Scandal Season 4 Episode 14 Review: “The Lawn Chair”

Scandal

Gladiators don’t take time to recover from kidnappings. Instead, Olivia Pope’s task of the week was to diffuse a volatile situation, in an episode of Scandal that referenced the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO.

OPA is called into action by the DCPD, after a African-American teenager, Brandon Parker, is fatally shot by a police officer, who suspected he had been involved in a recent case of shoplifting and, while pursuing him, feared for his life. According to the cop, the victim had resisted authority and attempted to reach for a knife in his pocket, which resulted in the cop firing his gun in alleged self defense. As Olivia barely makes it to the crime scene, where she is told she needs to “manage the optics,” Brandon’s father, Clarence (guest star Courtney B. Vance), makes himself present, holding a shotgun, and, as he stands over his son’s lifeless corpse, demands to confront the police officer who shot the young boy.

Given that the anger in the man escalates as he speaks, Olivia tries to calm Clarence down and asks him to surrender his gun; in exchange she assures that his son will have justice and that she will have the Attorney General of the United States, aka, David Rosen, pay a visit to the scene to make sure the investigation is handled properly. The heartbroken man gives her the benefit of the doubt, and decides to wait, while he still refuses to put his gun down.

Meanwhile, at the White House, for reasons that make absolutely zero sense, the President doesn’t make a statement regarding Parker’s death; instead, he is working with Cyrus and David in order to figure out how they will replace the Veep, which I agree, is a sensitive situation, since so far three out of three second in command to the POTUS have been deranged. The problem is that it is hard to buy that the White House wouldn’t have Fitz, someone who lost his own son, saying a single word. That said, because David is busy, his three minute meeting at the Oval Office makes Liv unable to fulfill her promise to Clarence.

The plot thickens when an activist, who is deemed the community’s hero, shows up at the standoff, bringing a lawn chair for Clarence to sit in and all of his political views with him. From the get go, he does not appreciate Olivia being there and he questions her interests, since she has been summoned by the DCPD. He also disapproves her involvement with getting a Republican president elected twice and flat out criticizes Olivia for not being a living, breathing African-American stereotype. “Your black card’s not getting validated today,” he cleverly responds as the crisis manager fails to convince him to believe she is on his side. This was one of my favorite scenes of the episode, not only due to its polyphony, but also because it added depth. The stereotype being questioned was a smart call.

Not giving up, Olivia keeps trying to get Clarence to cooperate and listens to him depicting a portrait we are all too familiar with: the dedicated father who has gone above and beyond in order for his son not to be seen as a criminal. The man gives a tear-inducing narration that he closes with an end result that the viewership is also familiar with: regardless of good intentions and hard work, there is a life cut short, as Brandon’s body still lays on the concrete. Olivia, once again, promises she will see that justice is served; however, hopeless and realistic Mr. Parker claims that there are only two possible endings for him: death or prison. 

Liv talks to the OPA team and finds out that there is radio silence regarding the Parker case, while the the press is exclusively giving air time to the VP’s condition. She puts two and two together as she observes the police task getting ready to confront the riot at the crime scene, and subsequently confronts the DCPD chief, who confirms that he does not want any coverage of his team employing riot gear and tear gas against those protesting. Sickened, Olivia steps down as the crisis manager and joins those on the other side of the barricade. As much as I love the heroine not compromising her values and joining the fight, the fact that no one would cover the incident, and would focus on the non-changing condition of Andrew, seems believable only in a science-fiction show.

Since she has lost her privilege to access evidence, and the police department has possession of the security footage that can support or contradict the cop’s recount of the events, Olivia asks David to help her get her hands on the images, since it is very suspicious that the DCPD has not done a single thing with such evidence. David issues a subpoena after his friend, almost defeated, admits that she has no more resources. Liv also opens up about her abduction and tells David that she believed she was going to die. “I was living in complete and total fear. Imagine living every day of your life like that?” she emphasizes.

Clarence watches the video with Olivia. Since there is only one way to find out what his son was reaching for in his pocket, they look underneath Brandon’s body, only to discover that there is in fact a knife. However, the man does not give up and maintains that his boy did not carry a knife. Assertive as always, Liv knows that she is facing another standstill and walks off, visibly shaken.

While examining the footage further, Quinn notices that there was someone in the back of the patrol car, and looking into that night log, the Gladiators figure out that that someone was the man the police officer had previously arrested. He had a knife at the time he was taken into custody, so the knife becomes a smoking gun. 

David and the DCPD’s chief question the officer about what now looks like a cover-up. The shooter, who for some inexpiable reason does not have a lawyer in sight, instead tries to defend himself and goes out in flames by addressing Olivia. He excuses his actions by claiming that “you people,” meaning of African-American race, are authority-adverse and unable to comprehend that police officers, like himself, risk their lives. He continues on to show his true colors and reveals he is in fact a racist. He is, in turn, judged by anyone present, especially those of color.

Olivia provides Clarence with evidence of what his son was trying to do while reaching for the contents of his pockets. She shows the man the receipt for the phone Brandon had purchased moments before being shot dead. Subsequently, she facilitates a meeting between Fitz and Mr. Parker, who, contrary to his own prediction, logic, and the laws of this country, does not seem to be facing any charges. As a choice, it is understandable that the writers would try to keep a light at the end of the tunnel; hope is needed when addressing topics as complex as the one at hand. However, the simplification and lack of repercussions to the matter is tough to swallow. I feel for Clarence, yes, but I still do not believe that waving a shotgun is an action he could get away with.

While the heavy drama was taking place, the lighter, background arc  revolved the search for the next VP, which presented a series of complications. To begin with, Fitz needs someone he can control; also, because he pretends to honor his promise to Mellie, his plan is to get an incompetent person to fill the seat, which seems to only attract the crazy and blood-hungry.

Cyrus is not on board with Mellie being a world leader and instead focuses on finding a decent candidate. His favorite is the governor of New Mexico, who is a woman, a minority (Latino), and a Republican. Mellie is furious at this, since she considers the woman to look very presidential.  In a surprising turn of events, Fitz leaks the vetting to the press, causing the media to find dirt on the candidate. He confesses what he did to his wife, who, on her part, announces that she has the perfect VP candidate in mind: the goofy and inarticulate Susan Ross, the Virginia senator that Olivia got voted into office while simultaneously sinking Abby’s ex husband. Mrs. Ross meets the First Couple at the Oval Office and thinks she is being pranked. Even when it is clarified that the Grants are serious, she pulls a Shoshanna from Girls and completely tanks what would be one of the most important moves of her career. I am thrilled to see where this goes.

All in all, though Quinn, Huck, and Jake were buried by the plot, “The Lawn Chair” was an engaging episode of Scandal that managed to strike a few chords. I do have to point out that the writing was quite heavy-handed; however, there are matters where subtlety can be dangerous. Shondaland is not afraid to spell things out, and for that, they deserve all the credit they can get.

Highlights:

– Olivia and activists going at it was an outstanding element to have written into the episode.  On a personal note, as a Latino woman who has been told time and time again that she does not “look the part,” I took my virtual hat off at the end of the sequence.  Stereotypes must be confronted at this time and age, and since television plays a big part in building said preconceived notions about different races, I find it pivotal that the same machine is also attempting to demystify some theoretical facts that, in reality, are not always what people expect.

– Susan Ross was hilarious and could inject some pretty interesting layers into Scandal. I do like the prospect that she and Mellie could bond.

– Cyrus calling Mellie’s road to the Oval Office an uphill battle was smart because he is right and it is his duty, among other tasks, is to bring the President back down to earth. It was very necessary that someone pointed that out, especially a hound like Cyrus. However, while Cyrus’s statement that to go from First Lady to President is problematic is though partially true and has some precedent, there is a current president who used to be a First Lady leading a country right now. It might not be an American president, but it still counts.

[Photo via ABC]

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