“Scandal” and the Perks of Guilty Pleasure TV

the cast os scandal

I have been absolutely bereft without Scandal. I have been so bereft that I have taken to drinking red wine on Thursdays in tribute to the one show I actually record on my DVR and make sure that I’m perched on the couch to watch live. Finally, tomorrow night, Scandal returns for the final half of its fourth season.

Now that this other popular thing called football and valuable family-sharing time have taken up my Thursday nights for a few months, it’s time for us to find out who snatched Olivia from Jake during a perfectly delightful dance scene.

Here’s a great recap here of season four so far, but of course, I have my own feelings. Spoilers ahead!

When last we left Gladiators and minions alike, problem-solving power broker Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) and Navy pilot/Olivia’s lover Jake (Scott Foley) had just left hiding on a secluded island where Ms. Pope made the mistake of indulging her taste for a rare red wine and tipping off her old gang and Papa Pope (the one, the only fabulous, shoulder-shaking, immaculate-monologue-delivering Bronx native Joe Morton) to the fact she was trying to be off the grid. Olivia’s mama—a really effective menace—was out of the picture and Olivia and President Fitz (Tony Goldwyn) were supposed to consider one another totally off-limits although we know it’s never going to really happen.

The mid-season finale ended with Olivia’s kidnapping, Cyrus Beene (bless his heart) finding a new, handsome boo with perfect teeth, and Portia Di Rossi flaunting a very lovely haircut as a bad girl Republican named Elizabeth, which was just amazing to watch.

olivia pope wearing a bikini on the beach

Olivia Pope: Her more relaxed lifestyle couldn’t last forever. 

There are so many questions and without answers, during this winter purgatory without Scandal, I have tried to fill the void with other shows. Last year it was Being Mary Jane, this year it’s Empire. If you haven’t heard of Empire, it is on FOX and the best thing about it is Taraji P. Henson, who plays a deliciously vindictive ex-convict named Cookie who also happens to have the kind of wardrobe that I want to cultivate for my cougar years—by which I mean that she matches leopard print with fur coats with aplomb and without shame.

Anyway, like many thousands of Black people with smartphones, I tweet (sometimes with thinly veiled shame) weekly about Empire. But while watching Empire, I am really thinking about Scandal. I have missed the perfect hair of Olivia Pope and her amazing wardrobe, but Cookie will do. Mostly, I spend time watching Empire for the same reason I watch Scandal: These shows traffic in the kind of saucy characters and tense #firstworldproblems that distract us from our lives with their sheer ridiculousness.

It feels good, for some reason, to divert my attention to inane questions like:Will the President ultimately be able to steal away with his powerful Black mistress in Vermont or will she discard him to go stand in the sun with the doe-eyed Jake? Is Mellie going to wear heather gray sweatpants or maybe yoga pants with her Uggs the next time we see her meltdown on top of a grave or on one of the White House outdoor lounging areas? Why is it that Abby and David Rosen just can’t get it together?

This is a good opportunity to say that I get criticisms of Scandal and I have a few of my own. It kind of jumped the shark before the death of Harrison in season three. People talk too fast. And I do not want the only empowered Black woman character who is universally loved for her awesomeness to remain emotionally unavailable and at the beck and call of a married dude.

olivia pope at a desk, looking nervous

I also dislike the notion, however, that the creative outputs of Black women have to be perfect or high-brow in order to earn our attention and loyalty. I want us all to be postracial enough to allow the same kind of creative license to Black women creators as we do to everyone else. I’m sensitive to this because of critiques of the treatment of President Lyndon B. Johnson in Ava DuVernay’s wonderful film Selma, but also as a Beyonce fan. Nothing grates the nerves like hearing critiques that both place creative Black women on a pedestal and confine them to a box: Entertain us, but please, be realistic. (And realistic usually means: Don’t go too far beyond representations of Black womanhood than we’re comfortable with.)

When Black women play to stereotypes, when they are muted, invisible or out of control, they are somehow more palatable in popular culture. But what I find addictive and irresistible about shows like Scandal and Empire is that they are guilty pleasures featuring a range of diverse characters. Black women on the shows are powerful and flawed and beautiful. Plus, they give all of us permission to indulge our fantasy lives, which is at the heart of what makes creativity so brilliant.

If I had to go with some predictions for what we’ll see in last half of season four, I would say there are more breathless, speedy monologues in store. I bet that Papa Pope is definitely behind Olivia’s disappearance, though I suppose it could be a conspiracy that involves both her parents. I don’t want Papa Pope to see his demise, but if the question is whether to go on seeing Jake and Olivia steam it up or hear more Papa Pope wisdom, I’m gonna go with Jake and Olivia. Unfortunately, I think Papa Pope is not going to go easily into that good night.

I would like to see Fitz and Jake have one final standoff over Olivia. I would prefer it if this did not happen on a basketball court or an underground prison cell. I think that Cyrus and his boo are likely to make it official after Cyrus has a little more time to heal. Quick question: Does anyone know what happened to the child Cyrus and his hubby adopted? It seems to have disappeared.

I would like for Mellie to get her final say on being the long-suffering matriarch before she abandons Fitz forever to go off with vice president dude, who I hope will actually be the new president. As gross as Quinn and Huck are when they fully use their entire mouths to commit an act of intimacy most of humanity knows as kissing, I like Huck so much better than that B-16 reject Charlie.

Most of all, I’m just looking forward to seeing the gang back in action. It certainly took everybody long enough. 

Related Reading: The Best Part of New Show Empire is Cookie. 

Joshunda Sanders is a writer based in Washington, D.C. She tweets @jvic.

Joshunda Sanders, a Black woman with short black hair, smiles brightly at the camera
by Joshunda Sanders
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Joshunda Sanders is the author of I Can Write the World, How Racism and Sexism Killed Traditional Media: Why the Future of Journalism Depends on Women and People of Color, and The Beautiful Darkness: A Handbook for Orphans. She lives in the Bronx, New York, and sometimes tweets @JoshundaSanders.

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