Whatever Scandal‘s problem is, from week to week and on the whole, as one of TV’s fastest-paced and most consistently bonkers dramas, it’s never that the show has gotten too silly. This is not to say that Scandal is not, very often, a remarkably silly show; the thing is, silliness is more often than not a good look for Scandal. Think about Mellie’s fire-and-brimstone monologues, which we haven’t heard nearly enough of this season. The show works as a high-stakes political thriller and a romance built around a love triangle and even, in the past two seasons, a family drama. Scandal sacrifices tonal consistency in these moments of Twitter-friendly, in-your-face wackiness — but if it didn’t have a screwy, campy, self-aware sense of humor, it would be a slog to watch.
Last night’s winter finale, “Where the Sun Don’t Shine,” was a messy, silly, thoroughly enjoyable case in point. Let us count the groaners: Photos of Cyrus and Michael leak, and — like a father whose teenage daughter tells him she’s pregnant by her boyfriend — Olivia concludes that the only way to save Cy’s reputation is for the two of them to get married. Michael, who remains too sweet for his own good (not to mention the RNC’s), is down. But Cy won’t marry “this person.” He’s still bitter about being taken in by Michael, and he gives a semi-crazy speech revealing that the prostitute and the late, lamented James are the only two men he’s ever slept with, after 40 years in the closet.
Later, Cy coaxes Fitz into accepting his teary resignation, in a scene that tested the limits of this viewer’s almost limitless Shonda Rhimes Repetition Tolerance. Of course, Cy doesn’t actually end up resigning. Liv gives him the tough-love pep talk of a lifetime, another repetition-packed monologue. (I mean, has a man ever been called a “bitch baby” so many times outside of a dominatrix’s dungeon?) And then Cy decides to be brave by going forth and marrying that rent boy, taking him on a whirlwind tour of TV talk shows. There’s no part of this storyline that isn’t ridiculous… but was it fun to watch? Oh, yes.
Meanwhile, we’ve got Charlie and Quinn playing spy vs. spy again. When Jake foils an attempt on his life and figures out that Rowan is dealing with B613’s crisis by “cleaning house” — killing off his agents, one by one, in what appears to be a real-life game of Mafia — Quinn is compelled to warn Charlie. But guess what? After they sleep together (yes, of course they sleep together), Quinn finds that Charlie’s got a playing-card-murder-assignment with her name on it. They tussle, she knocks him out cold, and in the aftermath, he insists that he was never really going to kill her. Sure, Charlie. And then he offers to help her out by handing over the B613 files that he’s been keeping as insurance since Rowan instructed him to replace them with blank paper before handing over the boxes to David Rosen. Now, the idea that Rowan would leave that kind of a loose end — that he wouldn’t be as fixated on the location of the B613 files as he is on, oh, every other detail of his life — is straight-up unthinkable. But was it fun to watch Quinn go HAM on Charlie, while still in her lingerie? Oh, yes.
The silliest and most sublime moment of “Where the Sun Don’t Shine” (an episode whose title, of course, both belabors Liv and Jake’s “standing in the sun” fantasy and makes a crude joke), though, belongs to Olivia Pope. It comes at the end of an episode in which she’s condemned her mother — who’s just been rescued from below Papa Pope’s floorboards — to prosecution as a killer and traitor. Then, when Rowan materializes in her apartment like the superhuman being that he is, in his friendliest purple sweater and a bottle of wine and Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life on vinyl, she finally counters his imperious rant with one of her own. “You can never leave me alone, because you have nowhere to go,” she says. “Dad, you are not normal. You are a sick, lonely man.” He tells her she’s deluding herself, about who’s responsible for her success and about the fact that the two of them are just the saw. “You are simply looking in the mirror,” says Rowan. And that’s when she tries to shoot him. She picks up the gun, hesitates, and then pulls the trigger… but, of course, it’s empty. This was a test. Rowan disappears in a poof of disappointment. But for how long?
Hey, let’s not ask questions like that for just a minute. Let’s give Olivia her epically silly moment in the devil-may-care spotlight. In the episode’s final minutes, Jake comes over. He wants to talk about Rowan, but Liv very understandably does not want to talk about Rowan. She has heard again, this time from her mom, that she and Papa Pope are two of a kind. She’s looked on wistfully as Fitz and Cy and Abby celebrated, in the Oval Office, a media victory that she engineered. Liberated from her dad, at least for now, Olivia Pope just wants to put on some music and dance. What she really wants, of course, is to be her own person — finally!
In a moment of utterly transcendent silliness, the kind that will make a Scandal fan — yes, even this one — scream “YAAAAASSSS” at the TV, Liv tells her “standing in the sun” boyfriend, “I’m not choosing Jake. I’m not choosing Fitz. I choose me. I’m choosing Olivia. And right now, Olivia is dancing.” Jake joins her, of course, but only after she makes it clear that she’s “fine dancing alone.” (At this point, I started wishing Shonda would make one tiny exception to her ’70s funk and soul soundtrack rule to play a few seconds of Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own.”)
Obviously, a scene like this can’t end well on a show like Scandal. But it did fool me: I thought Jake was the one who’d get taken out, as the camera snaked through Liv’s apartment behind him. I mean, wouldn’t it be the easiest thing in the world for Rowan to let himself in again, this time with a gun full of bullets, and just wait for Jake to stop by for a sleepover? In fact, it’s Olivia who’s missing — her fancy wine spilled all over the off-white couch! — by the time he returns to the living room.
We’ll undoubtedly have to get a bit more serious next week: We’ve found out that Kubiak and Winslow and Lizzie Bear and VP Andrew are all connected to “West Angola,” and I guess we’re going to have to pay enough attention to the foreign affairs mumbo-jumbo on this show to follow what this all has to do with Olivia Pope. As it all heats up, though, let’s remember that what we’re really here for is the dancing.