To complain about Scandal’s lack of consistency is to miss the forest for the trees. A show as adrenalized and wacky as this one succeeds by never slowing down, by barreling through every plot point at full speed, including the ones durable enough to withstand further exploration. But even in this final season, it’s downright jarring to go from two of Scandal’s best episodes to “Something Borrowed,” which includes several scenes in which Olivia Pope argues with her father about dinosaur bones.
Seriously, let that sink in. When the current and former Command face off, what do they argue about? I would not have guessed “unfettered access to Allosaurus mandibles,” and yet here we are. To be fair, Olivia and Eli’s latest high-stakes, father-daughter chess match is also about Quinn Perkins, who went missing after she acquired information that could derail Mellie’s entire presidency. In the closing minutes of “Vampires and Bloodsuckers,” Olivia and Jake discovered that Quinn was all gussied up in her white dress and fully intended to go through with her wedding to Charlie. Rather than let Quinn’s kidnapping and its ramifications hang over a couple of episodes, “Borrowed” spills the bland beans within minutes: Eli is responsible for kidnapping Quinn because Olivia took his precious dinosaur bones and he wants them back.
Aside from its overwhelming silliness, this story provides yet another example of Scandal attempting to have it both ways as it concerns both the power of Command and the nature of Olivia and Eli’s twisted family bond. When Eli served as Command, the problem was that B613 was too powerful for Olivia and her friends to take down. (At points in the show’s history when the B613 plot was running too hot, Olivia actually said some version of “My father is too dangerous and powerful, so we ought to just concentrate on our ill-advised workplace romances.”) But now, with Olivia in what we’re led to believe is an unprecedented dual role as Mellie’s chief of staff and the dark lord of B613, she’s impotent by comparison. Assassinating a foreign head of state on American soil? All in a day’s work. But finding one person, who at this point should probably be able to secure her own escape even with a baby onboard, is somehow out of Olivia’s reach.
Why? According to “Borrowed,” it’s because Olivia doesn’t have the killer instinct to serve as Command. This might be the most emotionally vulnerable we’ve seen Olivia, at least since she was the one being held captive. She’s distracted at work as Mellie prepares to sign a paradigm-shifting Middle East peace accord. She’s up all night with panic attacks, and her affinity for fine wine has turned into a full-blown drinking problem. We’re meant to believe that of all the despicable acts Olivia has committed, eliminating Quinn is the one she simply cannot stomach. To drive home the point, Olivia checks in with Maya, who is enjoying a comfortable arrangement as a “free” woman under 24-hour house arrest. Olivia says she wants advice about the Quinn situation, but Maya is wise enough to figure out that what Olivia really wants is permission to do the horrible thing she already knows is the best move. If killing Quinn is too much to bear, Olivia can simply let Eli kill Quinn, which neutralizes his leverage and the threat posed by Quinn in one fell swoop.
It’s a pretty tidy solution, all things considered, and in any other situation, Olivia would tell Jake to kill the pregnant lady, then retire to her apartment to drown her guilt with vintage vino. Or at the very least, she would order some kind of surgical strike designed to rescue Quinn and eliminate Eli once and for all. But Olivia won’t do it, and it’s certainly not because she struggles with zero-sum propositions. Olivia has ordered a hit on her father or at least talked about killing him on numerous occasions, and she has only failed because Eli always gets the drop on her. That was one thing back when Eli was Command and had mercenaries ready to carry out all his sinister whims. Now that Olivia is Command and Eli is a senior citizen throwing a tantrum over his Brontosaurus femurs, it’s tough to believe he’s still capable of outsmarting her.
The episode ends with Olivia and Eli staring each other down, with Eli threatening to kill Quinn as his final act before he’s taken out by Olivia’s goon squad. She dares him to go through with it, bluffing about how little she cares whether Quinn and her unborn child die in this process. (Honestly, it’s kind of an occupational hazard, is it not?) He vanishes into his basement, two shots ring out offscreen, and Olivia is forced to consider that Quinn really is dead after all. Scandal wants us to believe that Olivia is struggling with this latest conundrum because she’s a white hat trying to live in a black hat world, but the story itself doesn’t bear that out. More than anything, Olivia is struggling because Scandal has episodes to fill, and it’s a real shame to feel like the show is still stalling for time with only hours left to wrap up its story. Pull it together, Scandal.