Did Scandal heal the Ferguson wound?

Photo Credit: mygezza.com

So was last week’s episode of “Scandal” a one-time experiment/adventure into social relevance, or is this something the show plans on stirring into the mix a bit more in future episodes? I suspect only the ratings will tell.

I confess, I’ve been watching “Scandal” since the beginning. I also confess that a lot about the show makes me cringe, but when it hits the mark it hits the mark. There have been several times when I was pretty close to signing off (usually during one of the way too damned many hot and heavy breathing and panting scenes), but then Joe Morton would turn up in the role of Olivia’s pathologically complex and dangerous father and I couldn’t turn away. The man is that good, which explains why he walked away with a well-deserved Emmy last year.

Honestly speaking, Kerry Washington’s Olivia Pope doesn’t do that much for me overall. At least not anymore. She was interesting early on, but by now she’s just more of the same. Whenever Joe Morton entered the picture, the show kicked into high gear and would stay locked in that gear so long as he was in the picture. But once he stepped off screen you could feel the air whistling out of the balloon because no other cast member could ever follow the man’s scene-stealing performances – until Khandi Alexander stepped into the picture as Olivia’s equally pathological and dangerous mother, making this perhaps the most dysfunctional family on network TV, but also the most fun to watch. Seriously, an entire spin-off could be done focusing just on the dynamics of that family (kind of like the anti-Cosby Show), and it one hell of a wild ride. Even better on cable.

So yeah, I veered off a little bit from the focus on last week’s episode. But here’s where I’m going with this; Mommie Pope has been absent awhile now and Daddy Pope isn’t quite so prominent in the storyline – at least for now – as he was awhile ago. So for me there hasn’t been a lot drawing me ito the story recently (although the ridiculously outlandish abduction of Olivia was still kind of amusing). Then comes last week’s episode, which was obviously a nod to the headline suffocating tragedy that was Ferguson, Missouri (and Staten Island, New York, and Trayvon Martin, and all the others) for much of last year when all eyes were on the issue of police brutality in non-white neighborhoods.

Then the news got tired of the issue and moved on, as it always does, until just last week when the Justice Department released its damning conclusions in a lengthy report detailing the persistent and systemic racism that has existed not only Ferguson’s police department but pretty much the whole city government for quite some time.

The timing of this episode, coming as it did practically on the date of the Justice Department report, was almost eerie in how it fell. The episode was definitely one of the better ones, and absolutely the best episode without either Joe Morton or Khandi Alexander being involved. There is the enraged and grieving father who demands justice for his son who was killed by an angry white cop by holding a shotgun and sitting protectively over his son’s dead body in a lawn chair provided by a community activist. There is the heightened confrontation between the fiery community activist and Olivia Pope who feels compelled to defend herself against his accusations of insufficient loyalty to her race and the ‘hood by pointing out that he himself is nothing short of a grandstanding loudmouth more interested in promoting himself more than the cause. Who you believe depends on who you can relate to the most.

And then there is the scene, which I found bit of a stretch, when Olivia, who was hired by the police department to help diffuse the situation, turns her back on her clients and goes on the other side of the rope to join the protesters. Olivia as Black Panther for about a  minute or two before she returns to her uhh…other life. Strangely ( I say strangely because I wonder if the writers intended it this way) the most convincing acting and dialogue of the entire episode – aside that delivered by the dead boy’s father – was delivered by the enraged white cop when he blew up in a mouth frothing explanation for why he was justified after all he and other cops did for ‘those people’ who only hated him for trying to ‘save them from themselves’. It was repulsive in its content, but oh so real. Much more real than Black Power Olivia.

And then, at the end, because of Olivia’s ‘connection’ with the POTUS, the dead boy’s father is brought into the Oval Office for a hug from the POTUS himself. The end.

So next week I’m guessing we’ll be back to more groaning, sweating, and entwined limbs. In other words, what made this show popular to begin with. Was this episode a brave move by Shonda Rhimes who used her substantial Hollywood clout to speak out as a black woman on an important issue that she could feel directly? Did it help to heal the wound in our national psyche that is Ferguson? Or was this just another ratings grab because, as we should all know by now, Hollywood and bravery don’t coexist too well.

Only the ratings know the answer for sure.

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