Scandal review: One of the more bizarre stories in this hyperreal night-time soap

A British princess dies in a limo crash in a tunnel – and intrigue, romance and conspiracy theory collide for Kerry Washington’s White House uber-fixer

‘Are you honestly suggesting we would commit regicide to distract America from a flu and a life choice?” Scandal (Sky Living) is back and launches its fifth season with a typically loopy plot.

The royal family of “Caledonia” – a very thinly disguised Britain – are in town for a state visit. President Fitz, the show’s resident Republican heart-throb, is keen to pump them for a new naval base; Queen Isobel (a posh Helen Mirren lookalike) is playing hard ball. Meanwhile Prince Richard and Princess Emily are charming the White House with their fairytale romance (she’s American! She gets to wear diamonds on her head!) … until she gets into a limo, drives into a tunnel and crashes into a very fast and loose version of history.

If you blinked and missed the turning marked “DIANA BLVD”, the show clearly didn’t. What follows is one of the more bizarre side-stories in Scandal’s hyperreal approach to TV drama, as our hero, politico crisis management uber-fixer Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) takes time out from her on-off-off-on (currently very on) affair with the president to investigate.

Olivia assembles the team – well, actually just one of her “gladiators”, Quinn, as the others aren’t around. Scan the pics: hmmm, why do the prince and princess spend so much time in other countries apart, and why is that handsome bodyguard the only constant in her life?

Yes, Princess Emily was taking time out from her courtly duties – and she was pregnant with some distinctly unroyal seed … And look! That photographer on a bike speeding alongside the limo wasn’t really a photographer but in fact a hacker who took the car down with a hi-tech booster hidden in his backpack. It’s a bluetooth blue-bloodbath.

This being Scandal – a show where the lead (Olivia) is the president’s secret girlfriend and discovers her father has been running B6-13, a ruthless black-book secret service for years, and hiding her mother in one of his dark site prisons because she’s a terrorist; where the president was involved in shooting down a passenger plane during his time as a fighter pilot; and where a grand jury was assembled at the end of the last season to investigate B6-13 but ended up dead after the president’s wife gave up their names – there’s a lot more going on.

Olivia stages a photo op with the prince identifying his wife’s body to manage the “optics” of the news cycle (“you can’t save her life, but you can save her dignity”); and then confronts the queen – did she know her son had had the princess killed?

For once, it’s Olivia who has got it wrong: “She had one job, to give us an heir and a spare”, the ice queen reveals, before admitting it was all her idea. Mwah–ha-ha, don’t mess with that bloodline, she glowers at Olivia, ramping up the outrageousness of the plot.

Meanwhile, with rabid rightwing TV commentator (and former vice-president) Sally Langston breathing down their necks from her cable platform, (“My flag waves and my patriotic fires burn!”), the administration is under fire.

President Fitz isn’t interested in showing up to watch his wife Mellie being sworn into her new job (she’s just been elected as a senator) because he’s ready to divorce her and get on with “living in the sun” with Olivia. And Olivia’s resident attack dog assassin Huck – one of the most original characters in recent TV history – is still awol, shivering in the dark at the horror of his crimes, begging Olivia to fix him, like she’s fixed so many things over the last few years.

From the upbeat soundtrack packed with classic soul tunes to an opening credits sequence that is barely long enough for the show’s title to register on screen, and the way Sally’s Sodom and Gomorrah rants double as a Greek chorus to help the audience catch up, Scandal is a hyperreal night-time soap that plays out with almost cosmic efficiency. It effortlessly glides from political intrigue to romance to conspiracy theory, juggling its many out-there plots with long, rapid-fire speeches (it’s Portia de Rossi’s turn here). It never gives you time to call it on the wilder, more unbelievable edges, because in the hands of master TV magician Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy, How To Get Away With Murder) it never forgets to be anything less than ruthlessly entertaining.

“Not all fairytales have happy endings, but evil queens – they tend to go down,” says Olivia as she banishes Isobel to the Winter Palace.


Richard Vine

The GuardianTramp

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