Anyone else still feeling all the feels after last night's Scandal?
In what was perhaps the most important episode to date, Shonda Rhimes and her writing team took on Ferguson, with a gripping story about an African-American teen who was shot dead because a white cop thought he had a knife. It was a paper receipt.
Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) showed up to diffuse the situation for the chief of police, but ended up swapping sides and bringing the cop—who had planted a knife on the boy—to justice.
It was a neat and tidy ending, and a pretty stark contrast to what has happened in real life in Ferguson. This week the Department of Justice released a report detailing the reasons they cleared Officer Darren Wilson of civil rights violations in the shooting death of Michael Brown. The DOJ also released a second report blasting the policing practice in the city of Ferguson, citing blatant disregard of the law and racial bias among law enforcement.
"The fact that they stand in groups and say things you do not like does not make them a mob," Olivia Pope told the police chief on Scandal, in one of the episode's many epic lines. ‘It makes them Americans."
Rhimes herself admitted that she and her writing team struggled with how to conclude the story. Do you mirror the darkest parts of reality, and let the cop walk, or give hope to viewers that justice can be served, and race relations can improve? They chose hope.
"We had a great deal of debate about this ending," Shonda tweeted. "Whether to be hopeful or not. It was really hard…In the end we went with showing what fulfilling the dream SHOULD mean. The idea of possibility and the despair we feel now."
As the episode came to an end, the slain boy's father was escorted by Olivia Pope to President Fitzgerald's Oval Office, where Fitz (who also has lost a son) tells the grieving father "I'm sorry for your loss." But the ending isn't entirely hopeful--the father's devastated face while talking to Fitz is unforgettable. As is the final image—of the boy, Brandon, whose face we had not yet seen, lying on the cold wet street and being zipped up into a body bag.
It was such a brave and powerful episode. A glimpse at how tragedies like the shooting death in Ferguson could have gone much differently, and it's nearly impossible not to be filled with emotion after seeing it. There is much work to be done, but TV like this that can actually help create a more mindful, thoughtful and proactive society. For the fraction of Scandal viewers who didn't pay much attention to the news reports coming out of Ferguson, they learned a little about why next time, they should listen up and do their part.
Black lives matter. TV about black lives matters. And what's truly inspiring this TV season is that it's clear that TV about black lives is mattering more and more.
The ratings phenomenon that is Empire is something that everyone—not just TV network execs but also movie studio heads—should take note of. It isn't a fleeting fad…It's a growing force, and the success of Empire, Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder have proven that American audiences will tune in for—and even obsess over—compelling primetime series with African-American leads. And even women over 40 at that.
Empire climbed again on Wednesday night to win the night among all networks, with more than 14 million viewers. And although its total audience is astounding, it's the key demo (18-49) that is truly earth-shattering and unprecedented for a broadcast drama in 2015. It's not quite The Walking Dead numbers, but close, and bigger than The Big Bang Theory. If the ratings hold steady, Empire will end the season as broadcast TV's top scripted show.
"The #Empire numbers?!" Rhimes tweeted. "Gotta be honest—did a dance when I saw them. We r not a trend, our consumer dollars matter. Maybe movies will learn?"
One final note: The actor who played the convicted cop? His name is Michael Welch and he should win a dang Emmy for his monologue when he was arrested. ABC, make sure you submit him.
And for this episode, this particular fan wants to say: Thank you, Shonda Rhimes and the Scandal writers. Good on you.