Scandal: Season 4, Episode 14 – The Lawn Chair. It caught me by surprise. I had just come back from buying a baguette to accompany my lunch, it was that kind of day. The let’s-eat-baguette-while-watching-Scandal kind of day. Carefree. Scandal didn’t provide any warning. I don’t really know what they would have said. Warning: the following episode may hit a little too close to home, may remind you of the tragedy that is the world. Or maybe less dramatically: the following episode may make you cry pathetically into your pasta like a child. That’s the warning I wish I would have gotten. Pasta and tears generally don’t go together, and although I put aside ample time in my life for both I never really want them at the same time. Regardless this is what happened – a pasta and tears situation – and so there it is.
I won’t spend too much time summarizing the episode; this review won’t make sense to anyone who hasn’t watched it anyway. I really appreciate that Shonda Rhimes has been injecting the fourth season of Scandal full of lessons about sexism – it seems to be one of the ways which she is taking advantage of her platform to inform her viewers about the real ‘ish that happens in the world. Race has been less touched-upon in the show however, at least until this episode. The episode is a direct ode to the recent murders of young black boys that we have been hearing about in the media, most reminiscent of the murder of Michael Brown. To borrow from another review of the episode, the first 15 minutes or so give you as a viewer quite a bit of side-eye – Olivia seemingly is siding with the police force as she works on their “optics” after one of their own has killed a young black boy in the street. It leaves you wondering, is Olivia really about to help the police force get out of having killed a young black boy?
One of the best guest characters of the show appears in this episode, a young black activist named Marcus Walker. I thought his character was great because he was relate-able, at least to me that is, and my friends who would think many of the things he expressed during his role. This is refreshing considering that not many characters in this show are relate-able, but that is to be expected given the dramatic nature of it. Normally we as viewers are supposed to sympathize with the main character of a show, but Walker tells it straight, pointing out Olivia Pope’s immense amount of privilege as she strolls into the “hood” with her Prada bag, ready to fix the problems of a community she rarely ever interacts with. This is great because Shonda Rhimes is aware that Olivia’s race does not exempt her from being critiqued on other criteria as a character, including helping a white male character win a two-time Republican presidency. Although the show has not addressed race in terms of Olivia’s relationship with Fitz, Walker’s critique comes somewhat close to that. One of the most memorable lines from the activist is when he tells Olivia that her “black card will not be validated today.” It feels good to hear him say this, because this is what we were all thinking.
The performance given by Courtney B. Vance, the father of young Brandon Parker who was killed by the police, is powerful, but I felt as though they cut his potential short. Vance enters the episode armed with a shot gun, asking to see the “cop who shot my son.” I am not sure if there are any viewers who did not relate to his pain as he sat over his murdered son in a lawn chair, standing guard lest the nefarious “justice system” sink its claws into his son’s body, turning this into a story that we know all too well. His pain is visceral, and I was hoping for some sort of release at some point in the episode, but it does not come. My feelings as a viewer went unresolved as Vance, towards the end of the episode, puts down his gun and resigns himself to acceptance, touching his son one last time before he gets up and Olivia whisks him to the Oval Office (perhaps Olivia does not understand that Fitz does not put everyone into a trance as he does her). I wish that the show would have allowed his pain to come full circle in some way, but perhaps this is just my selfishness with desiring a different outcome for this episode.
The way this episode ends is supposed to be a happy ending, and perhaps it was for the characters in the show, but it certainly was not a happy ending for me as a viewer. With the powers of make-believe that constitutes television, “justice” is served for the grieving father of a murdered boy, as the police officer who shot his son is arrested for being found to have tampered with evidence to exonerate himself of his crime. But it doesn’t feel good enough for those of us who are watching, crying into our pasta. Finally I have an episode of a show I love in front of me addressing the things that I care deeply about, but it doesn’t bring me all the way around completely the way I wish it had. Scandal drew from me my feelings of grief and despair that the events depicted tend to draw, and then left me out in the cold to fend for myself. If Rhimes chose to use the power of make-believe to create an ending to this story that was not realistic, then why didn’t she give us what we really wanted?
Here is what would have been the ideal ending for me: all of the same things leading up to the ending happen – Vance becomes outraged at the discovery of a knife on his son’s body (“He doesn’t carry a knife!!), Olivia’s gladiators discover the planting of evidence by the police, Olivia stands on the correct side of the police tape. (One thing I could have done without actually is the monologue given by the police officer – perhaps it was almost verbatim of testimony given by Michael Brown’s murderer, but those who are not aware of that may actually sympathize with the very racist and very misled things he was saying). What happens after this, in my ideal ending of the episode, is that somehow this police officer is put in the vicinity of our grieving father, and then the father just goes ballistic and obliterates the motherfucker.. I mean, how many of us wanted to see some police officer blood on this episode? Just me? Nah….
We waited with baited breath for Olivia to slap the shit out of homie (Mr. Officer) while he was giving his racist monologue, which didn’t happen, and I would have been okay with that if the episode had given us something else, something better: violent retribution against the police. I was waiting, hoping, praying that we would be able to see this father get his vengeance and shoot the shit out of not only the cop that murdered his son, but the entire police force – I mean, fuck it, let’s just burn them all to the ground. If I had creative control over a make-believe world that is going to venture into the dark, dark spaces of society, then I would be sure to make the outcome satisfying to those whose pain is being exploited in the making of this world… I am not bloodthirsty or a fan of violence, but if we are going to be subject to it to the degree we are in television and film, then give us some gratification! How many times has the narrative of suffering black bodies been played in the media? Give me some suffering white bodies, give me some brutalized police officers, give me grieving father smashing the head of his son’s murderer into the curb. Fuck “your son’s murderer is behind bars.” Fuck “justice has been served.” Are we really supposed to be invested in an ending that upholds the very system that is fucking us over in reality? And am I supposed to be happy that one make-believe police officer is now behind bars beside the my very real brothers and sisters who have never been given the chance at any semblance of life, let alone a viewing of an episode of Scandal?
I guess that Shonda Rhimes is somewhat in a similar position as Obama; the more successful she is, the less room she has to do the things she may really want to do. South Park was able to get away with the execution of George Zimmerman, but maybe Scandal can’t get away with the execution of the police, especially given that this episode was so clearly political already. I’m still waiting to watch something that validates my feelings, that extends a hand and lets me know that I am not the only one who is NOT HAVING IT. I am done with narratives that only briefly flirt with white guilt only to appease it later (see: Selma). Give me vengeance, give me blood! It is nice that Scandal chose to deal with the very real issues that we face as a people, but I will still be waiting for that real revolutionary but gangsta shit to cross my television screen. Thanks anyway, Scandal. And R.I.P. to all of the black boys whose deaths this episode was inspired by. The reality is that for these boys, there is probably more peace in death for them than in life.
Endnote: I am including a link to my favorite review of the episode, not only because it is in-depth, but because it made me laugh.