Judge Jim Thomas has dropped out of the 2016 presidential race.
That's…scandalous! (Say it with a Southern accent for full effect.)
Welcome to DC, baby.
One of my American lit professors offered a most marvelous summary of Charles Brockden Brown's 1798 novel Wieland: "In the first fifty pages, one of the major characters spontaneously combusts…and then things just get weird."
Dr. Beidler's précis came to mind while watching Scandal: Complete Second Season: A third of the way into the season, the president is shot. In the aftermath of the assassination attempt, things just get batshit crazy—and I mean that in the best way possible. While ABC Studios' Scandal may be pure, unadulterated, soapy trash, it is also incredibly entertaining unadulterated, soapy trash.
Scandal debuted as a midseason replacement in 2012, receiving decent ratings and reviews. Hopes were high for the sophomore season, but only in their most fevered pipe dreams could the network execs have imagined the firestorm that ensued—a season of such twisted intrigue that the assassination attempt on the president occurs early in the season.
Facts of the Case
Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington, Django Unchained) was once the White House press secretary, but these days she runs a high-end crisis management agency. If you are a public figure with a problem, she's who you call. Her team of gladiators (her term) will investigate, manage the PR, find (and if necessary, destroy) evidence, relocate witnesses. This is Washington, D.C., so she's never at a loss for work.
Of course, Olivia has a secret of her own: her torrid, blazing, sun-scorchingly hot affair with Fitz Grant (Tony Goldwyn, Ghost), a married man. Oh, yeah, he's also the President of the United States. These two crazy kids are just trying to find happiness, but first they have to contend with all manner of scandalous behavior—kidnappings, assassinations, affairs, murders, a traitor in the government—and the fact that Olivia helped rig the election that put Fitz in the White House.
Other key players:
• Harrison Wright (Columbus Short, Cadillac Records), a smooth talking attorney whom Olivia successfully defended on insider trading charges. His loyalty is unimpeachable.
• Abby Whelan (Darby Stanchfield, NCIS), the team investigator. Olivia saved her from an abusive marriage—to the son of a prominent governor.
• Huck (Guillermo Diaz, The Terminal), a tech expert, Huck has more than a few skeletons in his closet—skeletons that have given him more than just a few unpleasant skills.
• Quinn Perkins (Katie Lowes, Super 8), Quinn was the focus of the first season, when she was accused of murder. The resolution of those charges gets the season underway.
Also along for the ride:
• Cyrus Rutherford (Jeff Perry (Grey's Anatomy), Cyrus is Grant's Chief of Staff. Utterly devoted, utterly driven, Cyrus was Olivia's mentor when she was on Grant's campaign staff. A welcome surprise is the fact that Cy's marriage to a male D.C. reporter is not scandalous.
• David Rosen (Josh Malina, The West Wing), an assistant U.S. attorney, David's career is torpedoed as a result of Olivia's actions, and he spends the season trying to unravel the mystery of why his case and career fell apart.
• Melody "Mellie" Grant (Bellamy Young, Mission: Impossible III), a strong, politically savvy operator, the president's wife is all too aware of his husband's infidelity, but she has no intention of giving up the power that comes with her position.
You gotta hand it to Shondra Rhimes. If nothing else, she knows how to put a cast together. The Grey's Anatomy cast clicked from day one, and the Private Practice bunch had enough chemistry to overcome six seasons worth of stale plots. This show, though? Walter White would bow down in awe of the chemistry here. The centerpiece is, of course, the atomic meltdown that is the Olivia-Fitz relationship. We haven't seen sparks like this since Fred MacMurray laid eyes on Barbara Stanwyck. More importantly, the supporting characters are equally compelling. Ultimately, that's what allows the show to rise above the trashy storylines. We're not watching scandal after scandal play out—that would become numbing very quickly. We're not just watching paragons dealing with said scandals—that would become boring. What we get to see is real people who have chosen a position that brings them face to face with people at their worst—and we see the toll that profession takes on them. Real relationships develop between the supporting players. As a result, the show is just as much character-driven as it is plot driven. The actors play their parts honestly and ferociously, and that's a big reason the show is so affecting.
The other reason is the pacing, which is kind of like an episode of The West Wing on crystal meth. It's really the sort of show that would not be practical in an era without DVRs and digital downloads. The combination of intricate plotting and a blistering pace makes repeat viewing almost mandatory. Editing cranks things up another notch, with rapid smash cuts to other scenes so that we can see things happening simultaneously, or even rapid-fire cuts between past and present. It would be all too easy to lose the narrative flow in all these cuts, but somehow, they manage to instead enhance it.
Of course, there's the finale. I'll share no spoilers, save that it brilliantly manages to tie up a plethora of loose ends while simultaneously opening the doors for new developments big and small. Plus, the final scene is an instant classic, a WTF moment that just seems so right.
Technically, the disc is solid, particularly for standard DVD. There is a small set of extras: An extended version of the season finale, "The White Hat's Back On," which runs about 7 minutes longer than the aired version. There are a lot of subplots being juggled in the episode, so the additional time allows all of them to be developed properly. There are two behind-the-scenes featurettes, one on shooting the assassination of President Grant in Episode Eight, and "Being Huck," a quick look at episode "Seven Fifty Two," which provides critical backstory for Huck. There are a lot of deleted scenes, but as they are all devoid of context it's hard to appreciate them. There's also that rarity of rarities—a genuinely funny gag reel.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Check your credulity at the door. This is pure melodrama, the soapiest of soaps, in which someone can look someone in the eyes and honestly whisper "I love you," even as she betrays him. At times the plot developments make little or no sense, but the show's ADHD-on-Red Bull pacing generally keeps you from catching your breath long enough to formulate a complaint.
Hollis Doyle (Gregg Henry, Body Double) constantly teeters on the edge of caricature. It's the Texas accent.
One of the many amusing things about this show is that the scandal around which the show is built is easily the least scandalous thing going on. The schemers populating this show make JR Ewing look like Little Lord Fauntleroy. Scandal: The Complete Second Season is a hoot and a half, but the production team will have a difficult time maintaining that level of intrigue without devolving into self-parody.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: ABC Studios
• Extended Episode
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