Have you been watching Scandal this season? Because shit has been going down. I'm talking heads in a box. Death by a gold club. Presidential assassinations. President Fitz getting dragged by every black person in the cast. The sixth season of Scandal has pretty much everything you need in an hour of television. But I have a feeling some of y'all haven't been tuning in. That you think the show has "jumped the shark." That you bailed in Season 4 when Olivia Pope was kidnapped and got her Alicia Keys no-makeup natural-hair swag on. If this is the case, then get thee to a television, because this season of Scandal might be the best thing to ever come out of Shondaland.
Whether it was Kerry Washington's pregnancy or Shonda Rhimes's knowledge that the show will end in 2018 that influenced it, this season of Scandal was shortened to 16 episodes. As someone who greatly enjoyed Season 5 (despite its dip in ratings), I was worried about getting less of the show. But as it turns out, what worked for the narratively scattered Lost when it set an end date on ABC has also worked for Scandal. Last season concluded with the assassination of Frankie Vargas, the Democratic candidate running against Mellie Grant, giving this season a fresh burst of energy with a revealing whodunit.
If Washington's pregnancy wasn't the reason the season was shortened, then it was certainly the reason for half of the season's structure. Election night was told from various POVs in different episodes, until it was finally revealed who murdered Frankie and who was in on the conspiracy. It gave the series a unique aesthetic it had yet to explore, one that felt more like a cable drama than a network television show. Plus, the mystery was actually compelling. As were the villains — Theodore Peus and Samantha Ruland were actually terrifying because they managed to scare the one person on Scandal you never fuck with: Papa Pope. Olivia's father, Rowan, is a highlight of the season, ripping Fitz and his nonsense to shreds on a weekly basis, but he's little more than a mouse in a trap when facing Peus.
Aside from its thrilling story, Scandal has also managed to be one of television's most politically savvy shows. People might have side-eyed the soap when it first debuted, with its president having an affair plotline, but the series has delved into the politics of Fitz's relationship with a black woman and what it means for Olivia to give up her agency to the most powerful white man in the world. Beyond that, Rowan frequently dismantles white privilege in his speeches, Mellie and Olivia are sisters doing it for themselves with a dash of misandry, and the most recent episode discussed how we let cities like Ferguson and Flint down by placing Band-Aids on them instead of giving them the proper care they need. Despite being a network soap on ABC, Scandal feels like it has a message, and its stories feel relevant.
But most of all, this season has corrected the disservice the series has done to Olivia in the past. Setting her as Mellie's chief of staff erases the bad taste that having her jockey between Fitz and Jake Ballard left for many viewers. Olivia isn't concerned about a man, she's concerned about her country, and she's concerned about taking control of the fucking Oval Office. In 2013, Washington made history as the first black female lead in a network drama since 1974 (Teresa Graves in Get Christie Love!), which opened the door for shows like Being Mary Jane, Insecure, and Dear White People and their complicated, black female leads. But as Scandal prepares to leave the airwaves, Olivia isn't going quietly. As she tells the season's villainess in their final confrontation: "You can't take Olivia Pope. Olivia Pope takes you."