Secrets of Scandal: Top of the Hour

By Jess Brownell, Researcher Mar 22, 2013

Cyrus BeeneEach week, Olivia and the Associates take on a client at the center of a scandal and (hopefully) save the day. But there’s much more to crisis management than handling the press and leaving the scandalized to pick up the pieces. As real-life crisis manager and Scandal inspiration Judy Smith can tell you, a big part of the job is helping clients cope even when the media’s not around.

So, as the writers were coming up with storylines for this week’s episode, they liked the idea of taking a closer look at how a scandal really affects the people involved. “Top of the Hour” finds Olivia living with her client, RyoCorp CEO Sarah Stanner, after the media learns that Sarah had an affair with her law professor 15 years ago, while both were married. And that law professor just happens to be Fitz’s latest Supreme Court nominee, the one picked to replace the president-assassinating Justice Verna Thornton. Seems like the Grant administration is cursed when it comes to its nominees to the bench…

The details of this scandal play out like a tennis match.  Olivia’s first move is to have Sarah make a public statement and own up to the story. But Cyrus swings back by gathering his staff in a plan to shame and place all the blame on Sarah. The Stanners want to get on a plane and escape, but Olivia convinces them to stay, push back, and change the narrative. Then, a major setback comes when Sarah’s company threatens to sue her for breach of contract and fire her.

Let’s pause from the tennis match to take a look at why Sarah’s company has the option to fire her. Companies sometimes include what’s called a morality clause in their employees’ contracts. These clauses vary widely, but are meant to restrict the behavior of the employee -- their drug use, sexual activity, and public behavior. For this reason, morality clauses are most often applied to the contracts of athletes, entertainers, heads of major corporations, and other public figures.

Most often, a morality clause is in place to restrict the employee’s behavior while he or she is working for the company. But in Sarah Stanner’s case, her company is trying to fire her for actions that happened before she signed the contract, and they’re not having much luck against Harrison’s fast-talking ways. That is until video footage is released proving that Sarah’s affair actually continued for several years longer than she admitted, coinciding with her tenure at RyoCorp. Harrison doesn’t have many words for this one…

But where there’s a problem, there’s an Associate with a solution. Abby suggests she and Harrison tackle the morality issue from a different angle – by making the RyoCorp boardmembers uncomfortable with their own past indiscretions. The threat alone is enough to scare the board into submission, and Sarah’s job is secured.

The last serve in the tennis match is a much more personal crisis for the Stanners, With the reveal of the security footage, Sarah’s husband Phil begins to question the paternity of their daughter. A paternity test is ordered, but when the results come back, Olivia is able to convince Phil that the only thing that will heal his family is time. Phil knows Olivia is right, and tears the results envelope into pieces.

The Stanners’ story shows that there’s much more to a scandal than what happens in front of the camera. But in this case, the cameras are what save them. With the rescue of the Kashfari hostages, the news vans pack up from the Stanners’ lawn, on to the next story. And, as always, at the end of the day, Olivia wins the matchpoint for her clients.