'Scandal' flashback episode keeps us talking
Like many a woman in her mid-30s, I’ve had a difficult time forgiving Tony Goldwyn for what his character did to Patrick Swayze’s in Ghost. That worked for his role on ABC’s Scandal:a president we were led to believe got a White House aide (Gilmore Girls‘ Liza Weil) pregnant after his mistress (Kerry Washington’s Olivia Pope) ended their affair — and then possibly had the girl killed when she threatened to come forward — but who we wanted to like because Olivia had loved him. After last week’s episode, which flashed back to the start of their romance, Goldwyn is officially forgiven, and I’m firmly in Republican president Fitzgerald Grant’s camp even though I’m a Democrat. How sexy was Fitz in this hour? I was still direct messaging, IM’ing, emailing, and talking face-to-face with five friends about it today, all of us quoting different lines he said throughout the hour. Let’s recap below.
We’ll start with him repeating, “You’re right, I would be lucky to have you” after Olivia told him he’d be a fool to fire someone as brilliant as her because he hadn’t liked hearing her say the truth, that people wouldn’t vote for him because it looks like he doesn’t “screw” his wife and his marriage is cold, distant, and dead. A little too much too soon, perhaps, Mr. At That Time Governor, but we’ll pardon your instant desire because you were trying to do the right thing by removing the temptation.
Then, you have Fitz being questioned about his marriage at a debate. “The most honest thing that I can tell you about myself right now…. is that I’m a man in love, with an incredible woman,” he answered, and looked directly at Olivia. The elevator scene that followed was excruciating torture as he inched closer to her in silence until the door opened and they were interrupted. What Goldwyn and Washington (and the director and editor) do so well is let that silence breathe. They allow you to get lost in a moment, like when Fitz took Olivia into a hallway to beg her, just for a minute, to stand with him and not be the candidate and the campaign fixer. We got 30 seconds of them staring at each other in silence, him fighting the pull to lean in, and you felt like they could’ve easily gone on longer had his wife not come through the door. (But it’s good she did, because that hallway was not a discreet location.)
And finally, we get to the two best scenes. After Fitz’s wife invented a miscarriage to explain why she and Fitz had appeared distant and win him some of the female vote, Fitz talked about her with Olivia on the campaign bus (which must have sound-proof seats). He admitted using her as a shoulder to cry on was “sleazy, and low, and not fair to you, and the oldest trick in the book.” And yet, as my colleague Abby West said, he was sexy when he kept going: “How did I get here? Why didn’t I meet you sooner? What kind of a coward was I to marry her and not wait for you to show up?” “Governor Grant…,” Olivia started. And he stopped her. They were so far beyond that. “Just say my name,” he said. “That’s crossing a line, it would be inappropriate,” she said. “Well, let’s be inappropriate,” he responded, smiling. Then, he turned serious. “Say my name.” After 20 seconds of only hearing the sound of the road, she said, “Fitz.” He moved his hand closer to her, and she held it. Cut to the hallway of their floor at the hotel. Olivia paused. “Just go in your room and close the door, and we’ll pretend this never happened…. Go in your room,” he told her. Instead, she wheeled her suitcase to his room.
I talked with Washington today for a finale preview that will post on our Inside TV blog on Thursday, and I asked her about the sex scene, which from the music to the time-shifting editing had an Out of Sight vibe to me. She said in the script, the scene was written straight. “I had heard a rumor that in the first cut of the episode, the editor had done that. I thought it worked thematically with the episode because there was so much time jumping back and forth between two years ago and present day anyway,” she said. Inside the room, there was the broken lamp and that moment of pause when you thought Fitz was coming to his senses about what an affair with his campaign fixer could mean for a presidential candidate, but when he finally spoke, he said, “Take off your clothes.”
Then there was whatever he said to Olivia in bed, which I couldn’t make out. I asked Washington, and she couldn’t help me: “I have no idea. Honestly, doing those scenes is so uncomfortable for me, that I probably couldn’t tell you anything about that scene. It’s very blocked out,” she said, laughing. (A friend told me she tried closed captioning, which didn’t work. So I emailed ABC asking for an official transcript and was told it was supposed to be something the audience couldn’t decipher. So, we can all stop rewinding now.)
In the present, Fitz made her listen to the audio sex tape he’d been sent and she realized it was her on it with him. He was about to leave but asked for one minute. She agreed. They sat on her couch and just held each other in silence — for a minute. The look on their faces — particularly his — was heartbreaking. “When we were doing the scene, because of the embrace, I never got to see the work that Tony was doing. So I was really struck the first time I saw the episode by the level of intensity of what he was experiencing,” Washington told me. “It was an interesting, lovely artistic surprise to be able to go, Wow, wow, look what’s going on for him in that moment.” She helped him put his jacket on, American flag pin clearly visible. “Goodbye, Livvy,” he said. “Goodbye, Mr. President,” she answered. And up went the wall. But for good?
The promo for the finale…