Unless you’ve been somehow removed from all media, social and otherwise, for the past few days, you’ve no doubt heard about this week’s Scandal. It concerns a black kid being shot by a white cop, and given recent events in Ferguson and elsewhere, is truly a ripped-from-the-headlines episode.
The reaction to the show has been mixed but mostly positive. I think Shonda Rhimes, who has a tendency toward over dramatization and hyperbole, did a good job of handling such an incendiary subject. It also makes recapping a bit different; Scandal has been so ridiculous of late, it’s been mighty easy to snark on. I’ll take a break from that this week.
We’re still not back to the traditional format with subplots, as once again the focus of the show is the case of the week. But unlike the Liv-kidnapped-for-auction case, this one is both very much based in reality and well-executed.
Case of the week. Olivia is barely back home after being kidnapped, but she wastes no time getting back to her old life. She’s in a car on the phone with Jake. He’s concerned she might have trouble readjusting and suggests she talk to someone about her ordeal, but she insists she’s fine. He won’t let up, so to get rid of him, she lies and says she’s home in bed and wants to get some sleep.
In actuality, she’s dropped off at a crime scene. Police Chief Connors called her and is there waiting. He tells her there’s been a shooting of seventeen-year-old Brandon Parker. He matched the description of a shoplifter and was stopped by a cop. While being questioned, the cop says Brandon made a threatening move, pulled a knife, and the cop shot him point-blank. Brandon is black and the cop is white, so Connors is trying to avoid the situation getting out of hand.
It’s already too late for that. When informed that Brandon has been lying on the street for a half-hour, Liv says to move the body quickly. They’re only four blocks from the Capitol, and a crowd is starting to gather. At that point, a gun blast rings out. A man is standing by Brandon with a rifle at the ready and says, “Bring me the cop who shot my son.”
As the police on the scene point their guns at the man, Liv tells Connors to have them stand down. He says he can’t, so Liv calls to the man and asks who he is. He’s the kid’s father, Clarence Parker. She says the police need access to the crime scene, but he says he doesn’t trust them. She says she’s friends with the US Attorney General and can get him to the location, but he has to put down the gun. He won’t and clearly doubts she can produce the AG.
Liv calls AG David Rosen and tells him to get down there. David doesn’t seem to take the whole thing seriously and says he’ll send someone from his office. The AG doesn’t just go running to crime scenes, and he has an important meeting, so he hangs up.
The Andrew problem. That meeting concerns Vice President Andrew, who is lying in a hospital bed in a coma-like state. David meets with Fitz and Cyrus and tells them they have two options for replacing him. The Constitution doesn’t cover the incapacity of the VP, so they can impeach him for high crimes and misdemeanors. There are certainly grounds to do so, since Andrew attempted an overthrow of the government. Cy says no one will believe that, since the Veep is essentially now “a pumpkin,” The other option is for the president to name a replacement. Fitz says they’ll go that route, and David leaves.
Cy wants to go with a bold choice for VP and make a statement, but Fitz wants someone harmless and boring. He made the promise to Mellie that he’d help pave the way for her to be the next occupant of the Oval Office, and that means installing a Veep who will be no threat to her chances. Cy reminds him what an uphill battle Mellie faces in winning an election, but Fitz doesn’t care. He has two totally dull, unelectable people in mind for VP and tells Cy to start vetting them.
On the street. Back at the crime scene, Marcus Walker has shown up, much to Chief Connors’ chagrin. Walker is a neighborhood activist, and Connors is afraid of him inciting a riot. When Clarence sees Walker, he calls him over to where he’s standing in the street with his son’s body. Walker goes and films with his cell phone the whole way. He tells the cops if they shoot, the whole thing will be on the record. Liv says she needs to go in, and Connors gives the stand-down order.
Liv tells Walker he needs to get behind the police tape with the rest of the crowd, but Clarence wants him to stay. Liv points out Assistant US AG Ellison, who has arrived in David’s place, and says she has the oversight and support of the federal government. But Clarence won’t put down the gun.
Walker thinks Liv is working with the police, but she says she wants to get to the truth. They each argue their case to try to get Clarence on their side. Walker has brought a lawn chair and unfolds it. He wants Clarence to settle in for a confrontation, while Liv says she’s not the enemy and tries to persuade him to put the gun down. Walker says if he does, he’s giving up the only power he has over the situation. Clarence thinks about it then moves the chair over Brandon’s body, the last act of protection he can offer his son. As he sits, the crowd cheers.
Meanwhile, TV cameras have arrived. Walker gets a bullhorn and starts some chants to encourage the crowd.
OPA gets involved. Huck and Quinn have profiled the principle players and tell Liv what they’ve found. Walker is a formidable presence in the neighborhood. He runs a program for at-risk DC kids, and is an intelligent man, having been a Georgetown honors student. Clarence has been a bank clerk for twenty-two years and has a clean record. He’s also a single dad, after his wife died of cancer twelve years ago. Brandon was a senior in high school. It looks like he’s kept out of trouble. He’s on the football team and has a part-time job after school.
The White House reacts. Abby is fielding questions in the press briefing room. She dismisses the standoff as a local matter but in the Oval Office tells Fitz she’s getting pummeled. Fitz says he needs to make some kind of statement, but Cy says if he does, it will look like he’s attacking the police.
At the police station, Connors has brought in the officers involved in the shooting to be questioned by Liv. Jeff Newton is the shooter and appears totally shaken by the whole thing. He said Brandon matched the description of a shoplifter, but when Newton stopped him and asked about his cell phone, the kid was uncooperative. He told Jeff to mind his own business then pulled a knife and made a move toward him, at which point Jeff fired. The officer who responded to Jeff’s call says he found Jeff in his patrol car, devastated. Liv asks where the knife is, and Jeff says it was never recovered. It must still be on Brandon.
Back at the crime scene, Liv calls Quinn and tells her they need to find some security video from one of the local businesses that will corroborate Jeff’s story. When she gets off the phone, Walker asks her for the cop’s name, but she says she won’t tell him, as all he wants is retribution. That makes him basically call her a fancy black mouthpiece for the police department. Shortly after, Liv and Connors are watching a TV report that broadcasts Jeff’s name. In response, Connors wants to clear the crowd, but Liv says it would be a mistake to use any kind of force.
The return of Susan. Back at the White House, Mellie is hosting a gathering, with Senator Susan Ross of Virginia in attendance. We saw Ross a few episodes ago, when Liv ran her campaign to replace the scandal-ridden Sen. Bob McDonnell. Liv made sure Susan got the job instead of Charles Putney, Abby’s abusive ex. Susan exuberantly wants to speak with Mellie about vaccinations, but Mel listens to her for only a few moments before blowing her off.
In the Oval, Fitz and Cy watch a video of Governor Roslyn Mendez of New Mexico talk about the Parker situation. She speaks of her Mexican heritage, and how the cops never protected her family when she was growing up, because they were immigrants. She says she stands with Clarence and the Parker family, as well as everyone else who is oppressed. Fitz says she’s saying what he’s thinking but can’t say out loud. Cy says a VP could. Then he says Mendez is a Republican, a woman, and a minority, and would make a great choice for Veep. Fitz says he made a promise to Mellie, but Cy reminds him he also made a promise to the country.
Liv brings some food to Clarence, still sitting vigil over his son’s body, but he’s not hungry. Then he tells Liv all about being a single father and what a close watch he kept on Brandon. He tried his best to keep away all negative influences by doing all he could to make sure his son got through high school without being killed or going to prison.
The kid had been fascinated by all things electronic. He’d take them apart and put them back together. He wanted to someday be an electrical engineer. Clarence seems to feel he failed as a father in some way and is heartbroken. Liv promises him she’ll get to the bottom of this, but Clarence holds no hope of a positive outcome. He says this will only end with him dead or locked up.
Liv calls Quinn, who’s still trying to find security video. As they talk, Liv sees the cops suiting up in vests, and a SWAT team arrives on the scene. She asks Quinn what’s on TV, and Quinn says news about Andrew and the vice presidency. Nothing about the Parker situation. Liv angrily goes to Connors and asks why he’s shut down press access then says it’s because he doesn’t want the world watching when the police tear gas the crowd.
Connors answers that he hired Liv to handle the optics that are now behind the barricade, and it’s a good thing. And whose side is she on? Liv stares him down, says “Not yours,” and walks away. She joins the crowd and starts chanting along. The cops pick up their riot shields as they wait for Connors to give the order. He looks over at Liv who makes eye contact, clearly letting him know the gravity of what he’s about to do. Connors thinks for a few moments then gets on his phone and tells his cops to hold off.
Back at the White House… Meanwhile, Mellie has caught wind of the whole Mendez situation and isn’t happy. She goes to Fitz and tells him she knows Mendez is being vetted, and what about their deal? The new VP was supposed to be boring and unelectable. She did the dirty work for him and got Andrew out of the way, so she expects him to uphold his end of the bargain.
There’s a new development on the video front. Huck calls Liv and tells her that no definitive information can be gleaned from anything they’ve dug up. The only tape missing is from a nearby bank. It seems there is something on it, but the police took the tapes and the backups the night before. Liv says if the DC police have had footage all day and didn’t release it, it must make them look bad. She goes to David and says she needs to see the tape. He says he can’t help her, and she tells him he’s protecting the wrong people. She says she can’t “fix” this, and he says she’s exhausted after her ordeal and shouldn’t be dealing with the situation.
That makes Olivia sit, and she starts talking about the kidnapping. She tells him there was a period during which she was sure the kidnappers would kill her, and she lived in constant fear. Then she says to imagine living in that kind of fear all of the time. That’s basically how families like the Parkers live their whole lives. David softens and asks what she wants. She says a subpoena.
Liv is back at the scene to show Clarence the bank camera video on her tablet. It shows Jeff shooting Brandon as he reaches for something in his pocket, but no knife is seen. Liv asks Clarence what Brandon was pulling from his pocket. Clarence says he doesn’t know, but he does know that Brandon doesn’t carry a knife. Liv says they can check for a knife but will have to move Brandon to do it. Clarence slowly gets up, moves the chair, and shakily reaches for his son. Walker says he’ll help and lifts Brandon slightly. A knife can clearly be seen.
Liv gently tells Clarence it’s time to go home, but the father is confused. He knows his son doesn’t carry a knife. He says it a few times then gets angry and points his rifle at the cops. Liv yells at the police not to shoot and to give Mr. Parker some space. Then she tells Clarence to lower the gun, and after a while, he does. Afterward, he puts the chair back and yells at the police again that his son doesn’t carry a knife.
More Veep drama. Fitz is watching the scene unfold on TV, as Cy busts in and asks where Mellie is. The Times called him, asking for comment about Mendez for VP. Mellie walks in, and he angrily says she tipped them off. She denies it. Cy says the Times is digging into Mendez’s past, and Mellie says if she’s dirty, that’s too bad, but it would have come out sooner or later. Cy says if it had been later, he would have had time to spin the situation, but now it’s out there. He says Mendez is off the table for VP and stalks out.
Mellie insists to Fitz that she didn’t leak the information, and Fitz says he knows that, because he did. He sees the Mendez video as a naked power play, and he’s tired of scheming Veeps. He thinks Mendez would have been even more opportunistic than the crazy Sally and traitorous Andrew. He tells Mellie they need to pick a VP that won’t get in their way, and she says she knows of someone perfect and unelectable.
Huck tells Quinn that Jeff has been cleared in the shooting, as Jake drops in on OPA. He takes a look at the video of the shooting and wonders why if it seems to clear the cops, it wasn’t released. They play it over again.
Huck and Quinn rush to the scene to speak with Liv. Upon repeated viewings of the video, they discovered a shadow in the back of the police car. Someone is in the back seat. They’ve also found that Jeff made an arrest an hour before the shooting, but there’s no record of it. The suspect had a knife that was never booked into evidence. Liv says she thinks she knows where the knife ended up.
Meltdown. In the police station break room, Liv confronts Jeff and asks him who else knew. He plays dumb and pays more attention to his coffee than her. But she knows he made a deal with a suspect and planted his knife on Brandon, because Brandon was unarmed. She asks again if he acted alone or if anyone helped him. He ignores her and walks away, but he can only put off the inevitable for so long.
At that moment, a Philip Durant is escorted in cuffs into the squad room. Jeff had arrested him the night before and let him go in exchange for his knife. Attorney General Rosen is also there. Liv tells Jeff it’s over. He sizes up the situation and knows he’s trapped, which leads him to spill his guts. He refers to Liv as “you people,” and things go downhill from there.
First he attacks Liv specifically and how she was supposed to be working with the police department on this case, when all she’s done is try to tear them down. Then he lets loose about how thankless his job is, how the people he serves regard him as the enemy and work against him. He also mentions how he drives forty minutes to go to work in that neighborhood every day, which starkly illuminates how disengaged he really is from those people he says he serves.
After a couple of minutes of this kind of victim-speak, he finally gets around to blaming the victim. It doesn’t matter if Brandon was guilty or not, or if he actually had a knife or not. The kid is dead, because he had no respect. Jeff felt Brandon wasn’t cooperating when Jeff was questioning him, and he’s tired of these people disrespecting him. He pulled the trigger not because he felt threatened, but because he felt disrespected. Brandon had no right to question him or any officer, and he got what he deserved. Jeff will accept no responsibility for his death. He says Brandon’s blood is not on his hands.
Everyone in the room is frozen while watching this tirade. Some look empathetic and others look angry but all just take it in.
Desperately seeking Susan. After that scorching scene, the show pulls back a bit and rejoins the chatty Sen. Susan. She’s been invited by the President to the Oval Office, she assumes, to talk about vaccines. And if Fitz has the time, she’d also like to discuss tax reform. But that’s not why she’s there. Fitz offers her the VP position, and I really like her reaction. Instead of the expected gushing acceptance, she first asks him, why her, since she just got elected Senator. He answers that he doesn’t want a “typical politician.” Then she says if anything happens to him, she’ll be president, and that’s the last thing she wants. She says he has the worst job in the world.
Then she mentions the Parker case and how much she sympathizes with Clarence. I also like how she says she knows her own kid is safe from being shot by the police, because she’s white and a Senator’s daughter. She inadvertently makes a reference to Jerry, Fitz and Mellie’s son who was killed last season, catches herself, and says this is why she shouldn’t be in a high-profile position like VP. She gets overly emotional and doesn’t know how to talk to people sometimes. Fitz just says politics could use more plain-talkers like her.
Susan’s reaction was so unexpected. Considering the overriding ambition of so many politicians, it’s nice to think there are some like her who go into politics because they’re idealistic and not just on a mad, endless power grab. Susan went from eccentric and kind of silly and nutty to formidable and worthy of attention and respect in one scene. Good job. Although we don’t know at episode’s end if she accepted the offer of Veep or not.
Resolution. David, flanked by Chief Connors, informs the media of Jeff’s arrest on charges of perjury, evidence tampering, filing a false report, and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Jeff’s led out of the police station in handcuffs. In light of the charges, a federal investigation is being opened on the DC Police Department.
Back in the street, Liv approaches Clarence, still sitting and guarding his son’s body. She hands him a piece of paper and tells him it’s what Brandon was reaching for in his pocket when he was shot. It’s a receipt for his cell phone, which he was accused of shoplifting. So it’s been proven definitively that Brandon wasn’t a thief and didn’t threaten a cop with a knife. Liv tells him Jeff is behind bars.
Then Clarence does something I found devastating, quite frankly. Before ending his vigil, he smiles at the paper then reaches down and rubs his son’s back. It was so evident how proud he was, as a parent. In that moment, his pride in Brandon’s life overrode the grief he felt over his death. Clarence had confirmation that he’d been a good father. His son had listened to him and was trying his best to live up to his dad’s expectations, despite all of the negative outside influences. For a brief moment, Clarence allowed himself the indulgence of pride, in himself and his son.
But it’s only a moment. He gets up and puts his arms out for the expected handcuffs, but Liv tells him he’s not going to be arrested. Instead, she takes him to her car.
Their destination is the White House. Liv brings him to the Oval, where Fitz is waiting to express his sorrow for Clarence’s loss. That Fitz lost his own son not long ago gives the scene more poignancy, as does how the three of them are alone, so it’s not a photo op for the Pres. Fitz calls him Mr. Parker. He says to call him Clarence, and his son’s name was Brandon. At that, he breaks down and starts crying as Fitz holds him.
Later, Liv lies in bed, wide-eyed, staring at the ceiling, unable to sleep. Out in the street, the FBI removes the lawn chair and goes over the crime scene, before they place Brandon in a body bag
In all, the most well-written episode of Scandal in a long time. Not sure about next week, though, as here’s the preview for 04.15, “The Testimony of Diego Munoz”
An unexpected visitor surprises David with insider information about B613, and this news could be detrimental to both the White House and Olivia’s firm.
Ugh, not B613 again. Say it ain’t so. Proceed with caution…