'Scandal' 's Season Finale: Why It Was So Satisfying

PEOPLE's TV critic breaks down why the season 3 finale was a great one


Scandal is a pleasure so guilty, at the end of any given season – and Thursday’s third season finale was fabulous – you expect to be handed some sort of subpoena, summons or writ.

WARNING: Major spoilers ahead!

There must be something morally wrong, or at least suspect, about enjoying a drama that so blithely sacrifices characters just to keep the crazy ride going.

For instance, President “Fitz” Grant’s son, Jerry, whom we knew primarily as a rather truculent young man and (for most of his brief life on the show) as the son possibly not of Fitz at all but of Fitz’s monstrous father, who raped Fitz’s wife, Mellie – well, poor Jerry up and died of bacterial meningitis.

The show briefly acknowledged this terrible death, then rushed on. I say “rushed on” as in “water rushed on over the lip of the cascade and fell roaring for hundreds of feet.” If you dared to leave the room for a glass of seltzer or to go to the bathroom, you might return and find yourself totally disoriented.

Jerry’s death tipped the presidential election back in favor of incumbent Fitz, who had been trailing former vice president Sally Langston – she appeared to be a shoe-in, amazingly enough, even though she had murdered her husband and then suffered a nervous breakdown, ranting madly about the devil and even saying the line: “Crispy piggy, yum yum!”

Sally briefly gained the upper hand after being nearly been blown up by a bomb planted at the funeral of a beloved senator. Her clever campaign director, rather than hustling Sally off to safety, smudged her with some dirt and ash and shoved her in the direction of the victims, allowing her to appear presidential.

The bomb, as we already knew, had been planted by Olivia Pope’s terrorist mother, Maya, played by the superb Khandi Alexander (Treme) with a wonderfully sexy, hissing anger. Maya also was initially considered the killer of that kid I mentioned a few paragraphs back – Jerry? The strain of meningitis that infected him was a rare one that had been stolen from government safe-keeping.

Given all her other marvelous misdeeds, this seemed right up Maya’s alley.

But no, no, no, no.

The real culprit was Olivia’s father, Rowan (Joe Morton), former head of the top-secret, all-powerful, government-in-a-government, whatsa-bagel agency B613. He killed Jerry or Bilbo or whomever in order to get himself back in the loop with the President. In exchange for capturing and killing Maya, the putative killer, Rowan was reinstated as head of B613.

Rather than kill Maya, by the way, he stuck her in a hole in the floor of his office. She looked up at him and, I believe, smirked.

So the season turned out to be a brilliant con game: The balance of evil shifted from Rowan to Maya and then suddenly flipped back to Rowan.

Now, as to Olivia, daughter of these two vipers:

Given all that had gone wrong for her in the course of the season, including:
1. The shenanigans of parents who, each in his or own way, would gladly capsize the country, or even the world.
2. The fact that Fitz’s election, which Olivia was managing, went so badly and would have tanked if not for the convenient death of that kid.
3. Several other plot strands I would mention if I had as much space as Bleak House

Olivia came to the conclusion: “I’m the scandal!”

That’s one of the finest epiphanies I’ve ever heard on network television. Do you suppose Kevin Spacey will ever smack his head and say, “I’m the house of cards”?

Olivia decided it was just too much to bear: She quit her company and panicked the Gladiators – or those who were left of them. (Harrison appeared to have been offed by Rowan’s associates – he was dispatched with even less ado than the president’s kid.) She boarded a plane out of town, taking with her her sorta-boyfriend Jake.

She let her large, sorrowful eyes – 60 percent of Kerry Washington‘s lovely performance is in those large, sorrowful eyes – momentarily grow even larger as she decided not to take a call from Fitz.

Fitz was stuck at the White House, victorious with the electorate but having a meltdown.

At this point I would introduce the theme of “family,” and how ingeniously the troubled relationships of the Popes and the Grants play off each other. But I’m exhausted.

Exhausted, but happy. You?

This review has been corrected on the point of poor Jerry’s paternity. There were multiple DNA tests run, and in the end Mellie said he was Fitz’s son. I apologize for the confusion, or rather my confusion. – T.G.

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