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Monday, May 20, 2013

SCANDAL Puts Its "White Hats Back On"

Article first published as SCANDAL Puts Its "White Hats Back On" on TheTVKing.

ABC's Scandal begins season two last fall with "White Hats Off" and ends it this week with "White Hats Back On." In between, we get a dark, twisted game of manipulation, struggles for power, torture, murder, and intrigue. The characters go to places lower than they consider possible before, and do things they will live to regret. It's a hell of a ride.

It's nice to see the "White Hats Back On" for Olivia (Kerry Washington) and crew. They've done enough, suffered more than their share. They need to refocus on a mission of helping people and making the world better, not participating in the kind of stuff they've been doing. Not if they want to hold their heads high and be proud of their work. Olivia's literal donning of a white hat late in the episode symbolizes this shift.

Olivia's turning point is motivated by selfish reasons. Going into the hour, she believes she can finally be with Fitz (Tony Goldwyn), coming up with a plan that will allow him to both stay in the White House and have her on his arm. It's smart, it's fairly simple, and it should be possible to enact it.

However, Cyrus (Jeff Perry) sabotages everything, not by ruining the plan directly but by poisoning the romance between Olivia and Fitz. Both have secrets to hide: Fitz murders Verna (Debra Mooney) and Olivia sleeps with Jake (Scott Foley). They, as a couple, could get past these latest setbacks when Cyrus tells each the hidden truth. But Olivia decides their relationship shouldn't be so hard, and calls it off.

Stepping back from the mess she's been embroiled in all season, stemming from the Defiance election rigging scandal, helps Olivia better live with herself. I do think she's sincere when she talks about how she's been bringing her team down, and wants to improve their situation. However, she wouldn't have the courage to do this just for their sake. It takes an epiphany, brought on by continued manipulation and rule-breaking, to change her mind.

The one person who may have a problem with Olivia's about-face is Harrison (Columbus Short). In her absence, he has often had to step up to fill the void. He isn't necessarily the de facto leader, and hasn't really served as replacement. But it's likely he thinks he has, based on the ego we've seen from him, and he may bristle against going back to being second banana.

Olivia's decision comes not a moment too soon for Quinn (Katie Lowes). The delight she takes in torturing Billy (Matt Letscher) is disturbing. Huck (Guillermo Diaz) is very worried about Quinn, but still dealing with his own failings and struggles, is not in a very good position to lend her a hand. Thus, Olivia coming back into the fold, concentrating on her own people, whom she has mostly stood apart from this season, could be just what Quinn needs. Maybe Olivia can salvage Quinn's soul, restore Huck, and do what she has done for her team before.

Which isn't to say that Scandal is now going to be "White Hate Backs On" all the time. That isn't the way this series works, and before this season finale comes to an end, a new problem rears its head: Olivia's affair with Fitz is outed. This takes her, and those connected with her, right back into the muck, and should provide an interesting conflict to begin season three on.

Who is responsible for outing Olivia? It's doubtful that Cyrus is behind it. He is so stressed with the White House politics that he has a heart attack, surprising only in that it doesn't happen before now. Cyrus fights to stop Olivia and Fitz's coupling, and telling the press about them will only drag the issue out, hurting Fitz's chances of  re-election. So he's likely innocent of this.

It could be James (Dan Bucatinsky), Cyrus's "better" half. The concern in James's eyes when he comes to Cyrus in the hospital bed is genuine, but he also still asks about Fitz's marriage, furthering his career as a reporter. James and Cyrus's marriage is rocky and fraught with complications, but there is love in there, which is why it's my favorite element of the series, tied with Cyrus and Olivia's friendship.

It would not be above James to hurt Cyrus's career for the sake of his own, as a journalist, but considering we don't see James finding out above Olivia yet, the exposure will probably come as a shock to him, too, throwing more flame to the fire fight in his union. Cyrus doesn't keep James in the loop, and James is just as likely to tell Cyrus before the rest of the press, to rub his snooping abilities in his husband's face, which is something that doesn't happen. It's probably not James.

Jake, who could be jealous of Olivia and Fitz, most likely isn't responsible, tossed in a pit and left to rot. I hope Olivia learns about Jake's fate, maybe through Huck, even though Huck wants to get away from that world, and saves him. With Fitz and Olivia on the outs, Olivia could use a new, steady love interested, and Jake has that potential.

It could be Mellie (Bellamy Young). Earlier in "White Hates Back On," Fitz makes it clear their marriage is over. This is before Olivia sends him right back to Mellie's arms. Mellie can be self-destructive, and thinking everything is ruined, she may have taken the nuclear option and leaked Olivia's name. Though that would work against her own professional goals, so while she is a serious possibility, I wouldn't rank her at the top of the list.

David Rosen (Joshua Malina) is also a suspect. He plays Olivia and the group to get back into his old position, with even more power. In doing so, it proves he is susceptible to the same game playing everyone else in the cast engages in, even though it's something he despises in them before. This could be a parting shot as David leaves the group, looking for some justice against Olivia. Though, David doesn't seem super vindictive, and may still harbor feelings for one of the gang, Abby (Darby Stanchfield), so like Mellie, while it could be him, he isn't my first choice.

No, the most likely culprit is Rowan (Joe Morton, Eureka). He is introduced recently, has tendrils in many places, is behind the locking up of Jake, and is shown to be plotting against Olivia. At first, it seems his scheme could be to kill her, as someone tries to shoot Olivia this week. However, now that we know, because of the shocking ending, that Rowan is Olivia's father, it is likely his techniques against her would be less lethal.

What is Rowan's goal? Why is he after Olivia? What does he want her to do? Would outing her help him accomplish this? There is still so much mystery surrounding who Rowan is and what his mission is that Scandal could go in any number of directions from here. This is a rich vein to tap.

Or it could be someone else, someone we may not even have met. Maybe it's a secret service agent with a beef against the president, or who considers themselves well versed in morality. Maybe it's a political rival. Maybe it's an old foe. Who knows?

This is a wonderful, exciting season finale, concluding some arcs, but also leaving the door wide open for any number of new stories. Scandal doesn't operate on a week-by-week basis, and in keeping with its serial nature, much is not wrapped up. Life goes on, and the past will continue to haunt the present.

Scandal, thankfully, has been renewed and will return to ABC next fall.

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