So, this episode was “intense.” I put it in quotes because I personally wasn’t into it, but you can tell the writers wrote the word INTENSE on the whiteboard and underlined and circled it three times. It has all the hallmarks of someone doing their Most Intense Work Ever: dirty fingernails, tears, big hair, a prison, heavy breathing, and some kind of cous cous. It’s probably Kerry Washington’s Emmy episode, because it’s 43 minutes of Olivia being Super Intense, suffering and lecturing through fear and then lecturing through bravado and then crying and then so much running. But Scandal is nothing if not overly enamored of itself, and in its rabid self-fancying, it gave the game away too early for any of this to feel like anything but filler.

Point 1: We don’t know who took Olivia precisely, but we do already know who is behind it, more or less — war-mongering and power-mongering Jon Tenney and Portia de Rossi, although I’m sure there’s another shadowy higher power who will betray them when this all spins out of control — and we also already know Fitz is aware of it. All of that knowledge took most of the scary out of this. We know it’s not random. We know she’s a bargaining chip. We know she’s only been missing for one episode and there are eleven more of the season. We’re not that worried about her. Not yet. While there’s validity to showing what she went through, and making it all about her experience does give you the sense of how isolated she is, it’s hard to go there with her and be scared for her.

Point 2: The episode began with a scene of her running, running, running, down a dirty hallway, toward a red door…

and again, Scandal is never fonder of itself than when it’s playing with time and space, so this is clearly from the end of the episode. Showing it to us at the top of the hour deboned about 41 minutes of the show, because I was just like, “Okay, we get it, we know she ends up running with a gun, so obviously she overpowers these guys,” and we had to tread water waiting for the show to get there. Between that and the show’s MADDENING recent crutch of twisting the plot and then three seconds later flashing back to lay out EXACTLY what led us there — rather than letting you realize it in an actual suspenseful way — Scandal cuts itself off at the knees. The episode already had a hook. Olivia was taken. It didn’t NEED this extra bell and whistle. We were already worried for her. It could’ve just opened with the ensuing scene, which is the abduction, told from Olivia’s point of view. Instead, it essentially spoiled itself.

Okay, rant over. Honestly, I understand from a storytelling point of view — and editing, and directing — that sometimes you get excited to do an episode that has a different feel to it. And for budget reasons, shooting 90 percent of it in one location is way cheaper (they call those Bottle Episodes, and most series have at least one per season, and this had to be one of them). But I just wish it had shown more confidence in its own story. Most people tuning into Scandal would have stayed even without the promise of an action sequence.

Shall we delve in? Good:

Just as a refresher: Olivia told Jake she wants both him and Fitz, and refuses to choose, so he’s just going to have to go with the flow and it’s up to him whether he keeps having sex with her. Jake is like, “As long as I’m in the game,” so the two of them prepare to bang it out on top of the grand piano. But when he went to go get a blanket to cushion The Papal Rump…

… a man slid in through the front door, snatched Olivia, and dragged her outside (we see she clung to the door frame almost long enough for Jake to see her there, but not quite, because: drama! It’s actually well choreographed). Olivia dumped her wine on the couch, her goblet of elixir thudding gracelessly against the cushion.

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So imagine my amusement when Jake comes back in later to survey the scene as he left it, and the glass is gently resting against the arm, as if placed there with extreme tender loving care by a prop person who forgot to check the dailies for continuity. (Also, Olivia should have known immediately that her father was not involved, because Rowan Pope would NEVER sacrifice a drop of du Bellay. He would probably murder someone over this crime against alcohol.)

 

Jake runs downstairs and breathlessly looks around, seeing no trace of Olivia, until a car fires up its engine and does a U-Turn right in the middle of this not-busy Washington D.C. street. Jake goes full Bridget Jones, giving chase in his manties, but to no avail — except that he reads the licence plate. Which is short, and which he recites to Huck on the phone after confirming that he’s swept Olivia’s apartment and there is no surveillance equipment, so these people are total f’ing pros. Now, if Jake were thinking with Upstairs Brain and not Downstairs Brain, he might say, “These total f’ing pros would not have made it so easy for me to memorize the plate on their getaway car. Nor would they have parked it right outside the front door of her building, easy to spot and easy to chase.”

And indeed, we find out it was all a stunt, led by this man:

Creepy, no? He’s like Eyes Wide Shut, but for Death Eaters. And he is the ringleader of a group of men, whom Olivia later points out all spoke freely and looked to this man for approval, while this man never said a word aloud. She correctly deduces that this man has all the power and won’t bother negotiating with the twerps he left to do the dirty work, because she, too, knows they aren’t going to kill her.

Anyway, here was the scam:

The Total F’ing Pros scooped Olivia straight across the hall, where Jake would never have thought to look.

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This spelled doom for her neighbor, by the way. Who, confusingly, they left alive until the last second. She was just sitting there with tape over her mouth while they turned her apartment into Video Village, watching her apartment — then clearing it of all equipment while Jake was downstairs trying to chase Mark Darcy so he could explain about the diary — and then cuing people outside to turn on the fake escape car. They created a false trail and Jake bit. “Run Forrest, run,” one of them snarked as Jake bounced around in his tighties. ANYWAY: After all that, and after Jake finally left, they pulled the tape off Mrs. Convenience’s mouth and assured her it would all be okay, and then shot her and we got to watch her bleed out through her mouth in a very gratuitous little sequence. I’m sure killing her in front of Olivia made the We’re Total F’ing Pros And We Kill People statement, but her dead body on the couch also would have said that, and with less chance of her screaming for help once the tape came off her mouth. (Fortunately she was extremely dumb, so she just chirped, “It’s done! We’re safe now!” before getting plugged.)

Ever the thinker, Olivia slides off her signature ring and tucks it halfway under the rug, so that anyone who gets the notion to check her neighbor’s apartment might see it and know she was there. Or step on it and scream.

  

This part IS really gnarly: They smuggle Olivia out of the building by pretending to be paramedics, and zip her into a body bag WITH HER DEAD NEIGHBOR THROWN IN ON TOP OF HER.When she gets out and starts therapy via songwriting, the tune she churns out about being a corpse cushion is going to be so stirring.

“Maybe far AWAYYYYYY….. or maybe real nearby…….”

Fortunately, TV utility player Jason Butler Harner — whom you might remember from everything — is huddled inside Olivia’s cell. Jason does not know where they are, but they both clearly hear the Muslim call to prayer through the window. He trembles that he’s a journalist who is being held for a $2 million ransom, and that his other cellmate Bradley was freed when his people paid, but he’s been there for God knows how long. And I kid you not, as soon as we saw him, I said, “Oh, THIS is the big boss. He’s playing her.” And the reason he never said anything in front of Olivia is because he wants to pretend to be a prisoner so that she’ll trust him, because Olivia wants to be a White Hat and has a savior complex and so she’s going to bootstrap this guy by confiding in him. Moreover, I’m surprised Olivia never sussed it out, for one major reason: She’s in a prison with a LOT of cells that all appear to be empty. Why would they throw her in with this guy? Why would they put two people together in a cell who could potentially conspire? No. Unless you hellhole is overcrowded — which this isn’t — you keep your quarry separated until you need one party to see the other being tortured or killed. When I am a successful Ransom Jail entrepreneur, I’m going to do things differently.

I will also take better care of the vintage tile in my prison bathroom.

I actually thought this little moment was spot-on — your first few trips to the lav in this place, you would TOTALLY put the paper on the seat. It’s not that Scandal is wholly without its merits, y’all. This was, weirdly, my favorite moment of the episode. You wrap that muddy toilet seat, Liv. WRAP IT HARD.

Fortunately, Liv’s gross cell gets nice light patterns on it from the windows, so that the wall over there by Jason Butler Harner looks almost like impressionism. Or like little blobs of the sun in which she can stand, as we know is her wont. Jason is gobbling his mediocre grains while alternately freaking out and telling Olivia that it’s HOPELESS GOD IT’S ALL HOPELESS YOU’RE GOING TO DIE HERE. He also fills her up with his sob story about his dead wife and beloved daughter who is about to turn seven. This twigs Olivia’s hero complex.

So Liv gets right up in the face of this man who supposedly hasn’t brushed his teeth in eons, and does some vehement close-talking about how they are going to get OUT of there because she’s OLIVIA POPE and  HA HA HA HA THAT MEANS NOTHING IN HERE but whatever it’s still true and so they had better NUT UP FAST. And she doesn’t notice that him speaking right in her face probably would’ve caused her to pass out from halitosis stench, were he really a prisoner. But, Jason rolls on: He dribbles to her that he lied about Bradley. He didn’t go free. They dragged him out of there and shot him… behind closed doors. Olivia fails to notice that terrorists who really want to mess with your head will KILL THE PERSON IN FRONT OF YOU, not spirit them away and then just let you hear a gunshot and a thud. They could be shooting the air and then dropping a hamhock on the floor (and the cooking it into your cous cous). Critical thinking, Liv. TRUST NO ONE. You’re a fixer. Come on.

Instead, she has him search her back to see if anyone injected her with a tracker — the way Rowan did with her mother — and Jason’s despair and shredded hopes and whatnot cause her to say that the PRESIDENT HIMSELF will scour the ends of the Earth for her and THEY WILL BE RETURNED HOME. So: confidence attained. Olivia, I have notes.

Like, on the one hand, she’s taking everything this dude says and does at face value, even when his story changes. On the other, she’s thinking PLENTY critically enough to crack open her bra and pull out the underwire, which she fashions into a crude hook and then wriggles through a crack in the bathroom window so she can catch the latch. Okay, so it may have escaped her that I don’t think the window is big enough, and besides, she likely couldn’t haul her body up that high. BUT STILL. I do also need to note that the slow burn of her hair becoming curly was well done. I actually love Liv with big hair and wish they would let her do it all the time.

I mean, how stunning is that? We should get to see that every week.

This SCENE, though, is a giant waste of time. Her captors thwart her escape and knock her out. We still haven’t seen the teased clip where Olivia is running, running, running, so therefore we KNOW that when she wakes up and Jake is rescuing her, it’s a fakeout. We also know when we cut to her waking up in Vermont, and she’s living there with Fitz making White Hat Jams (no, seriously) while he dabbles in local politics, it’s a lengthy exercise in meaningless words and visuals. I mean, I don’t think the show REALLY thought it was tricking us, but this bit went on way longer than was necessary to make its point, which is:

That even in her subconscious, Abby is Liv’s Get-a-Grip Friend. She turns up and tells Olivia that this fantasy CLEARLY makes NO SENSE AT ALL and that she should stop imagining that she needs a man to save her and DO IT HER OWN SELF. That is a pretty good grip to get, actually. Well done, Abby. I would like to get a grip on your hair, by which I mean, putting it on my own head.

Unfortunately, the Total F’ing Pros punish Liv’s moxie. They can’t hurt her, although one guy really wants to shoot her dead on the spot (which also makes no sense because she didn’t DO ANYTHING TO YOU PERSONALLY; all she did was try to open a window, which is what prisoners DO. His reaction is totally disproportionate, as if she cut off his hand in her escape attempt, and so I don’t know why AGAIN she didn’t realize this was all posturing for show. But, it works: They decide to punish her by “murdering” Jason Butler Harner, and of course the way they do THAT is by dragging him into an adjacent room, where — behind a closed door, AGAIN — they make him wail a little before gunshots are heard and they drop a large roast onto the ground. Liv is too busy trembling to wonder why they didn’t make her watch, and if perhaps all this is bullshit. Sigh. One Total F’ing Pro comes back with red splatter on his face and terrorizes her a little, just for kicks, because he may not be a Total F’ing Pro at fake-murdering people but he is a Total F’ing Pro at sneering through door-holes.

So, Liv arms herself with the OTHER piece of underwire, only to find that the guards have bricked up her window. And now you cam appreciate how freaking small the window was, and how there is no way she was actually getting out through it. Liv is gutted, though, and cries into her wine cardigan — I mean, Olivia, they are fairly benevolent captors if they left you with your wine cardigan, by the way.  Then we see her leaving, and sliding a lead pipe out of her sleeve and whacking the guard with it. THEN we flash back to three seconds earlier (this is SO UNNECESSARY; we could totally have watched this linearly) when she was weeping by the sink and the noticed a little copper ring that, helpfully, Abby had shown to her in her Vermont dream. Liv slides it off and it frees the pipe for her to bludgeon the Total F’ing Pro. Which she does. Then she grabs keys and his gun and RUNS AND RUNS AND RUNS. It’s jerkily cut and layered with sound bites from people that basically amount to Olivia giving herself a pep talk about how she is a GLADIATOR and gladiators FIGHT and she is her own hero, etc. Which is all great, except that they then take this away from her in about thirty seconds. But:

I love this and kind of want it to be her album cover.

She then bumps into Total F’ing Pro No. 2, who dares her to shoot him because he doesn’t believe she has the guts. She plugs him between the eyes and then DROPS THE GUN. OLIVIA. YOU KNOW THERE IS ANOTHER BIG BOSS OUT THERE AND YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHERE YOU ARE AND YOU HAVE THREE LOCKS TO OPEN AND A LARGE RING OF KEYS AND TREMBLING HANDS AND NO IDEA WHO’S WATCHING. WHY DID YOU DROP THE GUN? PICK UP THE STUPID GUN.

Instead, she opens the red door and bursts through… into a soundstage. I kind of wish this had turned out to be Rowan’s sick idea of showing her life without his help, but no, ostensibly we’re still here on Jon Tenney’s scheming dime (as far as we know, anyway).

And sure enough, Jason Butler Harner comes out and strokes his nonexistent beard and congratulates her on her moxie. He tells her that yes, indeed, he was just trying to get her to admit that she is Fitz’s everything, and now that he has that information the real fun can begin. Here is my question: Did they not already KNOW that? If Jon Tenney is behind this, even partially, and he is sitting in the Oval Office taunting Fitz about how they kidnapped his One True Lobster, then WHAT IS THE FREAKING POINT of making Olivia admit it and acting like THIS is the critical piece of information they needed?

Even Olivia is like, “Are you shitting me with this? NEXT.”