Just a couple of weeks after Scandal’s daring and creatively successful crossover event with How to Get Away With Murder comes its latest surprising experiment: Olivia’s take on the #MeToo movement. It’s yet another “Um, sure, let’s go there” moment in one of the oddest final seasons of a television show I’ve ever seen. In one sense, “The List” was inevitable given Scandal’s tendency to incorporate real-world social and political issues, regardless of how awkwardly they fit next to whatever goofy conspiracy yarn the show is weaving at the moment.
But this show has done so many stories over the years about powerful men behaving badly and the havoc they wreak on the women around them. Hell, the initial hook in the pilot was Olivia’s decision to take on Fitz’s other side piece as a client. Scandal’s D.C. has long been a sexually treacherous boys’ club, so this kind of story is almost too obvious. Beyond that, Olivia has spent a good share of her time trying to silence the women who make life difficult for her wealthy clients, or at the very least, leveraging people’s sexual misdeeds to blackmail them. Surely Scandal wouldn’t try to turn Olivia into the vessel for a message of female empowerment, right?
It sure would! So here is Olivia, caving to the demands of a distraught father whose high-achieving daughter Alisha hasn’t been heard from in days. Alisha is seen buying a handgun in the cold open, so she’s clearly in some kind of trouble. (In a cute yet creepy callback, Alisha buys her gun at the same counter where Rowan Pope met and befriended the store clerk he later murdered.) Olivia tries to tell Alisha’s father that she doesn’t do that type of work anymore, but she eventually relents after he tells her that she was Alisha’s idol and her reason for becoming a congressional intern. Olivia is still on the outs with her old crew, and she’s between jobs right now, so what else is she going to do?
With help from Fitz and Marcus, Olivia determines that Alisha was fired from her job as a congressional aide because she refused to do sexual favors for her boss. That “transgression” landed Alisha on a list of women on Capitol Hill ranked by their looks and willingness to have sex to get ahead. (The women who play along get hired, while the ones who don’t get blackballed.) They initially suspect that Alisha will try to take revenge on the men who ruined her career. But in a much sadder turn of events, Alisha took her own life with the handgun after concluding that the political career she worked so hard for was basically ruined. With help from Alisha’s former roommate, who naturally had her own story to tell, Olivia sparks a push for sweeping legislation to combat sexual harassment in the workplace.
The ballad of Alisha Francis is a decent episodic Scandal story on its own, but naturally the show tries to create a nexus between the issue of the day and the larger plot machinations. In “The List,” Alisha’s story provides more evidence of how men are power hungry and gross and won’t stop until they’ve sexually or professionally subordinated the women around them. Meanwhile, Jake is trying to put the moves on Mellie in the Oval Office, which is incestuous and weird in so many ways. Even if Mellie didn’t have severe back pain at the moment, which she does, there is still the issue of his sexual history with her ex-husband’s mistress turned campaign manager turned chief of staff. (It’s probably a good idea that this show is wrapping up.)
Not even the gay men on this show can be counted on to be half-decent human beings. Cyrus is continuing his campaign to do … whatever he was trying to do by hijacking his own plane so he could give a really rousing speech and become popular. And Olivia is teaming up with Abby and Quinn to rescue the first female president from her male interloper, even if it means putting aside their many personal differences. It’s basically Big Little Lies, but the ocean-side private school is the White House and the world’s most useless spy organization. (And none of the main characters ever die on this show.) Whatever these ladies are doing to take down the vice-president, here’s hoping they do it soon. The final episodes should be spent on better stories than Cyrus Beene’s umpteenth trip to the dark side.