“I’m gladiating,” Olivia Pope tells Quinn during a stakeout early in Thursday night’s episode “The Key.” It’s less of a declaration than a lame pass at convincing herself that she is still Olivia Pope, the one in the white hat, the Fixer. Never mind that her boyfriend Jake is incommunicado and lodged in the bowels of the Pentagon or that Olivia Pope and Associates has crumbled into an anemically staffed operation. Olivia is a gladiator, and gladiators gonna gladiate.
Or so she wishes.
The fourth season makes it clear that no one is wearing the white hat or standing in the sun. For a show that’s typically packed with deft one-upmanship and ruthless power plays, nearly everyone on Scandal is powerless or has surrendered (everyone except the seemingly untouchable Rowan Pope). To be more specific, nearly everyone is stuck in an extended period of grieving.
The Grants are grieving the loss of Jerry, Jr. Huck is grieving the loss of his family. Newly minted Attorney General David Rosen is grieving the loss of his idealism and honor. Olivia Pope and Associates are grieving Harrison. Cyrus continues to grieve James. And Fitz and Olivia are coming to accept there will be no house in Vermont.
For a show that is always about the next step—the next betrayal, the next reveal—Scandal is struggling to maintain its momentum while picking up the pieces of season 3 and properly mourning its ghosts.