The fall of 2014 seems to be a TV season of women who are charismatic, independent and torn within who are trying to steer a clear course between conflicted loyalties. CBS just launched the sixth season of “The Good Wife” (from September 21 in the U.S., September 22 on Yes Stars Drama in Israel), and ABC is countering that move with season 4 of “Scandal” (from September 25 in the U.S., September 29 on HOT Zone in Israel).
In “The Good Wife,” the very WASPish Alicia Florrick is torn between the career of her errant husband, governer of Illinois, and her own life and legal career on the local Chicago scene. In “Scandal,” the African-American Olivia (Liv) Pope has to maneuver between her two love interests – U.S. President Fitzgerald (Fitz) Thomas Grant III, and Jake Ballard of the CIA (let’s not go into detail about what he does or did), and her own vocation cum career cum mission of leading her team of “gladiators” in a fight for the good of the (good?) cause – on the national arena of Washington, D.C.
We have no information on whether Pope is Catholic, but after three action- and surprise-packed seasons we do know that her methods tend to be unorthodox. She started as the campaign manager of Fitz’s run for the White House and embarked on an affair with him while on the pre-election trail. She was appointed his communications director, but after the First Lady learned of the affair she quit, and now is an independent fixer for all who need her. But she is always ready to rush to the aid of her erstwhile presidential beau, even when his not-always-best interests conflict with those of her present clients.
The first three seasons are being rerun in a continuous loop to warm up viewers for the new season, so avoiding spoilers is tricky. However, I think one can safely divulge – it’s pretty much known by now – the main “scandal” of the series and the trigger for all other scandals, big and small, that follow. Fitz, although he is deserving and means well, got into the White House via rigged voting results in an Ohio county. (It was done without his prior knowledge by a group loyal to him, Liv being one of them.)
The series until now was about him coming to terms with that damning fact and keeping it a secret from all and sundry. Season 3 was about him running for re-election, eager this time to win fair and square. But he had to cope with the jealous, vindictive First Lady, Mellie, who is no longer in love with him and has her own agenda; the openly gay, temperamental chief of staff, Cyrus Beene; the loyal, but fiercely independent, Olivia and her team of gladiators, female and male, each with their shady story; and the many ugly truths that jostle to get out. All of them, and I mean all, play extremely dirty, which means lot of violence and blood and other bodily fluids.
The series was created by Shonda Rhimes, the wonder woman producer of “Grey’s Anatomy” (and its spinoff, “Private Practice,” and the new ABC legal series “How to Get Away with Murder”). One of the coexecutive producers of the series is Judy Smith, who was a press aide in the George H.W. Bush administration. Her name on the credit list gives the series “plausible deniability.” In this context it means that all disclaimers notwithstanding, and with so many belief-defying events in the plot, someone in the know about how things are done in D.C. is associated with the series, lending it an aura of “faction,” that unique blend of fact and fiction. And incidentally, a lot of the action is propelled by the need to maintain, by Fitz and others, that very elusive plausible deniability.
The star of the series is Kerry Washington, with her expressive face, determined and vulnerable at the same time, and a body to marvel at. She is by now a fashion icon, and the series managed to film and broadcast smoothly for three seasons with her having a baby in the real world, while Olivia kept fixing scandals and vacillating between two lovers (with a third, a senator, willing to marry her). The last episode of season 3 had her leaving on a jet-plane with Jake to a destination unknown. The trailer for season 4 finds her on some beach, with curled hair and a glass of wine in her hand, answering a phone call, possibly from a forlorn Fitz in the Oval Office at the beginning of his second term.
The only thing known for sure for season 4 is that Portia De Rossi will join the series in a season-length guest role. Her wife, Ellen Degeneres, let the secret out of the bag on her show. We also know that one of the gladiators, Harrison Wright, will be killed off, as the actor Columbus Short is otherwise engaged.
But for me, the most intriguing fact about “Scandal” is not the shady politics and the very black op games involved, but that all the main characters have major “parent” issues.
Fitz’s father, a Vermont politician who died a few days before the first election, did not believe that his son “had it in him” to be president. Fitz, who became one, but unlawfully, has yet to prove him wrong, and there is a vague possibility that Mellie may have been too close for everyone’s comfort with Papa Grant.
Olivia’s father, Rowan, starts the series as a high-ranking official at the Smithsonian Institutution, but it turns out pretty soon that he is ... I’d better stop here. Anyway, Olivia has to cope with the sins and the genes of her father, who is very much behind the dirty scene, pulling too many tangled strings. Whereas her mother, initially presumed dead in a mysterious air crash (and if you suspect it was shot down, I can neither confirm nor deny) turns up running a terror cell that aims to assassinate Fitz, forcing Olivia to fear the pull of the maternal sins and genes as well.
Which just goes to show that underneath all the TV ratings, series conventions, machinations and manipulations, politics, terror, law and order, violence, love and sex between sometimes-consenting adults, what it’s really all about is parents and children. We were all children once, and you can’t deny that, however implausible it sounds in this context. Some of us are parents. Some of our children did or will become parents. And so it goes, on screen and in life. It’s a series of many episodes, renewed every season for another year, and we live it and watch it, till death do us part. It’s a scandal, really.