Of all the shady, sleazy, even murderous acts someone can commit in the world of Scandal, the only unpardonable sin is choosing to live without love. Think about it: Olivia has killed multiple people, helped rig American elections, and broken more homes than the Property Brothers, but she’s in love with Fitz. Even if they are both broken, they’ve chosen to be broken together, to be two jagged pieces of a misshapen whole. Scandal has always been about the equally redemptive and destructive power of love, but never more than in its final season, which is redeeming its characters by putting them into relationships. Olivia and Fitz’s once-and-for-all reconciliation is a foregone conclusion. Meanwhile, Quinn and Charlie, thanks to their domestic bliss, are so far removed from their B613 past that no one even mentions Charlie and Cyrus’s extensive history, and Charlie is framed as a sad-sack fall guy. None of it matters if you have love. Mellie has Marcus. Abby has David. Huck has … who knows, probably a bunch of spycams planted in a women’s shoe store, but the point is that he seems happy enough.
In Shondaland, the villains are emotionally unfulfilled, so “The Noise” casts Cyrus Beene as the final boss Olivia Pope has to defeat as Scandal sprints toward its finale. Rowan Pope has been this show’s most durable antagonist, but now he’s suddenly missing while Cyrus comes to the fore. The shift to Cyrus only makes sense within the “all you need is love” interpretation of Scandal. Cyrus lacks vulnerabilities because he doesn’t love anyone, and arguably never has. Cyrus’s most recent brush with romance came when Fenton Glackland breezed in and out of his life. Once that was over, Cyrus took the most potent symbol of his relationship with Glackland — the original Cézanne painting worth an eight-figure sum — and used it to pay off his latest hatchet man. Even Cyrus’s marriage to James — Scandal’s healthiest relationship once upon a time — fell apart because Cyrus was willing to use James as a pawn to further his political maneuvers. Unsurprisingly, James’s name doesn’t come up when Cyrus is negotiating a coup with Jake, whom you might remember as James’s murderer.
No wonder Cyrus ultimately chose to forge a détente with Jake, who only a couple of episodes back was threatening to jam a pair of scissors into Cyrus’s throat. More unites them than divides them, at least when it comes to their indifference to love. During Fitz’s White House heyday, the two of them took turns acting as the obstacle whenever Fitz and Olivia came too close to figuring out their messy relationship. Jake never fell in love again; he merely married Vanessa to further his own nefarious goals, and whose marriage is now strictly for appearances. After seven seasons of constant realignments, the final Scandal battle is the one where the romantics square off against the power-hungry pragmatists.
That’s the most sense I can make of an episode like “The Noise,” which barely holds together on a scene-by-scene basis and feels like it’s hustling to move pieces into place. The main thrust of the episode is the threat posed by the ascendant Cyrus, who has executed his Air Force Two hacking plan to perfection while throwing suspicion onto Charlie and ensuring that he controls the special prosecutor appointed to investigate the matter. Adding insult to injury, QPA has been raided by the authorities, and the gang has been forced to set up shop in the conference room at Fitz’s foundation.
After Charlie is arrested and tortured, he’s given an ultimatum. Either sign a confession claiming that he hacked the plane after being hired to do so by Mellie, or stay imprisoned and get tortured some more. Charlie resists, so Cyrus has to go through an escalating series of measures designed to pressure him into implicating Mellie, including an attempt to enlist Quinn to convince her husband to sign a bogus confession. She refuses to acquiesce to Cyrus’s demands, but he tells her she’s too late anyway because he already has Jake’s help. (Apparently, gaining Charlie’s cooperation by threatening to kill Quinn is an idea only Jake could have concocted.)
The good guys won’t be able to take down Cyrus unless they can first iron out their personal issues, most of which have to do with each character’s Olivia-related resentments and insecurities. There’s no way Olivia should be the only person with the common sense to put together Cyrus’s involvement in the Air Force Two stunt. But by making Olivia the one who sees the pattern while everybody else is suffering from amnesia, the very idea that Cyrus could have been involved is looked upon as a desperate effort to ingratiate herself with the good guys by creating a more dangerous villain than herself. So despite Cyrus’s extensive history of shameless stunts with considerable collateral damage, much of “The Noise” is devoted to conversations about what Olivia’s allegations against Cyrus say about Olivia and her ambitions. No one is talking about what Cyrus is being accused of, merely using those accusations as a symbol of everything they’ve decided they dislike about the new Olivia Pope.
What makes “The Noise” so frustrating is that it has all of the plot holes of Scandal at its most adrenalized, but not nearly as much of the action, so the holes are that much more noticeable. The biggest question is why the same people who are incredulous about Cyrus’s potential involvement in the hijacking think all Cyrus needs to bring down Mellie’s presidency is Charlie’s signature on a false confession. Prior to Cyrus openly admitting his guilt, Olivia’s allegations against Cyrus are treated as nonsense, because what reason would he have to do it? But what reason would Mellie have to try to assassinate her own vice-president, and why would those allegations be inherently more believable? And what’s stopping Mellie from just firing all of these people rather than recruiting Olivia to retake the title of Command and kill them? The individual plot points don’t add up.
Then again, the individual plot points never add up for this show, and maybe they aren’t terribly important with only three episodes left. With the final three episodes nearly in sight, it’s not so much a question of whether the good guys will win, but if they’ll each end up with someone to come home to.