If you’re anything like me, you’re probably still reeling from last night’s explosive season finale of ‘Scandal’. [SPOILER ALERT] Olivia runs away with Jake, Huck reunites with his family, Fitz wins the election, and B613 is back in business. The drama, the action, the emotion — it all sucks you in and leaves you a ‘Scandal’ junkie. But as an aspiring ‘gladiator in a suit’ myself (minus the violence and presidential affair, of course), I see ‘Scandal’ as more than just great primetime television. The last few episodes have packed in more drama than ever before, but they’ve also revealed some telling lessons in crisis and political communication.
1. The campaign must go on.
In episode 317, “Flesh and Blood,” the President and First Lady can’t leave the White House because of a bomb threat. With the election in a matter of days, President Grant is understandably alarmed by the inability to campaign in public. Olivia, being the PR goddess that she is, promises to bring the campaign to him, making the most out of the wildly abnormal circumstances. Fitz (President Grant) then does a series of video interviews from the safety of the White House, while his staff makes phone calls to unidentified, yet clearly important, stakeholders. This all goes to show that even when the going gets tough, the campaign must go on.
2. The media wait for no one.
In episode 315, “Mama Said Knock You Out,” the First Family prepares for a live primetime television interview with who I’m assuming to be the on-screen equivalent of Brian Williams or Lester Holt. This seems like a great PR tactic leading up to the election, but there’s one problem: POTUS and FLOTUS can’t get their family under control. Their son is leading a social media campaign against President Grant, and their daughter walks in on Mellie’s affair with the VP candidate.
Olivia goes into crisis mode (but does she even have a different mode?) by trying to stall the interview and rally the family. The interviewer isn’t having it, which is understandable since the interview is supposed to take place on live television. He threatens to wildly speculate about the family’s issues on national television if they don’t show. Ultimately, Olivia keeps her composure and demands that the president pull his family together because, well, they have no choice but to show up to this interview on time.
3. The media also don’t care how important your client is.
In the season finale, “The Price of Free and Fair Elections,” a bomb goes off at a political official’s funeral. The president takes to the podium to address the media and the country about the disaster, as is standard following a tragedy, but the TV networks cut him off to show footage of the vice president (and election opponent) taking care of wounded people at the scene. Olivia desperately tries to reason with the media execs, astounded by the fact that they would cut off the president’s speech, but to no avail. If the president can get lost in the shuffle (even on a scripted TV drama), then so can just about any client. It’s not about being important, it’s about being newsworthy.
4. Hurt people always want an apology.
In episode 315, Jake, the head of the super-secret assassination agency B613, runs into Cyrus, the president’s chief of staff, at the White House. This is awkward — and emotional — because Jake had just killed Cyrus’s husband James, a reporter who asked dangerous questions. Cyrus lunges at Jake to express his anger and sadness, but the president intercepts him. Jake continually apologizes to Cyrus, saying, “I’m sorry for your loss,” over and over. Ultimately, Cyrus calms down and comes to terms with what happened. Even in the most painful and personal of tragedies, people always just want an apology — make sure to give it to them.
5. Sometimes, you can be the scandal.
In the season finale, Olivia realizes that she is at the root of all of the problems. Her mom, the terrorist, came back for her. Her father, the former and future head of B613, is hunting her mother to help the man Olivia loves (the president). She thinks that all of her client’s problems — and her friends’ problems — will go away if she leaves town. Even though she’s completely wrong in this case, it’s important to remember that even the most savvy public relations pro is not exempt from scandals, and you can’t be the problem-solver if you’re also the problem.
Stay tuned for the next season, so we can learn even more about what it takes to be a gladiator.