Its weakest episode since the middle of last season, last week’s “Scandal” prompted an exaggerated sense of alarm within the show’s base of “Gladiators.” Was ABC’s sudsy drama, which emerged as the hottest series on television last year, losing its touch?
The Shonda Rhimes series answered with a resounding “no” this week–“More Cattle, Less Bull,” its best episode in weeks, proved that the show has plenty more in its tank.
It was not a perfect episode. Nothing responsible for the line “We just got Poped,” one of the most cringeworthy lines ever uttered on the show, could ever be portrayed as flawless.
Audience groans were not simply reserved for the episode’s dialogue. Quinn’s ongoing flirtation with the darker elements of mentor Huck’s lifestyle, evidenced this week by her decision to buy a gun, is unlikely doing anything for even the most vehement “Scandal” supporter.
The episode also provided fodder for those annoyed by the tedious Olivia and Fitz flirtations. While their connection undoubtedly functions as the heart of the show and is always bolstered by game performances from Kerry Washington and Tony Goldwyn, the redundant manner in which “Scandal” explores their on-again, off-again flirtations is ultimately trivializing what should still feel like an important, unbreakable connection.
But when it comes to television, compelling is a word used not to describe a series absent flaws but one that directs its energy and focus to the most resonant notes. “More Cattle, Less Bull,” unlike the past few “Scandal” episodes, married itself to that notion.
Highlight storylines included:
— Discouraged by Fitz’s disinterest in the impending election, threatened by the widespread assertion that he is a lame duck candidate and heartbroken by the realization that her husband will simply not let the notion of Olivia Pope go, First Lady Mellie Grant extends an olive branch to the fixer. Hoping to recapture the energy and ambition the team possessed four years ago, she invites her romantic rival to manage Fitz’s re-election campaign.
Exhilarated by the offer, a nostalgic Pope changes out of her stunning Correspondents’ Dinner dress and into her old Grant for President campaign T-shirt as she reflects on their past and looks forward to another, this time legitimate, run for the highest office in the land.
— Happily ever after is not, however, in the cards. Just as she excitedly prepares for a return to the campaign trail, Huck and Jake arrive to share the results of their Operation Remington investigation. Based on evidence collected throughout the episode, the duo surmises that the cover-up exists to conceal the fact that Fitzgerald Grant might have deliberately shot down a commercial plane over Iceland.
And who happened to be on the manifest for the flight, which had no survivors? One Maya Lewis, who, had she taken her husband’s name, would have been Maya Pope. As in, Olivia’s deceased mother.
— Of course, the Grant campaign is not the only one vying for Ms. Pope’s services. Early in the episode, Josephine Marcus (Lisa Kudrow) relies on Pope’s advice to navigate her potential teen pregnancy scandal. Pope’s plan works, and Marcus overcomes an ambush from Governor Reston to leave the Democratic Primary debate more popular than when she entered.
Pope’s advice, which required Marcus to come clean enough that the woman raised as Josephine’s sister would realize she was actually her daughter, initially removed her from the potential presidential nominee’s good graces. Distraught over damaging the relationship with her sister, Marcus fired Pope from her campaign team.
But, like anyone who works with Olivia, Marcus realized she could not afford to lose access to Pope’s strategic genius. She offered Olivia her job back, but insofar as Pope was internally excited over potentially rejoining Team Grant, she could not initially accept.
Will Huck and Jake’s revelation about Operation Remington change Olivia’s mind? “Scandal” returns next week with “Icarus.”