In Scandal, there’s no such thing as too far gone. You can be Huck, trapped in the trunk of a car and fighting for every breath after being shot three times. Then, your pixie-coiffed assailant can push said car into a quarry lake, flooding the trunk with cold, murky water. Then you can escape the car and float to shore only to realize you’re still in the middle of nowhere and losing blood quickly. That doesn’t mean you’re as good as dead. There’s always a chance of survival.
You can also be Abby, who played a crucial role in covering up the murder of a newly elected president by sticking her hand into his abdominal cavity. Then, you can tacitly approve the murder of someone you continue to maintain is your friend. And you can lie about your complicity again and again, only giving up the truth when photographic evidence hems you in. But that doesn’t necessarily mean your relationships with the other characters is irreparably damaged. Redemption is always possible.
Scandal takes its characters to extreme places, then escorts them back into the real world, where whatever craziness that took place in the past is forgiven. With it’s focus on Huck and Abby, “Dead in the Water” offers up dueling case studies on the effectiveness of a story in which none of the characters can do anything to diminish their place in it. In Huck’s case, Scandal’s reluctance to let go of its characters yields a compelling episodic story that places “Water” among the best episodes of the season. Meanwhile, Abby’s brief return to villain status demonstrates the folly of a show where none of the characters’ choices appear to have any kind of long-term consequences.
Huck’s story works because it goes back to the basics, with Olivia Pope and her associates scrambling to help someone in danger with a clock ticking. This time, the client is Huck — let’s just admit that O.P.A. doesn’t take paid clients anymore — who imagines his friends and co-workers in the war room talking him through his options to avoid certain death. The poignant, playful device is reminiscent of “Run,” the episode where Olivia was the one in mortal danger after being kidnapped. But while that dream sequence was, well, dreamier, Huck’s is less metaphorical and more urgent. There’s no time to interpret Jungian symbols when your lungs are filling with water.
With a little help from his imaginary friends and foes, Huck drags himself onto dry land and starts bickering with an antagonistic, clean-shaven version of himself. Dream Huck needles his corporeal counterpart with the time on his watch — 7:52 — a time with deep emotional significance to Huck. But more important, 7:52 means nightfall is around the corner, and the wolves can’t be too far behind. For perhaps the first time in his life, Huck is forced to simply wait and pray his friends will get to him in time.
Abby is also forced to accept her fate after everyone at O.P.A. finds out about her involvement in the murder of Jennifer Fields and the attempted murder of Huck. Sometimes Scandal’s frantic pace is irritating as hell, and that was case with Abby’s exposure, which really felt like it needed a few more episodes to unfold. But, true to form, Scandal barreled ahead. Olivia gets Abby involved in the hunt for Huck almost immediately, hoping Abby can get Fitz’s agency-backed girlfriend to throw some resources behind finding Huck. When Olivia shows Abby the photos of the folksy murderers behind the Frankie Vargas murder, Abby says she doesn’t recognize them, which seems to plant a seed in Olivia’s head. That’s not actually what Olivia asked, after all.
Luckily for Abby, she doesn’t have to continue withering under the pressure as the manhunt inevitably winds its way back to her. Olivia presents Abby with photographic proof of her involvement with the Über-cabal, then slaps her. And slaps her again. And then, slaps her yet again. By the time Olivia’s done mollywhopping her former employee, the handprint on Abby’s face is red enough to make her hair look more like a subtle strawberry blonde. Olivia is pissed, and rightfully so, not only because Huck is missing and feared dead, but because Abby’s explanation of her actions makes no more sense now than it ever has. Again, if this show would slow down for a second, maybe there would be more time to explain this colossal betrayal, but instead Abby’s actions are basically glossed over.
All’s well that ends well. Huck emerges from his coma, though Quinn is a bit more invested than Charlie is comfortable with. Fitz makes an appearance at the hospital, where he expresses his condolences, but also insists that Olivia make amends with Abby. It’s nothing but that devilish Oval Office leeching its evil into the pores of all who set foot in it, and Fitz tells Olivia that as someone who escaped its clutches, she’s in the best position to help Abby. I personally haven’t been watching the show in which Olivia kicks her addiction to executive power, but if you say so, Mr. President.
“Water” pushes buttons in the way only Scandal can, with weird, gross, and shocking moments smoothed over with montages set to Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin. But between Huck and Abby’s sections of those montages, Huck’s works and Abby’s doesn’t. Huck comes to, Quinn swoons, the Motown swells, and it feels like watching a joyful moment between characters with a much healthier backstory. But when Olivia reluctantly comforts a sobbing Abby, the scene feels so forced and flat, it might as well have consisted of Abby handing Olivia a greeting card that says, “Sorry about all the treason.” I still think the actual death of a major character would be just the shot in the arm Scandal needs, but I’ve changed my mind about whom it should be.