The final season of Scandal is a lot more experimental and free-wheeling than anyone could have anticipated, and there’s been a much greater focus on characters than on plotting. Around this point in last season, Peus and Ruland were skulking about, quietly executing military coups and committing large-scale terror acts with little more motivation than the satisfaction of a well-twirled mustache. But that might as well have been a million years ago. That time Abby collaborated with hostiles and dug a bullet out of the president-elect’s bloody innards is water under the bridge.
That kind of storytelling isn’t Scandal at its best, but the show has kept undermining itself with cheap plotting long enough for the audience to expect it. Yet season seven is a thing unto itself, and “Good People” makes the strongest case yet for the character-focused approach to Scandal’s final episodes. After all, Scandal’s frenzied plot maneuvers stopped paying dividends pretty early on, but it kept having periodic creative resurgences because it works so well on a scene-by-scene basis. Can anybody remember the circumstances around Rowan’s infamous “You are a boy” monologue, delivered directly into Fitz’s smug face? I certainly have no idea, but that scene is indelible. That’s how Scandal will be remembered, by the intense little character moments that spring forth from a story too convoluted to make a lasting impression.
“Good People” has a ton of those moments, because it’s essentially a showcase for Joe Morton and Katie Lowes. If there’s going to be another inciting incident to fuel the remainder of the season, it’s certainly nowhere to be found here. “Good People” does nothing to push the story forward. In fact, despite rewinding from last week’s cliff-hanger, which found Charlie rushing into Rowan’s house to find a crying infant, this episode doesn’t even get back to that point. It ends shortly after the baby’s birth, but well before a distraught Charlie came begging for an assignment from the old Command.
As a result of the flashback structure, presumably designed to keep Quinn’s fate secret as long as possible, “Good People” is never quite as suspenseful as it wants to be. When Quinn pleads with Rowan to spare her life until after she gives birth, the moment feels hollow since we’ve already seen the baby alive and well far into the future. Rather than allow the audience to draw certain conclusions about what it means that Charlie found what’s probably his baby daughter inside Rowan’s house, the episode spells out in painstaking detail what happened from the moment Quinn’s elevator stalled to the moment Olivia was startled by the sound of Rowan’s gun.
The lack of forward momentum makes “Good People” feel sort of disappointing at the beginning, but like the best installments of Scandal, it wrings really fascinating human moments out of otherwise ridiculous storytelling. (Consider for a moment that for the first half of the episode, Morton’s scene partner is a little purple dinosaur figurine, which only serves to remind everyone how central to the story fossils have become.) The episode, co-written by Shonda Rhimes, casts an odd spell as it goes along. It’s most reminiscent of “Run,” the season-four episode that found Olivia in a similar predicament to the one now facing Quinn. It’s the kind of dramatic exercise that some viewers will inevitably regard as a waste of time, and I was firmly in that camp regarding “Day 101,” this season’s lengthy duet between Fitz and Marcus.
But “Good People” is among Scandal’s better experiments in limited perspective, and it follows the template established by “Run,” bringing in an episodic guest star whose significance is far greater than it initially appears. This time, that guest actor is Tim True as Marvin, a salt-of-the-earth retail employee who gets sucked into Rowan’s vortex of destruction. He’s the big-box worker who sells Rowan — or Montel Damascus, Rowan’s latest lame alias — all the items he needs to deal with Quinn. First, it’s the suitcase Rowan uses to wheel Quinn out of the building unseen. Then it’s the crib where the baby will sleep during the apparently months-long undercover stay Rowan has in mind for Quinn. And finally, Marvin helps Rowan purchase a new arsenal after Olivia sends Jake to fetch all the weapons from the many hidey-holes in Rowan’s house.
But Rowan’s relationship with Marvin isn’t simply about good customer service or the use of Marvin’s store discount — though that comes up too. As it turns out, Marvin is the closest thing Rowan has had to a friend in a long time, and possibly ever. Montel Damascus is really just a more human riff on Rowan Pope, the kind of guy he might have been had he taken up a trade more common than contract murder. And as Rowan sinks into his role as a regular guy and needy retail customer, he’s able to open up in a way he’s not accustomed to. So it’s all the more heartbreaking when Rowan has to kill Marvin to keep Quinn and Robin safe. Even though the conclusion was telegraphed well in advance, the execution is really well done. The final shot of Quinn kneeling to help Rowan mop up Marvin’s blood is one of my favorite moments of the season.
This stretch of Scandal might be the lightest on plot the show has ever been, and it’s still not clear what the end game might look like. But obviously, the final season isn’t about hurtling toward a destination. It’s about enjoying the final moments in this world with these characters. That approach won’t always work as well as it does here, but I’d much sooner watch an oddball episode like “Good People” than one that spins lots of plates just to look busy.