My Thoughts on “The Lawn Chair” Episode of ‘Scandal’

kerry washington

Okay, I’ve come down from my emotional ivory tower about last night’s #Scandal episode and I’m back on solid ground:

Firstly, that would have never happened. A black man walking out with a shotgun who openly fired it would have been immediately shot with cameras filming.  I was about five minutes late when I tuned in, and there are enough real-life examples of why this wouldn’t have happened.  One of which is that the police would have immediately seen him as a threat, and frankly, they would have been justified under the law.  It would have added to the tragedy of it all, but no sane person would have said the police weren’t justified in shooting a man, in this case a grieving father, who was carrying a loaded weapon–a pump action shotgun.

Even as a sub point to that, I’m not convinced black men are liberated enough in this country to do what the character of Clarence Parker did: protect his dead son’s body.  Would black fathers take a bullet for their live children?  Certainly.  Would black men die for the life of their child?  Of course, no one’s questioning that.  But I don’t think black men would be willing to die over death–if that makes sense.  There aren’t extant slave narratives of fathers, of men, who were willing to die when their families were busted up and children were going in one direction and their wives going another.  Black men, to my knowledge, live in that powerless state and also rationalize “what good does it do me if I’m dead” when there may be surviving family that still require them be a provider and protector.

Secondly, when did DC Metro Police become so white? I’ve been to DC numerous times, and haven’t ever seen a white cop.  I was a bit stunned with the casting call on this one.  Metro PD was portrayed as overwhelmingly white, and the current police chief is a white woman–may even be the first woman–and she came after a long line of black police chiefs thanks to the late Marion Berry I’m sure.

Thirdly, I didn’t see Olivia bringing Mr. Parker to meet Fitz as some “tidy neat bow” to this story, but rather just the TV-nature of needing a human element: two grieving fathers knowing the loss of a murdered son.  By this time, the show had gone for the strong emotional gut punch.  The culprit had been found out, and the tirade the murdering cop had toward Olivia Rosa Parks Pope was hard to stomach, even for me.  I felt the spirit of my ancestors rise up even knowing that this was a TV show.    But, this is TV, and so their needed to be a conclusion of sorts.  With Nina Simone playing powerfully and solemnly in the background, a perfect soundtrack to the last four minutes of the show, the emotional arc of the show had reached a full crescendo, and that release was needed by that point.

“Scandal” never set out to be a socially conscious show–on anything.  It was set to be your typical boilerplate-DC/Beltway show, and for the most part it’s achieved that.  I don’t think it’s fair to suddenly hold this show to some social justice standard because they chose to “go there” with this particular episode.  I think for die-hard watchers, this show was clearly seen as a knee-jerk reaction to fan commentary about it not being socially conscious, and it provided an almost visual whiplash for us as well.  For the past season and a half, we’ve been used to long story arcs about secretive off-the-books wet teams and black ops that Olivia Michelle Obama Pope was involved in, the dysfunction of her parents, and the love square between her, the president, the president’s friend, and the first lady.  This episode dealt with none of that; the secondary story about the vice presidential choice seemed like a distraction at best.

Given the fact that I considered the whole scenario unrealistic from the beginning, I wasn’t expecting some monumental shift to take place in race relations or police brutality by the end of the show.

Fourthly, this is about the blackest we’ll ever see Olivia Fannie Lou Pope. Her middle name will be back to LaShaun by next week. To what a colleague on social media said, Olivia is phenotypically black, but for the most part her ontological identity is typical Hollywood-vanilla. Aside from the Thomas Jefferson/Sally Hemmings scene back from season 2 (I think?), and “You are a boy” soliloquy, there haven’t been anything more than a few dog whistles to her blackness.

I’ll be honest, I don’t necessarily need an Olivia Assata Shakur Pope in this role.  I mean, this is fantasy television at it’s best.  For the last two-thirds of the 2014-15 television season, those three hours on Thursday night in Shondaland have been escapism at it’s best.  With a glass of wine and dinner, what more can you ask for after a long hard day.  Me not requiring her to be black has allowed me not to read too much into her dalliances with two white men as Edison didn’t work out, Harrison (albeit non-sexual) is dead, and her father is crazy.  Olivia Becky Pope has no meaningful relationships with black men at this point.  But, it’s television; it’s escapism, why should I really care.

courtney vanceFifthly, Courtney Vance did a marvelous job carrying the role.  He cried on cue at the end.  What more can you seriously ask for?  Mr. Angela Bassett did a spectacular job carrying the determinedness that we do see in many black men.  He existed as an untouchable archetype; a paragon of black fatherhood.

Whether intentionally or just a by-product of Hollywood machinations, his character, and this episode framed the world from a point of wishful blackness.  What happened in those 43 minutes on screen is what we wished had happened in Ferguson at the crime scene of Michael Brown.  We wished there had been planted evidence.  We wished for Darren Wilson to be found out as a scathing racist and of unfairly killing Brown.  We wished Michael Brown, Sr. could have sat out there with a shotgun and demanded what we perceived to be a fair investigation.  We wished there was an Olivia LaShaun Pope fighting on our behalf.

But I’m sure by next week, all will be back to normal in Hollywood.

Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL

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11 thoughts on “My Thoughts on “The Lawn Chair” Episode of ‘Scandal’

  1. Sir.. I was bored by it from the beginning. I would have rather she been back in that dungeon then do this preachy episode about Mike Brown. It didn’t even FIT in the sequence of the season. She should’ve been at home rocking back and forth still crazy from captivity.

  2. This is an excellent reminder of the realist-objective conditions behind the representations. Great essay and work.

  3. I had so many mixed emotions watching this episode. Almost like the feelings I had while watching Law & Order’s Trayvon Martin episode. I agree with what you said, about it being wishful blackness. Because when Olivia said “The officer who shot your son is behind bars,” I just thought “Sigh, if only…”

  4. When was the last time you visited DC? Always billed as “Chocolate City”, DC’s colorscape is changing before our very eyes. We can update the billing to read “White-chocolate City”. With that, the face of the police force has been rapidly changing. We are now seeing military veterans and recruits from other jurisdictions on our force. So, yes….MPD used to be predominantly black, but now, not so much. The depiction of the MPD on Scandal is very real.

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