Last night was not a great episode of Scandal, but it was a solidly entertaining one that felt like it was advancing the plot lines that have been stalled since at least last season. AND THEN, A TWIST.
Scandal spent two weeks teasing the return of Papa Pope, and they delivered on him immediately. The show’s cold open was him asking Olivia to help him shut down the case against B-613, and he explained his reasoning for why she should in one of his grand soliloquies that sounded great but was, as the last few have been, mostly just blustering and chest-puffing. The problem is in the writing, not the delivery; I’m pretty sure the actor who plays Papa Pope could read the ingredients on my shampoo bottle and make them sound both grand and menacing.
After meeting with her dad (who roofied her new boy toy in order to get into her apartment and talk to her), Olivia gathered up the squad and decided that the safest way to proceed with the B-613 lawsuit was to make it public. Even though it would cause considerable collateral damage, the visibility would theoretically (key word: theoretically) make it harder for Papa Pope and his merry bad of clandestine murderers to eliminate their enemies.
Thankfully, the B-613 machinations were mostly put aside until the end of the episode; in their place, we got a weekly subplot that actually felt thematically and structurally tied to what the focus of the season’s last few episodes is obviously going to be: B-613 and the moral dilemmas that surround its existence and potential demise.
In the weekly plot, we met a young activist named Marcus (or, we re-met him; he first appeared in the Ferguson-themed episode from several weeks ago), who was running for mayor of DC. Not only was he leading the incumbent in the polls, but he was banging the incumbent’s wife, and the current mayor knew all about it. In a fairly extreme act of killing two birds with one stone, the mayor sent some goons dressed like ninjas over to stab his wife while Marcus was in his bedroom with her, and Marcus enlisted Olivia’s help to avoid getting framed for murder.
The mayor also had someone hack into Marcus’ email account and plant some threatening emails, which was enough to get Marcus hauled in for questioning. Thankfully, that gave us Olivia’s finest scene in some time: at least a minute of pure, unadulterated ranting directly into the face of a smug old cop, in full view of basically everyone in his command. If this had been a bad episode, this would have made it all worth it; thankfully, it wasn’t.
Olivia’s own set of goons eventually found enough proof that the mayor had ordered the hit to get him to withdraw from the race and endorse Marcus, but, in a fit of conscious indicative of the fact that he’d never be a good career politician, Marcus got up at his own press conference and confessed. He told everyone he had been banging the mayor’s wife, who had had her killed as revenge on both of them; what wasn’t addressed is that he more or less also admitted that he had Olivia tamper with a crime scene and conceal a murder. That’s incredibly and entirely illegal everywhere but in Shondaland.
It’s not hard to see how this all neatly fits in with Olivia’s own moral dilemmas of the episode. Marcus confessed out of his own righteous moral requirement, and Olivia’s wrestling with similar issue: torpedo the B-613 case to help her dad and try to put the whole thing behind everyone, or cooperate with the dangerous investigation in the name of justice and endanger literally everyone she cares about in the entire world, including herself?
While Olivia was contemplating that issue, the episode’s other plot came into play. The White House was trying to pass a bill that was never really explained but that everyone seemed to think was very important, and they needed their kooky vice president’s vote in order to break a tie. She insisted on reading the 1,200 page law before voting on it because she is not a career politician used to doing what she’s told by people with more power than her, which delayed things for…a while. Hijinks ensued, and they ultimately lead to rewriting the bill into a Real, Helpful Law and launching Mellie’s senate campaign to distract the press from the false start.
Somehow, in the middle of all this, Olivia and Jake sat down to talk about B-613 with David, and in that conversation, they told him about the time that Rowan ordered a passenger jet shot down, and they told him who did it: the president. But, like, before he was the president. Olivia was upset afterward, obviously, so she called Russell, the dude who calls her Alex.
He came over immediately, and although he did give her a stern talking-to about how it’s not nice to roofie people (“Sorry, it was my dad,” is an awkward explanation in that situation), he ended up fully naked in her apartment before she even bothered to take her cashmere wrap off. Shonda may not know what B-613 is any better than we do, but she really looks out for us when it comes to shirtless men.
All that was left, of course, was for Liv to let Papa Pope know she wouldn’t be taking his case. He told her that he was happy that she had finally become a real, worthy opponent, but when he says he’s “happy,” he doesn’t mean it like everyone else does. Papa Pope gets happy in a get-your-new-boyfriend-to-kill-your-old-boyfriend way, which is exactly what happened; the episode closed with Liv’s new boo knifing Jake and, based on the previews, leaving him dead (I think for real dead, but who knows) on the Pope & Associates conference table. Rude.
At first, the murder was shocking, but after letting it simmer for a few hours, maybe it wasn’t. Jake has popped into the action awkwardly and infrequently over the past few episodes, and if viewers are tiring of the B-613 plot (and we are!), then the most expeditious way to move through it isn’t to litigate–it’s to kill people who are involved in it. Jake, in spite of his many superb shirtless performances over several seasons, was no longer useful as anything but a prop to extend a storyline no one likes and that the writers seem not to understand themselves. Dude had to go.
The previews for next week indicate that more characters might be on the chopping block, and if I had to guess, my guess would be Huck. The show has yet to resolve the ways that he’s spun out of control all season, including the gruesome, spontaneous murder of Lena Dunham and her wig, and his character is also heavily tied to the plot everyone wishes would go away.
This is the first episode that’s felt like the Scandal to which I became addicted in weeks, maybe longer. It’s good to have it back.