Why Did 'Scandal' Do a "Ferguson Episode"?

by Emma Cueto

This week Scandal was blatantly modeled off the events in Ferguson, Missouri from the summer of 2014 — a dead black teen is shot by a white officer and a tense stand off with the police ensues. But was doing a Ferguson episode a good idea for Scandal ? And since the show isn't exactly known for doing "ripped from the headlines" stories, why go ahead and do such a storyline, anyway?

Doing an episode that touches on such a sensitive subject is obviously a risk, especially for a show that normally trades in obviously fictional versions of the US government. After all, one of the show's central fixtures — Fitz's relationship with Olivia — is already completely implausible considering the two would definitely have been caught by now given how sloppy they've become about the affair in recent years. So tackling an issue that is very real and very serious is not only a departure for the show, but potentially runs the risk of sensationalizing or trivializing the problem.

I will say that overall, I felt like they did a decent job with the issue. For one thing, it made it clear that not even Olivia Pope can "handle" issues of racism and racial resentment. And it also provided some nice lines, such as when Olivia tells the chief of police, "Standing in groups and saying things you don't like does not make them a mob, it makes them Americans." And it ultimately does not try to forge some superficial version of "compromise" or "unity." In fact, the fact that the DC police wind up under review is highly timely given the recent report from the Department of Justice.

However, is turning Ferguson into a television episode a good idea to begin with? After all, Scandal's episode is ultimately fictional, right down to it's complex but tidy conclusion. In reality, the protests in Ferguson are still ongoing, there has been no trial to determine Darren Wilson's guilt or innocence, and the people of the community still have not seen the type of change they've asked for. In light of the fact that the situation is still ongoing, then, is it wise to make it into a television episode?

And why do it? As I said, Scandal is not known for using real life as a basis for anything. As far as I know, there are no real-world counterparts for B6-13, for instance. So did Shonda Rhimes and the writers of Scandal want to make a statement about Ferguson? If so, they definitely have. Or is the show looking to incorporate more real world storylines? If so, this is an odd way to start.

Whatever the reasons are, though, this is certainly an episode to remember, one with plenty of dimensions to digest.

Image: Nicole Wilder/ABC