THE SERIES “Scandal”
WHEN | WHERE Series finale Thursday at 10 p.m. on ABC/7
WHAT IT’S ABOUT In the spirit of the-truth-will-set-us-free, Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) told the special prosecutor going after President Mellie Grant (Bellamy Young) of the existence of super-top-secret B613 — the political black ops organization that controls the White House and the fate of the nation. She also spoke of her role there, and all the dirty deeds that entailed. Livy also figures this is the only way to stop Cyrus Beene (Jeff Perry) and his evil consigliere Jake Ballard (Scott Foley) from deposing Mellie.
This prime-time sensation wraps Thursday after seven seasons. (The finale was not available for review.)
MY SAY Any self-respecting “Scandal” appreciation needs an obligatory reference to Teresa Graves. This one will go the extra step: Whatever happened to Graves anyway? The first and only black female lead of a prime-time drama until Washington happened along, Graves starred in 1974’s short-lived “Get Christie Love!” and died in 2002 at the age of 54. A few brief obits at the time added that she abandoned her TV career in 1983.
If true, those must have been nine long years. Graves never got another TV acting role again after “Love!” — nor even a cameo, walk-on or voice-over. Except briefly for “Roots,” which arrived in 1977, they were lean years for most other black TV actors too, but Graves’ fate seems especially poignant because she was both pioneer and outlier, an especially lonely one.
“Scandal” and creator Shonda Rhimes redressed this sorrowful legacy, while it’s not too much of an overreach to draw a straight line between “Scandal” and “Black Panther.” Disney wanted evidence that a production with an African-American showrunner and lead could make money. “Scandal” and “Empire” emphatically proved that, so not much of an overreach at all.
“Scandal” redressed Graves’ legacy in other ways too. In those overheated — and fun — early seasons, “Scandal” almost made fans forget this series was really about black and female empowerment. It was a crazy ride through a post-racial world, where blackness seemed irrelevant or incidental. Oh, Livy and her malevolent overlord father, Rowan (Joe Morton) — puppeteers of U.S. presidents when not otherwise bedding them — are actually black? Funny, I didn’t even notice.
In fact, race was both subtext and pretext. Recall Rowan’s famous fatherly counsel to his daughter: “You have to be twice as good as them to get half of what they have.” He might have added — although by example inferred — that she also had to be twice as bad, as ruthless, as cunning and as evil. Livy was all that, too.
Livy’s dad and mom, Maya (Khandi Alexander), were gaslighters of the first order, but they wanted Livy to be better versions of themselves. They were old school, their skins toughened by racism. If Livy was to become the gladiator they taught her to be, she had to draw first blood (and did). She was on top and over-the-top.
“Scandal” was both soap and equalizer, where the hero could be just like any other outsized TV antihero. Livy was free to be smart and foolish and weepy and cynical and treacherous and kind, and also someone who claimed the seat of power and was free to abuse it or screw it up just like every other claimant has ever done.
Nevertheless, in the end — and almost certainly Thursday — both Livy and “Scandal” have an eye on their legacy. In one of several come-to-Jesus moments this season, Livy was stunned to learn about a young woman who came to Washington to be just like the famous Olivia Pope she had always seen on TV. But this young woman’s fate, suicide, horrified Livy and surely clarified her own self-image: Did she really want to be remembered as the ruthless “gladiator” who ran B613? Did TV’s first black female superhero in 40 years really want to end her run as a homicidal hollow-to-the-core Washington “fixer?”
You know Rhimes doesn’t want to end the ride that way. She owes that much to Graves too.
BOTTOM LINE Fun, silly addictive “Scandal” was also a serious and important part of TV history.