Goodness, that was heavy. After “No More Blood,” wrapped up Olivia's time at a pseudo torture camp and her subsequent sale on the black market, this week offers “The Lawn Chair,” an unexpected stop in the overall season arc that will likely go down as one of the series most emotionally-charged episodes.
The hour centers around Olivia being called to a scene where a young black teen named Brandon Parker, suspected of robbery, was shot dead by Jeffery Newton, a white officer. The boy's father, Clarence, shows up with a shotgun demanding to see the officer who killed his son. Olivia starts to work her usual fixer magic, telling Clarence she'll get David Rosen to personally come to the scene and oversee the investigation. He appears to soften until Marcus Walker, a neighborhood activist, comes in and brings up the fact Olivia was hired by the police to handle the situation and talks him into staying, bringing him a chair he then places over his son Brandon's body.
Like I said, heavy. Of course, it is impossible to watch this and not think of Michael Brown and the controversy and protests that erupted after his death; the subject matter is even more pertinent, given the news Darren Wilson won't face civil charges in Brown's death, and the DOJ's damning report about the Ferguson's police department treatment of its black residents both came out this week. The episode itself plays out like an attempt at catharsis, to heal real-life wounds through art. In Scandal, Brandon's killing is unjustified, and Clarence's image of his son is vindicated, both men victims of a miscarriage of justice nearly covered up by police corruption.
On a pure, punch-to-the-gut level, “The Lawn Chair” more than rose to the occasion. I teared up while watching it more than once. That said, I'm conflicted about certain aspects of the episode. Take Newton's character for instance. When the truth comes out about the circumstances of Brandon's death, he trots out the tired “What about black on black crime?” argument (as if rational human beings aren't capable of thinking about two issues that impact their lives at the same time) and blames Brandon's death on his lack of respect for authority. It's a disgusting diatribe, and while I don't doubt there are people out there who hold similar views, the speech reminded of the last moments of a Law and Order: SVU episode, where the suspect inevitably yanks off his human mask to reveal the unrepentant monster underneath.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is Susan Ross, a senator who empathizes deeply with Clarence's loss, saying she'd die if something similar happened to her daughter. Both the words and the actress' performance feel honest; and yet it was almost as she was there to serve as a counterpoint to Newton, to show how “good white people” react to stories like these. In the middle is Chief Connor, who doesn't seem to hold Newton's views yet, refers to Marcus as a troublemaker and the outraged residents as a mob. Maybe the point is to show all these attitudes exist. However, Newton came off not so much as a man who made a horrible decision out of his own deep-seated prejudices than as a villain waiting for his chance to put one of “those people” in their place. Maybe I'll feel differently about the characterization later, but for now that was what I took away from it.
Olivia herself comes under scrutiny in “The Lawn Chair.” Marcus is none too impressed with Ms. Pope, castigating her for taking a pay check from the police, and citing her Prada bag and role in getting Fitz elected twice as evidence she's out of touch with the city's black population. Scandal so rarely tackles the subject of race, more specifically as it relates to Olivia. But when it does, as with Eli's speech about being twice as good to go half as far, it rings with cutting honesty. Olivia's experiences and status--being educated in top schools, having the attorney general on speed dial--are miles away from the lives of the black residents in this community, and Marcus makes her confront this fact.
As she realizes the authorities are conspiring to disperse what the crowd via a media blackout and by calling in SWAT, she goes behind the police line and starts chanting with them. Olivia's recent ordeal works itself into both the story line and her emotional state of mind, despite her best attempts to put on a brave face. She is clearly suffering from a form of PTSD, as her walking away with shaky hands after Clarence pulls his shotgun on her and Marcus proves.
However, the persona trauma adds an extra charge to her usual go getter drive. Her speech about living in fear everyday while in captivity, and relating that same to fear to the people in Clarence, Marcus and Brandon's neighborhood gets David Rosen to fully throw himself into the case. It also helps her relate to Clarence, who is in the middle of dealing with his own tragedy.
And in the end, it is the human tragedy--a promising young life cut short, and a father left behind to mourn--that takes center stage. After OPA proves Brandon had a cell phone receipt in his hand, not the knife planted on him when he was shot, Newton is taken into custody and Rosen promises an investigation will be launched into the police department. Yet what brings it home is when Clarence meets Fitz in the Oval Office and they embrace. There, he finally allows himself to cry as the two men bond, one grieving father to another.
--Despite her diarrhea of the mouth, Susan Ross is self-aware enough to know she wouldn't make a good VP, and truthfully doesn't want the gig, since she possess a quality rare among politicians, that being a desire to get shit done. Though her uncensored honesty and earnestness is its own form of charisma.
--While Clarence and Brandon's story takes center stage, Shonda and Co. push Fitz and Mellie's arc forward. With Andrew incapacitated, Cyrus pushes for him to choose a viable vice president to move the party forward, despite the promise he made to Mellie to clear a path to the presidency for her. Fitz shows he's on Mellie's side by leaking some dirt on potential contender Roslyn Mendez. It wasn't just for Mellie though; after Sally Langston and Andrew's Machiavellian tactics, he sees her timely public support of Clarence as shameless power move and wants none of that mess.
--Clarence saw his standoff only playing out in two ways, either being in jail or dead. A rare case when a Scandal character's words can't not be brushed off as dramatic hyperbole.
--Liv has many skills, but she's not the best fake yawner.
---“Talk faster or say less.”
---“Take genital warts.” Mellie: “Let's not.”