[Editor’s note: This review contains spoilers for “Scandal” Season 7, Episode 18, “Over a Cliff”]
Pour out a bottle of Bordeaux for Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), her friends, and her enemies, as Thursday night brought their story to a close. “Over a Cliff” did its best to wrap up major emotional arcs, serve (at least one of) the bad guys official justice, and establish that in the most powerful town in America, Olivia had earned her place at the top.
What has always appealed to this non-“Grey’s Anatomy” fan about “Scandal” was that while both Shonda Rhimes-created series exist in their own heightened realities, the tone was more compatible with “Scandal’s” similarity to paperback thrillers than “Grey’s” similarity to a more soapy version of “E.R.”
The first season of “Scandal,” when you revisit it, remains a tight, compelling political drama that mixed cases-of-the-week with an ever-growing conspiracy; Season 2 cemented its status as unskippable TV. The show existed in its own alternate universe, one where eating nothing but hamburger, popcorn, and steak won’t kill you dead, but it was a universe that was fun to escape into, once a week.
Beyond its merits as pure entertainment, the legacy of Rhimes’ groundbreaking drama cannot be overlooked; as the first network drama starring a black woman in decades, there was a deep consciousness of the race issues at play, and the series engaged with them in both an unspoken manner (like the times when Olivia would not straighten her hair, always a deliberate choice that spoke to how much of an issue that can be for black women) as well as aptly direct fashion (Eli Pope’s repeated mantra: “You have to be twice as good to get half as much”).
That goes without mentioning “Scandal” was always a powerful show when it came to letting all of its women be more than just “strong female characters.” One of the best scenes of “Scandal” Season 7, if not the entire series, was Mellie (Bellamy Young) ranting to Olivia about how being a woman President does not help you get laid. “Olivia, there is a famine in my lady bits! My vagina is beautiful, she is welcoming, but she is getting treated like a murder house. I can’t get anything in there!”
It was hilarious and yet relatable, and only one of hundreds of standout moments for the character of Mellie — who, after going from being the clueless wife of the cheating President to a grieving and angry mother to the HBIC of the USA, became the stealth MVP of the series.
While the finale does give Mellie a happy ending, in which she holds onto her Presidency and renews her relationship with former confidante Marcus (Cornelius Smith Jr.), it’s a shame she wasn’t more present. Sure, that’s only because “Scandal” had a whole lot more to wrap up in this final hour, a problem entirely of its own making. The twists that kept us hooked during Season 2, the writers seemed to feel, demanded even bigger twists in future seasons, and things quickly escalated.
“Scandal” was always a show engaged with the morality of its characters, but specifically in terms of just how far they could push certain folks before they were completely irredeemable. Remembering how many times Quinn (Katie Lowes), Huck (Guillermo Díaz), and Charlie (George Newbern) tortured each other at some point makes the series finale scene where Huck finally officially officiated Quinn and Charlie’s wedding a bit odd to watch.
Over the course of the series, this push and pull at times led to true moments of triumph, and at other times pushed the narrative into newfound levels of absurdity. Everyone, save David Rosen (Joshua Malina) has some amount of blood on their hands after seven seasons of drama and betrayal, and some of the very worst offenses were committed by the show’s ostensible hero.
The fact that David Rosen was the series finale’s sacrificial lamb does not feel like a coincidence — instead, it’s a message that justice in this broken world of ours is often lacking, especially in heightened circumstances like these. It’s not just that once likable and sympathetic characters like Cyrus Bean (Jeff Perry) found themselves twisted into Machiavellian foes thanks to their ambition. Remember, Olivia didn’t just beat a man to death one time — she flat-out assassinated the country’s ostensible Vice-President, admittedly after finding out that Luna Vargas had plotted the assassination of her own husband, the newly elected President. (In fairness, Olivia never murdered anyone without a good reason.)
Given how much “Scandal” has gone off the rails over the years, there was something refreshing about how the show’s penultimate episode was all about the characters flat-out acknowledging just how much evil they’d committed since the beginning. This then set up “Over a Cliff” to focus on their reckoning… one which never really came to pass.
A series finale revolving around a court case (well, technically here it’s a Senate hearing) invokes obvious memories of one of TV’s most infamous series finales. Except while “Seinfeld” condemned its obnoxious quartet to jail, “Scandal” once again let many of its characters slip the noose.
It’s hardly a huge shock that a good chunk of the “Scandal” series finale revolves around every major character of the series giving testimony, with the climax of the trial devoted to Eli Pope/Rowan (Joe Morton) declaring that he’s been running B6-13 and then throwing Jake Ballard (Scott Foley) under the bus in exchange for everyone’s freedom, including his own. There’s Abby (Darby Stanchfield) mourning for David, but there’s also a happy reunion for Quinn and Charlie, and Mellie remaining President, and a chance that Olivia and Fitz (Tony Goldwyn) might end up together after all.
Most importantly, in the closing montage, Olivia Pope’s ultimate ending is never confirmed, but the final scene — two young black girls in the National Portrait Gallery (how many years in the future?), staring at a portrait of Olivia that could very well be a Presidential one — does drop some hints that no matter what path her life took down the line, her power never wavered.
While Olivia, and nearly everyone else she knew, did bad things over the course of the show, it’s rather fitting that very little punishment is dealt out in the end. A series finale with Olivia and pals in jail wouldn’t have been nearly as satisfying as what we did get: The final adventure of a woman who was a master of manipulating the system that might otherwise have sought to keep her down. She sinned, sure, but no one gets out clean. The best thing you can do is take the power you get and use it the best way you can. It’s hardly a Sorkin-esque speech about patriotism. But after seven seasons of rooting for Olivia Pope, even at her worst, it’s nice to see her get the win.