Between Olivia Pope’s kidnapping and the Black Lives Matter-inspired episode that followed it, the second half of Scandal Season 4 has been awfully dark. Though certainly a slighter hour of TV than fans are used to, last night’s “It’s Good to Be Kink” lightened up the show’s mood with an irresistible pairing of guest star and premise: Lena Dunham (in a sort of ridiculous wig) appeared as Suzanne Thomas, a woman who’s had kinky, filthy sex with some of the most powerful men in DC — and lived to write a book about it.
The episode opens on Abby screaming at Leo; this, it seems, will always be the tone of their relationship. It turns out Leo is one of the 17 men who each get their own chapter in Sue’s book proposal for a tell-all memoir about the bedroom habits of Washington’s power players. She’s currently shopping it around to publishers, and though each character is only identified by a pseudonym, it’s easy enough for OPA to identify all of them based on her descriptions. (Leo is dubbed “The Dustbuster,” and we’re given to believe that his proclivities are among the dirtiest of all, though it’s up to us to imagine what the nickname actually means.)
As anyone who follows Dunham on Twitter knows, she’s a Scandal superfan, and the show’s writers clearly had fun riffing on both her love of the Shondaverse and the sexual fearlessness of her own work. First, we watch her geek out when Olivia arrives at her doorstep. When her idol asks if she’s the kind of woman “who destroys the lives of men you’ve had consensual sex with” and then threatens to destroy her if she doesn’t withdraw the proposal, Sue seems to acquiesce.
But then she shows up at the OPA offices, geeks out a bit more, and says she’s happy to forget the book — for $3 million. Oh, and she’s deeply disappointed in Liv for slut-shaming her. “You and Ruth Bader Ginsburg: that’s it. That’s all we’ve got.” says Dunham/Sue. In one of the few moments from “It’s Good to Be Kink” that seems connected to the show’s larger storylines, she asks, “When did you become so afraid of life?”
Now that it’s clear Sue isn’t the pushover she appeared to be, OPA goes to work. They find her (apparently quite popular) profile on a faux-FetLife hookup site and lure her out on a fake date with Charlie — who, in a perfect moment, manages to freak her out by lovingly discussing real, non-BDSM torture — so they can break into her apartment and steal the manuscript.
When they do, it becomes clear that Leo isn’t the only conquest Abby and Sue have in common. One David Rosen, known by the disappointingly bland pseudonym “The Doctor” on account of his initials, also merits his own chapter. This is entirely out of character for sweet, principled Rosen, but in such a bonkers episode, this only added to the fun. Besides, the story needed someone with enough backbone (not to mention legal knowledge) to put the kibosh on the $3 million bribe.
What this means for Abby is that, if the manuscript ever comes to light, her days at the White House are over. “What happens to you happens to me,” she explains to Leo, who doesn’t understand why she finds his and David’s chapters so threatening to her own career. With Papa Pope all but disappeared, Abby has become Season 4’s greatest ranter, and her tirade on sexism in the media should be an instant classic. She’s great at her job, she tells him. The press knows that, and they write about it. But they also write about her clothes and whether she’s too skinny. And they gossip about her relationship with Leo, because it’s somehow important to them that “there’s a man who wants me.” This is a finer point than it seems like: that the public can acknowledge a woman’s professional talent and still obsess over the unrelated details of her life.
Before things get too serious, though, we’re back to Lena! OPA figures out that Sue was fired from her job at the EPA (she’s smart, you guys! Promiscuous women aren’t always stupid!) by a boss who’d heard about her exploits and wanted “a piece,” which she denied him. Liv lectures her that she wants justice, not cheap revenge. And somehow, it works. She agrees not to publish the book, they file a police report, and Liv — who should maybe look into career counseling if she ever gets sick of this high-powered fixer schtick — sets up some job interviews. Including one at the Washington Post. Because, you know, that’s where you go if you’ve written exactly nothing besides a tell-all about kinky sex with politicians.
Sue’s story should have a happy ending, but when Quinn and Huck break into her home, they find an ex-lover nicknamed “Double Stuff” (yeah, who knows) threatening her with a knife. They shoo him away… and then, suddenly, Huck slits Sue’s throat. Ugh, this guy. He liked her, he says, but she would have talked. He’s sure of it. And he can’t afford to see David Rosen resign, because that will lose him his immunity in the B613 case. I’m sure someone out there in the Twitter-sphere read Sue’s death as an example of some kind of problematic trope. She’s a slut, so she has to pay. I’m willing to believe this scene was more about allowing Scandal groupie Lena Dunham the opportunity to die a gory death on a show known for its gory deaths, and leave it at that.
Besides, the episode’s attitude towards sex and kink is refreshingly accepting: We know Abby and Leo engage in their share of it (and that Abby and David did too). The moment towards the end of the episode where — in tribute to Kinky Sue, as well as probably to Last Tango in Paris — she tells him to “get the butter” is fantastic. Liv, meanwhile, after a false start involving a traumatic bathroom flashback to her days in captivity, brings home a rather attractive man named Russell. (He knows her as “Alex,” though a moment of hesitation after she introduces herself suggests to me that he knows more about Liv than he initially lets on.)
We learned a few things in between the Lena Dunham interludes: Mellie is running for Virginia senator, all Hillary Clinton-like, and manages to recruit Lizzie as her campaign manager. Cyrus’ willingness to pay $3 million to buy secrets, rather than save Abby’s job, depresses Liv even further about “this town.” And now that neither of them is sleeping with Liv, Jake is back to spying on her for Fitz, and talking about what he’s learned in the Oval. Real cool guys. Surely we’ll get back to the more serious, season-long storylines next week. But, say what you will about Dunham, I certainly enjoyed seeing her temporarily transform the show into Fifty Shades of Scandal.