Back from her kidnapping, Olivia is having a difficult time dealing with her emotions, so she lies to Jake about her whereabouts (giving Scott Foley a 10-second on-screen appearance) and throws herself into work. Which is what a lot of people do, when dealing with their personal lives seems like an insurmountable task. However, I don't think most people would have chosen to take on the kind of job Liv selects.
After a D.C. police officer shot and killed a black teen in the street, the police department called in Olivia to handle the optics. The boy was Brandon Parker, an 18-year-old neighborhood kid whose father, Clarence, raised him alone after his mother died of breast cancer.
Brandon was supposed to graduate from high school in the spring. What's more, he was killed a mere stone's throw from the White House after being stopped by an officer because he "matched the description" of a man suspected of stealing a cellphone from a nearby store. According to the cop, Brandon charged at him with a knife when confronted.
Brandon's body had been lying in the street for about 30 minutes by the time Olivia arrived, but the police chief couldn't bring out the coroner until the crowd dissipated -- which was proving difficult because 1) the crowd wasn't going anywhere and 2) every other person in it was using their smart phone to record the police's next move.
Just as Olivia tries to begin "fixing" the unfixable situation, Brandon's father, Clarence, stands in front of his son, fires a warning shot from his shotgun and demands that they bring him the cop who shot his son.
(If the auction block plot line from earlier this season was "too soon" for some viewers, I imagine that "The Lawn Chair" was almost impossible to watch.)
Olivia shifts gears and tries to convince Clarence to let her help. She tells him that she knows the attorney general and can get him down there to oversee the coroner, ensuring that the police do not tamper with the crime scene. He's shocked that she has the AG's direct line, but of course, she IS Olivia Pope.
Unfortunately, David Rosen has his hands a bit full. Fitz and Cyrus want to figure out the best way to get Andrew's traitorous behind out of office, without the situation coming back to bite them. They cannot publicly accuse him of treason. David suggests they say Andrew is incapable of serving is country in his current physical condition and bring in a new VP. Now, they just have to figure out who to get.
Fitz's job is further complicated by the fact that he has promised Mellie that she is "next." If he chooses a VP that is too capable, he might ruin Mellie's chances of running for the presidency. He also is tired of his vice presidents stabbing him the back, so there's that.
Back at the crime scene, things have gotten more difficult for Olivia, thanks to the appearance of a neighborhood activist named Marcus Walker. He has known the Parkers all his life and tells Clarence not to trust Olivia, who he (rightly) believes to have been hired by the DCPD.
Olivia tries to reason with them both, pointing out that one of the attorney general's subordinates had already arrived on the scene.
Marcus, however, points out that Olivia has already failed to get Clarence the one thing that she'd promised him: the attorney general. He then hands Clarence a lawn chair (hence the episode title) so that he can continue to guard his son's body.
Olivia is furious with Marcus because she believes he is trying to incite violence and rage in order to make himself the next famous black activist. Marcus believes that Olivia is a sell-out.
Olivia isn't sure whose story to believe. The police officer who shot Brandon claims to have worked to get to know people on his assigned beat. He says he empathizes with Clarence Parker, as a father.
This isn't one of those rare "I'm black. Sally doesn't have the NAACP" moments that throw off other "Scandal" characters. It's Olivia taking a stand against institutional racism as well as being critical of herself, the system and those powerful men around her.
Olivia has her "black card" called into question by Marcus (as well as by the fact that she helped a Republican president get elected, twice). You can almost see Olivia checking her privilege as she tries to navigate her intersecting identities: black woman in America and powerful political fixer.
When Olivia catches the police chief feeding the press a story about Andrew Nichols' illness -- Sorry, but plot hole: How would he have anything good to give them about that? -- she is furious. She accuses the chief of trying to deflect America's attention so that the PD can violently break up the crowd.
"The fact that they stand in groups and say things you don't like does not make them a mob. It makes them Americans," she says. Her decision made, she steps behind the police tape and begins to chant with the protesters.
Afterward, she goes to David's office to solicit his help in person. He accuses her of trying to manipulate the justice system yet again, but she isn't concerned with politics this time. Instead, Olivia is there to fight institutional racism.
Olivia tells David that she was afraid she was going to die for a full week while she was being held by her kidnappers. "Imagine living like that every day of your life." Moved, he agrees to subpoena the DCPD, forcing them to hand over the security camera footage of the shooting.
Olivia presents the video to Clarence; it shows Brandon reaching toward his waistband before he was shot. Clarence insists that his son didn't carry a knife, but finds one when he searches his son's pockets. Unconvinced, he still refuses to leave his post.
None of this is going unnoticed at the White House, but Fitz is unable to make a statement without coming down hard on the police, a stance Cyrus doesn't believe he can afford to take at the moment.
While Fitz is waiting it out, the Mexican-American governor of New Mexico, Rosalyn Mendez, releases a video in which she describes the police brutality her parents faced when they moved to the U.S. Because she's both a woman of color and a Republican who has been outspoken about police violence, Cyrus thinks she would be a great VP and practically shoves the idea down Fitz's throat.
In order to remain loyal to Mellie and protect himself from another power grab, Fitz leaks dirt on the governor to the press. (Cannot imagine that the POTUS did that himself, but whatever.) Turns out she owns a prison, which doesn't help her anti-police-violence stance.
Cyrus's plans ruined, Fitz and Mellie vet a senator Mellie met earlier in the episode, believing that her tendency to say exactly what is on her mind will prevent her from being a threat to Mellie's future campaign.
Meanwhile, Olivia's team takes a closer look at the security camera footage and finds that the officer already had the perp who stole the cell phone in the back of the car.
They confront the officer in the precinct and he launches into a speech about how "you people" (yep, he went there.) don't respect the police's authority and how no one focuses on the deaths of black people murdered by other black people and how he wakes up each morning and risks his life to protect a community in which people are taught to question him. He tells Olivia that Brandon died because he had no respect.
The officer is arrested. Olivia gives Clarence the news, along with the receipt for the cell phone, which is what Brandon was reaching for when the cop shot him. Clarence readies himself to be cuffed, but Olivia assures him that he is not going to be arrested. Instead, she takes him to the White House to meet Fitz, another father who knows the pain of losing a son, so that the POTUS can formally pay his respects.
The episode was difficult to watch, tear-jerking and complicated, but it was also brave and powerful and necessary. The show often makes social statements in spurts. Olivia self-identifies as a feminist and Rowan has outspokenly criticized Fitz for not acknowledging his racial privilege, but that usually comes with a spoonful of campy, soapy fun.
Instead, "The Lawn Chair" was intense, socio-political commentary. This season, overall, might be better for it.