Army of One
Photo: Eric McCandless/ABC
B613 is absolute bullshit. At the risk of exhuming a dead horse, only to beat it and return it to the earth, it’s difficult to think of another television show that has been subsumed to this degree by an unworkable plot element. Consider that Shonda Rhimes once floated the idea of creating a Scandal spinoff that would dive even deeper into this inscrutable world of shadow-government operatives and nothing ever came of it. Rhimes has earned a insane amount of runway from ABC over the years and has a knack for reanimating shows that should by rights be dead by now. (See: Grey’s Anatomy and its forthcoming firefighter spinoff, Station 19.) There’s a good reason B613 never got its own platform, and it probably isn’t because ABC wouldn’t cut its busiest content creator a little more slack. The more likely explanation is that there wasn’t enough meat on the bones to justify another show.
In a way, though, it’s kind of tragic that the B613 story never got spun off into its own entity, because it never got the chance to succeed or fail on its own merits. Instead, B613 has been allowed to fester within Scandal and suck all the internal logic out of a show that has always reflected a heightened reality but hasn’t always been quite so … y’know, stupid. “Army of One” is very, very stupid because it has to drill down into the specifics of B613, and that’s always a remarkable disaster. And what makes the whole thing so frustrating is that the ideas underlying the episode would actually be interesting and cool if they were unmoored from B613 and Rowan Pope.
“Army” picks up right where the previous episode left off, with Olivia Pope in the Oval Office begging President Mellie to reconsider her decision to fire Olivia as chief of staff. Olivia doesn’t usually take no for an answer, so it takes a few minutes for her to realize that Mellie is firm about wanting her gone. After all Olivia has done, all she has risked to reclaim the power of the White House, she still finds herself a woman without a country. Mellie gives Liv a week to figure out how she’s going to resign from her position and threatens to fire her live from the briefing room if she resists. Of course, if that kind of ultimatum worked on Olivia, it probably would have worked last week, when she issued another promise to step away from both her day job and her side hustle only to defiantly renege. Olivia has a closetful of white hats and black ones, and she won’t hesitate to go all scorched earth when it’s called for.
Given that this season is thematically focused on the battle for Olivia’s soul, this should be the point at which the audience is as fed up with Liv’s dark-hearted ways as the other characters are. But Olivia’s rage at being fired is understandable considering Mellie’s decision to replace her as chief of staff with, of all people, Jake Ballard. So the guy who just last week threatened to slice the vice-president’s gullet open just got promoted to the most high-profile job in the White House. Uh … okay, sure, if you insist. But it’s a double promotion. Since Olivia was pulling double duty as Mellie’s right hand and the head of B613, Jake has now taken on both of those roles with Mellie set to decide how the secret organization will proceed without Liv. I’d love to read one of those “What do you do all day?” professional profiles of Jake, who now has three jobs, including his role as NSA director. Considering his penchant for homicide, it’s no wonder Jake is killing the time-management game.
The wonder lies in the idea of what a transfer of power looks like in this situation, and “Army” doesn’t seem to know. Olivia plays hardball, first by getting Hector, one of her father’s old-school operative buddies (played by Garrett Morris) to shut down B613’s computer network with a virus, thereby rendering the agency inoperable. When she meets up with Hector to discuss the ominous “phase two” of Olivia’s latest plan, he asks why B613 hasn’t yet seized upon her when she’s going directly to war with them. Olivia says it’s because Jake is trying to operate B613 with a “skeleton crew” and without an operational computer network. All the money and manpower is still backing her, because she’s still Command, despite getting fired from the White House. Why wouldn’t Jake, a longtime B613 operative, have prepared for the chaos that was bound to ensue if Olivia was pushed out without blocking her access to the organization’s resources? This doesn’t seem like the kind of operation you execute on the fly, but Jake and Mellie are caught off guard when Olivia uses B613 to fight back.
That’s where, speaking of skeleton crews, the former OPA gang comes into the picture, sort of. In an all-too-rare case of the week, a mid-level State Department employee named Robert Bacall walks into the office looking for help. A sum of $12 million has popped up unexpectedly in Bacall’s bank account, and in his inbox, there’s an email from Russian spies activating him for a spy mission he claims to know nothing about. But the gang literally does nothing to help Bacall, and their role in the episode is exclusively to fret in the conference room while helping to move the plot along. Turns out, Bacall is merely collateral damage, framed as a spy by Olivia because he happens to be having an affair with Vanessa Ballard, Jake’s wife. (Jake and Vanessa are in an open marriage, if that makes a difference to anyone.) The White House decides to help frame Bacall, with Vanessa’s help, so Jake won’t have to resign as chief of staff. And what do the gladiators do? They tell him to get a good lawyer. Seriously, that’s it. Losing Quinn was a much bigger setback than I realized.
Quinn’s not gone for long, though. Her living arrangement with Rowan goes sour pretty quickly, and Quinn has no intention of staying hidden at his house for as long as he thinks is necessary. So she negotiates her escape by promising to spare Olivia, then shows up at Olivia’s apartment with her baby and the gun she plans to use to shoot Olivia. (Once you have a baby, it becomes really difficult to kill your former boss on a lark.) But Olivia warns Quinn that killing her is impossible. As Command, she’s too important to die, and there are snipers trained to shoot Quinn if she tries to take Olivia out. Where was this crack team of snipers when Fitz (who isn’t even in this episode) was kidnapping Olivia and holding her in Vermont against her will? What about when Rowan pulled a gun on Olivia just a few episodes back? Who knows, but maybe it’s for the best, because when someone finally decides to take a shot, they accidentally wing Olivia and allow Quinn and her baby to escape unharmed. As if Olivia’s to-do list isn’t long enough as it is, now she has to find a whole new team of snipers. It’s always something.
Olivia gets to somewhat redeem herself at the end of the episode, when she decides to resign instead of burning Mellie’s presidency to the ground with yet another one of Liv’s infamous MacGuffin dossiers. (Marcus, in a two-second appearance, nods approvingly from the crowd.) It’s meant to be a moment of uplift, one that shows that there are still limits to Olivia’s treachery. She’s even kind enough to release her stranglehold on B613, thereby making it easier for Jake to do one of his three jobs. And with her out of the way, Quinn can safely come out of hiding, though the execution of her reappearance lacks the emotional punch it should have had. But that’s the obvious consequence of creating a narrative universe where there’s no real sense of cause and effect. Maybe Scandal never needed a B613 spinoff because it slowly morphed into one.