keep an audience. The structural elements are there. However (and this is what I note in much film and television, of late), the essential element is not a part of the storyline. But, there is just enough there to keep an audience. People will stay tuned. And, that is the goal with every show, right? So, one could argue, the mission is accomplished. However, it will fall short in being a great show.
‘Scandal’, I repeat, has the ability to be a great show. I’m not kidding. Here is an opportunity for a show, with a black female lead, to go toe-to-toe with the best of them. And, understand, I want it to be that. I want Ms. Shonda Rhimes to have that. Especially, with the news that she is working with Ms. Issa Rae. A television show for Ms. Rae was a no-brainer to most of us. Thank goodness there is Ms. Rhimes, a black woman, in television, who could embrace and want to showcase her talent. Actually, Oprah should have snapped Ms. Rae up for OWN. Maybe she will. But, Oprah will receive a loving critique on another day. Today, it’s about ‘Scandal’.
The best dramas (think ‘Sopranos’) bring you into the commission of an act that creates the moral dilemma. Fans of ‘The Sopranos’ can recall the show where Tony takes his daughter to college and commits a murder. Yes, we know Tony is in the mob. But, the arresting thing about the show was that we were actually going to get to see him be mob. The beauty of ‘The Sopranos’ was the set-up. We are brought into his family life. We go off with him to visit a college with his daughter and we see his demon take center stage. Pure genius. From that moment, we were hooked. What will this man do, week after week? Will he get caught? Will he stop? Will his family find out? Will his conscience win? Does he have a conscience? Great dramas raise questions and keep the ball in the air until they are ready to release you. If you are watching ‘Homeland’, currently, the same thing is at play. Right now, that and ‘Dexter’ are the shows to study. (However, I do need to catch up on ‘Boardwalk Empire’. And, I will give a nod to ‘Luther’, too. For network TV, ‘The Good Wife’ is strong.)
So, here it is. The main problem with ‘Scandal’ is that the commission of the act that creates the moral dilemma has already occurred outside of the show. Olivia Pope started the affair with the president before the show started. The viewers should have been allowed to experience that with her. The president, or the white house, could have been a client and we should have been drawn into the affair at the same time that Olivia was. The why’s, the how’s, her vulnerability, her weakness, the struggle. As an audience member, we needed that in order to be fully invested in her. One could argue that the “how’d we get here question “, is the show’s hook? And, it will be delivered to us, at some point. The problem is, that can only be sustained for so long before it becomes an annoyance. Or viewers, like myself, stop caring.
Right now, we are being shown their connection but, it isn’t attached to a history. As an audience, we need to be a part of the creation of her history. Otherwise, it becomes just short of a soap opera. High emotional moments without a strong connection to the decision that created the emotion. If you notice, as I stated as a need in my first critique, we are now being invited into Olivia’s private moments. And, the show slows down the style for them. It is very deliberate and it works. They were (kind of) there in season one but, now, we see Olivia in the process of making a decision/struggling. Her emotions are (almost) taking center stage.
Although, I still feel she should be leading the charge. A power dynamic is set up when you make her lover the president of the United States. It will keep her in a weak position because he’s running the world. Whatever she does, doesn’t compare to that. And, is always, in reaction to that. Her power rests in his storyline. He has to call, secure, via a “private line”. She has to wait and be on the receiving end of that. It is unfortunate that her private moments are with the president. If they were about her life, in another way, something that brings us into her life and provides a contrast, a butting up against her affair, the stakes would be more interesting. Right now, the stakes are minimal. Her job is not in jeopardy. The affair isn’t interfering with her ability to do her job (although that seems to be on the horizon). The stakes must be raised. Her dilemma has to crash into her professional life and start to tear down walls. Again, look to ‘The Sopranos’, look to ‘Homeland’, look to ‘Dexter’ for illustration of this point.
The only way to fix this is to give Olivia a ‘new’ dilemma. Allow the audience to see her pivot from the affair to something else. Her power lies in rejecting the most powerful man in the United States, not being weak to him. But, the problem is, the show is already set up and in motion. Doing this would be too difficult. They made the decision to go with this presidential storyline, again. Which, by the way, I don’t buy. I don’t believe that that is the office of the presidency. It’s just not convincing. The Sudan storyline was not believable. However, I appreciate the attempt. But, back to the issue at hand. Olivia has to have another issue that we, as an audience, can be invited into the initial experience of. Otherwise, they will have to go with flashbacks to the beginning of the affair.
The show will remain interesting and engaging. The color, the sound, the style. And, it floats around stakes, dilemmas and intrigue just enough for television. I am ecstatic that the show has a strong fan base. Ms. Rhimes is very good at keeping her fans happy. She has created a brand, in terms of, how she delivers the plot points of a show. And, I am anxious to see more from Ms. Rhimes as she marches on. ABC has given us our two black women entertainment powerhouses…something to think about. But, I want to see Ms. Rhimes bring her gifts to cable. Oh, yes, can’t you imagine how fierce that would be!
**And, for the record, the suggestion, in my first critique, to place Olivia Pope outside of the country was just for one or two episodes. Some thought I meant for the entire Season. A build up towards the season finale, perhaps. That’s all.**