Lessons From…Scandal: “A Door Marked Exit”

Somehow I have not written about one of my new television obsessions, Scandal. Frankly, it is a near sin that I have yet to discuss this amazing program. There are several episodes and scenes I could choose from, but the one I really want to focus on is Season 3’s 10th episode, “A Door Marked Exit.” Specifically the scene between Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn) and Rowan Pope (Joe Morton). As usual SPOILERS ahead.

This, in my honest opinion, is one of the best scenes in television because it follows one of the golden rules of a visual medium: show don’t tell. We get the history of these two men and their relationship/connection by the words they speak, but we get their true, core character by the way they speak and sit and move and stare one another down.

Fitz (it’s the standard shortening for the show and will be easier for this post) uses Olivia, Rowan’s daughter, to try to get a rise out of Rowan because it would work on him. Throughout the entire series Olivia has been Fitz’s weakness. Anytime she is involved, his capacity for rational, intelligent thought drops immeasurably. He becomes like a whining child searching for his favorite toy or blanket. Olivia is his safety net which is why she is his weakness because he relies on her to find himself. The problem is that she is Fitz’s weakness, not Rowan’s; at least, not in the same way. Our weaknesses are personal, not universal. Just because something affects you, does not mean it will have any effect on someone else. Understanding ourselves is a strong advantage but to win a battle understanding our opponents is key.

scandal pope vs fitz 2

That smug look is going to be completely wiped off his face in a few moments.

Rowan knows people and organizations and understands power. He would have to considering that he runs the most powerful black ops organization in this world. Rowan knows why he is shackled to a chair. He knows why the president is berating and interrogating him. He knows what his situation is and he does not care. Because more importantly he knows the man before him, Fitzgerald Grant. Unlike Fitz, Rowan knows true conflict. He has fought and scraped for what he has. His struggle has changed him and influenced his character. Rowan started off low and had to rise to his position. Besides killing, which he did much of, the only way to rise in any organization, outside of power being handed to you, is to understand the people within it. Rowan could read Fitz from the moment he saw him because that is what Rowan has been doing his entire life. It is the way he survived and flourished amid the turbulence and uncertainty of his enemies. Knowing ourselves brings enlightenment; knowing others brings power. Nothing is more powerful or advantageous than knowing how our opponents, and at times allies, think, feel, knowing their desires and pains and worries.

This is the face of a man who don't have time for your shit.

This is the face of a man who don’t have time for your shit.

Of course, this confrontation is eventually resolved but not by either of these men. It is solved by Olivia because she knows both these men. She has her father’s skills and tenacity and understands how they operate. More importantly, she knows how to manipulate them because of her understanding.  It is not just enough to have the skills, but you must be willing to do what is necessary, even set aside pride, to get the mission/job/work completed. Unlike Rowan, Olivia is willing to work outside of prestige and power and humble herself to get at the core or heart of the matter. It is the key element that makes her different, and superior, to her father.

Thus endeth today’s lesson.