Shonda Rhimes Critique, Part 2


In earlier pieces, I’ve been ranting about the utter implausibility of what happens on the series, but this doesn’t seem to be a point that the fans of the series seem to object, too. Hell, EW all but considers it a plus for the series. So rather than waste space on that, I’ll settle for dealing with some of the far more troubling issues the series.

I have often questioned the morality of the characters on Shonda Rhimes series, but if this is only a minor obstacle to Grey’s Anatomy, it’s one of the biggest problems for a series set in D.C. I realize that we’ve passed the era of optimism that we got from The West Wing, but in that series, everybody was in Washington to try to do the right thing, even if they each had their own ideas. In Scandal, no one in D.C. is interested in government or leading or even pretending that the people who elected them matter. All they are interested in is power. Having it and holding on to it, no matter how many people have to suffer and die This can even apply to the people that they care about — — the White House Chief of Staff has had no problem letting people be murdered if it hurts him, and it just is expected of the elected officials.. Perhaps the most appalling moment in TV history came in last season’s Presidential election when Olivia Pope realized that all three candidates for President had committed murder — — and she began laughing insanely. What other reaction fit?

All of this public killing for power would be bad enough, but as Scandal has progressed, it’s become increasingly clear that the elected officials — — even the President — — seem to hold little power compared to the man behind the scenes. Never was this made more horrifyingly clear than in the character of Olivia’s father, Rowan (Joe Morton), arguably TV greatest monster. Commander of B613, an ultra-secret agency that was supposedly developed “to protect the Republic’, the only thing it seems to do is kill people who dare let some of the truth come to the life. Rowan seems to hold the entire world, especially the President in utter contempt, and his psyche is so twisted, one wonders how this man managed to play the game long enough to get into a position of power.

No one is held more captive then his own daughter, who he claims to love and to be doing this all for, when all evidence seems to depict that he has no compunction about using her the same way he uses everybody else. At one point, it appeared that he ordered a civilian jet shot down so that he could bring down a more dangerous woman — — Olivia’s mother. (I’ll get back to my problem with Olivia in a moment, but for now let me say that she doesn’t have the lineage of a Washington player, but a serial killer.) He’s lied to her over and over again just to have dinner with her, and he ordered the execution of one of her friends just to cover his tracks. The climax of the current season has ended with the possibility that he really was protecting her, which the viewer is supposed to take shock over the fact that there are even more monsters than we realized.

All of this is horrible enough to see in action. What makes it even more deadly than other series is that we watch all this for a season — — and nothing happens. Oh, we get all matter of revelations, a lot of which make no sense if we stop to think about it — — so Scandal makes sure we never get to do that. They just pile revelation after revelation, but all the revelation don’t seem to have any long term effect. In Season 2, we spent all year waiting for revelation that there had been a massive coverup to steal a Presidential election. The end result? The scandal remained covered up when David Rosen, the one person on the series who could be considered heroic, gave away the proof to get his old job back. Last season, we spent all year trying to bring down B613. Then, immediately after doing so, Rowan Pope double-crossed the President by having his child murdered, so he could get B613 back. In other ways, we go through an entire season for a zero sum game. I’m amazed no one’s called Shonda on these maneuvers.

Which brings me to the biggest and final problem. Scandal has been considered utterly implausible, but always is measured other equally rushed shows, mainly the work of Howard Gordon, producer of 24 and Homeland. There is a huge difference between these series. Jack Bauer and Carrie Matheson, may be deeply flawed, utterly broken human beings, but at least they have a moral center, no matter how small. They would move heaven and earth to bring the truth to light, no matter the cost to the country or themselves. Olivia’s sole job is the ultimate spin doctor — — to make all of the horrible situations go away, and to make sure Washington’s elite can carry on business as usual. One wonders why anyone would want to be like Olivia — — she doesn’t seem to have any friends to speak of, we all know how screwed up her family situation is, and her affair with the President — — oh, that’s right, I left that out — — can’t end in her favor. It would completely violate the code in DC that everybody is determined not to break. No one believes there’s going to be a happy ending. But then, this is Shonda Rhimes. Situation don’t get resolved. They get handled.

After years of laboring for love in my blog on TV, I have decided to expand my horizons by blogging about my great love to a new and hopefully wider field.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store