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TV Review: ‘Scandal’ – ‘The Price of Free and Fair Elections’

ABC's Scandal is a fast-paced thrill ride in the political world, but even compared to itself, its recent season finale, "The Price of Free and Fair Elections," is bonkers. Perhaps the writers are rushed, ending the season earlier due to their leading lady's pregnancy, or maybe they are just obsessed with topping December's excellent mid-season ender. Whatever the reason, this hour is one to remember. The framework of the story is set around election week. There are only days to go before the public votes on whether to keep Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn) in the Oval Office. At the start…

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Summary : Scandal's third season finale is a heck of a wild ride, rocketing along at top speed. Somehow, it manages to keep story and characters balanced while doing so.

User Rating: 4.75 ( 1 votes)
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ABC’s Scandal is a fast-paced thrill ride in the political world, but even compared to itself, its recent season finale, “The Price of Free and Fair Elections,” is bonkers. Perhaps the writers are rushed, ending the season earlier due to their leading lady’s pregnancy, or maybe they are just obsessed with topping December’s excellent mid-season ender. Whatever the reason, this hour is one to remember.

The framework of the story is set around election week. There are only days to go before the public votes on whether to keep Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn) in the Oval Office. At the start of this episode, he’s ahead in the race. Then tragedy strikes and Vice President Sally Langston (Kate Burton) surges in the polls. Then another tragedy his and Grant wins. Viewers are left guessing right up until the end if there’s another twist around the corner. Scandal might have a tough time continuing as it is without a Grant presidency, but it seems like the type of series that might take that chance.

One wonders if Scandal is so cynical to believe that this is how politics work, or if it’s just trying to be the most soapy, angsty-filled drama on television. Surely creator Shonda Rhimes isn’t accusing our sitting leaders of election stealing and murder at their own hands. But there’s a point made here that this is how the system is set up. This is a dreary world, indeed, if what Scandal portrays is the only way national government can function.

S1Most shocking in this mess, is the action (or rather the inaction) of Cyrus Beene (Jeff Perry). He’s been through a lot, his husband having been recently murdered and all, but even so, it’s surprising to watch him willing to let innocents die. It’s one thing (albeit one terrible thing) to allow a political rival and betrayer like Sally stay in harm’s way to ensure Grant will win the election. It’s quite another when there are bystanders in the line of fire. Cyrus knows this, but he doesn’t warn anyone. This is a harder, colder Cyrus then we’ve seen before. Without his love for James, is there nothing likeable left in the man?

Grant, on the other hand, has never been more sympathetic. Learning about his wife, Mellie’s (Bellamy Young), rape at the hands of his father, Grant stands by Mellie instead of following his heart to Olivia (Kerry Washington). Then, we watch as Grant loses his son, Jerry (Dylan Minnette), to poison. Finally, at his lowest point, Grant reaches out to the woman he loves for comfort, and Olivia ignores his call. Grant may still be president, but he is broken, and through no fault of his own. Grant isn’t perfect, far from it, but especially in “The Price of Free and Fair Elections,” he is a victim of circumstance.

Olivia, for her part, is justified in leaving. Her life sucks, serving Grant professionally, but unable to be with him. She’s right that so many bad things have happened in the past few years, even if blaming herself as the common factor doesn’t quite hold up. Of course she wants to get away from it all. And when a handsome man whom she’s slept with, Jake (Scott Foley), who has also done bad things but wants to start fresh and doesn’t care about Olivia’s baggage, why not let him come along? The two fly off into what could be a happy ending.

It won’t last, because Olivia, despite her best intentions, will never be happy to sit idly by on a beach. Nor will Jake, I imagine, given his most recent position as the head of the secret government organization that Olivia’s father, Rowan (Joe Morton), has been reinstated to and will likely kill Jake should the man come back to town, daughter’s happiness at stake or not. Not only will the couple soon be zooming home, but it’s hard to imagine they’ll stay together, Olivia never being able to get over Grant.

Did anyone else not see the turn coming that Rowan is the one who murdered Jerry? We know Rowan is evil; it’s necessary to do his job, and he’s never really pretended otherwise, though he has motivations for certain actions. But to kill a child just to get what he wants? A child who has done nothing to him? Ruining a family forever? That’s a whole new low, and it definitely begs for a schism in the repaired relationship between Olivia and Rowan. Olivia has to come back and dismantle B-613 all over again because it cannot be allowed to stand, with Rowan at the head or otherwise, as leadership for this organization is corrupting, as seen in Jake this year.

I’m sure Olivia’s organization will be glad to have Olivia back. Abby (Darby Stanchfield) can’t run things herself, and that’s the position she’s in. Harrison (Columbus Short) may very well be dead, at worst, and in B-613’s clutches, at best. Quinn (Katie Lowes) and Huck (Guillermo Diaz) are in the middle of their kinky, sick romance, so they won’t be of much use. That just leaves the redhead to handle things on her own, and she doesn’t seem quite up to the task.

What could happen, is that Abby puts her resources in the hands of boyfriend David Rosen (Joshua Malina) to help take down B-613, as Jake leaves Rosen some tools with which to do so. Again, I don’t think the two of them could accomplish this without Olivia’s brain- and will-power, but at least they could start. This is a hero’s journey, the knights off to slay the dragon, so it will be something to root for them on.

S2Rowan didn’t kill the mother of his daughter, Maya (Khandi Alexander), though he says he does. This is a good thing because she’s a terrific character and door remains open for her to return. But why does Rowan choose to let her live? She’s a terrorist and a woman that broke his heart. There’s definitely no going back for the couple, and she isn’t of much value alive. She doesn’t have lots of useful information, being out of the game for so long. She has murdered many. Rowan’s reasons for keeping her are unclear and puzzling.

“The Price of Freedom and Fair Elections” is a heck of a wild ride and that’s a good thing. A lot happens in the installment, but that’s how Scandal works best, rocketing along at top speed. Somehow, it manages to keep story and characters balanced while doing so, rarely knocking off anything and leaving it behind, and always going just slow enough to avoid missing its stops. I greatly look forward to see what Rhimes and company cook up for season four.

Scandal will return next fall on ABC.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome writes TV reviews for BlogCritics.org and Seat42F.com, as well as fiction. He is a frequent guest on two podcasts, Let's Talk TV with Barbara Barnett and The Good, the Bad, & the Geeky. All of his work can be found on his website, jeromewetzel.com
  • http://sceneontv.tumblr.com Darci

    Way surprised they had the bomb go off so soon into the episode – I thought it was going to be dragged out until the end. I’m just catching up on this now because after a few episodes of this season, I thought it was kind of dragging on, and other than the premiere, I wasn’t feeling it (but kept recording anyway). Now that I’ve caught up, I’m glad I did because the finale packed a punch, especially with the frantic pacing that I need out of a show like this (maybe I’m getting spoiled by House of Cards?)

    Loved the cinematic/directorial choices they made right after Jerry’s death – it really made it all hit so much harder emotionally. Also I really liked the subtle acting during the scene where Oliva and Fitz talk on the phone before he takes the stage. She says that she understands that Vermont is not happening anymore – even just the vocal inflections were so great and realistic (plus I thought it was cool how they used “The Light” by The Album Leaf during this scene to add to the mood).

    Hopefully they pick up season 4 where they left off here and get back to the fast-paced twists that keep you on edge – Season 2 was great in this regard.