Olivia Pope saves lackluster second-half of ‘Scandal’ season 5

Kerry Washington arrives at the 88th Academy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 28. Jay L. Clendenin via Tribune News Service

The fifth season of ABC’s “Scandal” (2012 – present), one of the many brainchildren of creator and executive producer Shonda Rhimes, returned from its midseason hiatus on Feb. 11 with a less than stellar start. Following the promise of the season’s first nine episodes in which issues of abortion, divorce and race politics were tackled with such depth and insight, the midseason premiere and subsequent episodes have failed to excite in comparison.

More or less, this season of “Scandal” is all about the rediscovery of Olivia Pope. While the other seasons have also centered on the Washington, D.C.-based crisis manager with the most enviable of one-liners, the fifth season has shown more of Pope’s emotional and personal development than audiences have ever seen before.

Played by Kerry Washington, Olivia Pope begins season five cozied up in a king-sized bed with her on-and-off-again fling President Fitzgerald “Fitz” Grant (Tony Goldwyn), which, to longtime followers of the show, is no shocker. But with a new season comes a new twist: Olivia and Fitz are ready to share their not-so-secret romance with the rest of the world. This all occurs in the midst of a presidential election, a nasty divorce between Fitz and his powerhouse wife Senator Mellie Grant (Bellamy Young) and a seemingly unending hunt for Rowan Pope (Joe Morton), Olivia’s father and the head of B613, a confusing yet menacing division of the CIA.

However, if Scandal tells us one thing, it is that fairytales are fleeting; thus, while the inevitable demise of Olivia and Fitz’s relationship may have crushed the dreams of those on team “Olitz,” the storybook romance’s outcome was organic and stayed true to the characters involved.

Olivia was never fit to be First Lady, serving iced cookies to guests at holiday functions in the White House, while Fitz, no matter his love for her, was never able to give Olivia what she truly needed — space — as long as he remained president. In the episode preceding the three-month winter hiatus, the relationship officially came to a close, with both Olivia and Fitz realizing that in the end, their love looked better on paper than in reality.

Upon the series’ return, six months have passed since the events of the winter finale, yet somehow, most of the characters have reverted to their old ways. Olivia, though no longer with Fitz, has seemingly abandoned her “I-don’t-need-anybody-but-me-to-be-happy” phase and has run back into the arms of Jake (Scott Foley), the other end of the yo-yo that is her love life.

Even Huck (Guillermo Diaz), who ended the fourth season by murdering a bus load of jury members in a trial determined to shut down B613, is again working as an assassin, stalking and planning ways to kill innocent people.

Yet with all of these parallels with prior seasons, changes have indeed take place. The fifth season is set during an election year, one in which everyone appears to be running, a page Rhimes and the rest of the Scandal writing team seem to have taken directly from reality. Political veterans such as Mellie Grant, Vice President Susan Ross (Artemis Pebdani) and oil tycoon Hollis Doyle (Gregg Henry) throw themselves in the race for the presidency, while newcomer Governor Fransisco Vargas (Ricardo Chavira) hopes, with the help of Cyrus Beene (Jeff Perry), Fitz’s former White House Chief of Staff, to win the election.

With a plot line like this, the potential for deeper analyses into the intricacies of multiple characters seems unavoidable. Unfortunately, “Scandal,” at least thus far in the season, fails to do just that and instead devotes its energy and time to the endless trials and tribulations of Olivia.

What makes the show worth watching is, despite this inability to realize the full potential of most of its character’s storylines, “Scandal” lets Olivia Pope remain fascinating. Her growth as a character is always supplemented with a side of regress, as she slips in and out of love with the men in her life, struggles with the aftermath of her abduction, and attempts to develop a healthy relationship with her father.


Though it fails to realize the potential of its supporting cast, 'Scandal' is still worth watching thanks to its fascinating lead

3 stars