Let’s begin this recap with a pressing question I saw mentioned on Twitter. Has Fitz been dipping into the Just For Men?
It DOES resemble an After shot in a commercial where he runs his fingers through his hair and smiles like he’s in an ’80s sitcom’s main titles. I think this is just a very fresh job, and that Tony Goldwyn has ALWAYS been dipping into the Just For Men — and I say that without judgment; I myself am not immune to washing the grey away. Also, I suspect ABC wants him to seem younger than 54. The hiatus between airings does not correspond to a hiatus in production (it’s more of a necessary breather so that post-production can keep working without bumping up against air dates, which you catch up to surprisingly quickly in TV), so he wasn’t off at a spa for two months or anything getting a full reboot; he just would’ve turned up at work the day after wrapping episode 10 and been like, “Hey, Team Fitz, my rinse has expired.” I don’t have a clean shot of him from the previous episode but I do have one from Episode Four in which his color seems a wee lighter. Also, he just two seconds ago found out that Olivia has been kidnapped by his vice president’s shadowy team of warmongers. If he needs to cope with that by youthanizing himself, well, it wouldn’t be the worst thing he’s ever done as president, given that he is a VERY BAD PRESIDENT INDEED.
I’m glad we worked through that together. Now let’s see what’s been happening during Olivia’s ordeal. Because I have questions, and suspicions that Fitz remains THE WORST at being president.
My big question is whether Scandal messed up the passage of time. The previous episode, “Run,” gives the impression that Olivia was in captivity for a while before she engineered her faux-escape. We got a montage of her being walked back and forth and to and fro by her guards, and she got dirtier and messier. Was it really only even, say, three days? A week? Was the point that even if very little time actually passed, it FELT like an eternity to her? I don’t know. To ME it felt like she was gone awhile. Maybe not. But this hour begins with Fitz fresh off Jon Tenney delivering the blow that Olivia is now a hostage, and in very short order he’s being given a proof of life video that Olivia shoots AFTER the events of “Run.” So we’re to think that the events of “Run” took place in the same time frame as the first twelve minutes of this episode? It just doesn’t feel LONG enough, somehow. I’m SURE they charted this out on their whiteboards, but as a viewer it felt strange, unless I missed a tossed-off comment that clarified how long it had been.
ANYWAY: Fitz has demanded to see all the powerful people RIGHT AWAY DAMMIT, but instead, the Secret Service swarms his office and the chief calmly informs him that they are all on Team Tenney. As are a horde of aides and secretaries and security officers, plus all the people watching the cameras and phones that make it impossible for Fitz to live privately. Trust no one, is the message. “It would be a shame if Olivia were beheaded,” he says, with all the chilly pleasantness of your extremely competitive relative saying, “It would be such a shame if your stuffing burned to a crisp in the oven because you were too busy watching football to pay attention, so I went ahead and made some of my own just in case.” Fitz is trapped: declare war on West Angola, breathe a word of this to no one, try not to get Olivia killed, etc.
Fitz is desperately trying to figure out a way to confide in Mellie, but just as he’s about to lean in and whisper under the guise of removing her necklace, Mellie blurts out that she and Jon Tenney are nailing again. She prattles on about how she’d hoped he would be for her what Olivia is for Fitz, and Fitz goes cold and gives her this completely disgusted look that she misinterprets as judgment. When really he’s trying to process whether she’s one of the people on the Dark Side. Her hair IS like a glorious Lady Vader coif, it’s true.
So instead, Fitz tries to buy time by asking for confirmation that Olivia is alive and in one piece. (See? From the beginning to here would be where all of “Run” fits in, which makes no sense. Unless she shot the video DURING the “Run” timeframe and we just didn’t see it. Was there a reference to it? Is there something I’m forgetting?)
Jon Tenney is like, “I’m a massive doucheface.” And Fitz says, “Well, if you want to go to war, Doucheface, then show me Olivia.” And Jon Tenney replies, “Nice stall tactic, but it’s not going to work,” and delivers Fitz a video almost immediately. You can see in his crestfallen face that Fitz expected it to take a bit longer, and he immediately begins doodling “I HEART SALLY LANGSTON” on his blotter.
I think Mellie, if she could, would make this her Facebook profile photo:
Liv holds up a copy of the day’s Clarion International, which I assume is a daily newspaper all about the doings at a chain of budget motels, and contains wonderfully vague prop headlines like, “Fuel Prices Stabilize,” and Commemmorating Past Glory,” and of course, “NATO Debates Expanded Role In Conflicts.” The excitement surely won’t stop there. If she opens it, she might read, “Film Brings In Money At Box Office,” “Sports Team Scores More Points Than Another Sports Team,” and an op-ed called, “Fitzgerald Grant: WTF Is That Guy Even Doing.”
Somewhere in a cozy nook of Washington, D.C., Portia de Rossi jsut read a bedtime story to her daughter, and now she is terrified.
Why? Because THE GRUFFALO LIVES:
Seriously, this is as terrifying a visage as anything. Huck then promises to cut open Portia’s daughter and peel her like an orange, unless Portia finds out where Olivia is.
1) Huck is disgusting. I don’t care if he’s trying to find Olivia. Does anyone actually expect us to cheer for him to get what he wants? His behavior is REPUGNANT and it makes me want to light my TV on fire. He is violent with Portia here and he fetishizes torturing her child in front of her. Which, worse, even rings false to me. Huck is crazy, and yes, Huck is just trying to push her buttons, but Huck is also a father and I think Huck — in a normal, rational world where people aren’t writing for shock value — would draw the line at threatening anyone’s kid. Because Huck’s throughline, other than being a COMPLETE ASSBAG MANIAC, is that he loves his son and craves a family. This clashes with that throughline. He’d menace Portia, sure, because he doesn’t care, but he’d step off the kid.
2) I may be giving Huck more credit than he deserves. But I don’t think so.
3) Huck and Quinn knew Portia was in bed with Jon Tenney, and that they were plotting something about Olivia. Jake Ballard called Huck FROM OLIVIA’S APARTMENT to say she’d been taken. There is NO WAY Huck waited more than ten minutes to go to Portia’s house and give her hell. Just no way at all. In terms of the timeline of Olivia’s kidnapping, I don’t think this makes sense.
Portia is sure cranky about it. She tremblingly tells Jon Tenney that she did NOT sign off on kidnapping Olivia Pope. Fomenting a false war for political gain, sure, but not this. Then why did you THINK you were spying on her life, Portia? I seriously have no idea how she thought Olivia fit into any of their war plans if she didn’t know kidnapping was on the menu. It’s confusing and silly. Jon Tenney is totally dismissive of her woes and basically tells her it’s too bad, so sad, because she’s in it up to her eyeballs now.
Fitz, meanwhile, has figured out a place and a person to talk to where nobody else can listen:
Agent Tom thinks that his request for a pardon has been granted, but Fitz is like, “Are you kidding? You killed my son, you idiot.” Which lets Tom deliver a speech that is SO ripped from the Rowan Pope Handbook of Oratory that I actually thought Fitz was going to say, “Wow, Rowan programmed you well.” In the Peter Pan Live recap, I noted that I’d heard Christopher Walken’s process is to move around the punctuation in his lines so that it’s unusual. And that is EXACTLY how Scandal feels — and in a bland across-the-board way, where Kerry Washington AND Joe Morton AND at least half the other actors do it too, to where it loses its punch and feels SO repetitive. Tom does it thusly, more or less: “I don’t. Regret. Anything because your son. Was a boy. A good. Boy. But a boy and you. Are a great MAN.” SPEAK LIKE HUMANS YOU GUYS.
The nutshell: Tom clearly has a huge man-crush on Fitz because he has convinced himself that killing Jerry to preserve Fitz’s life and legacy was a great crime worth committing, and he’d do it again. In return, Fitz contemplates barfing into Tom’s open mouth, but instead asks him who he can trust in the White House. Tom has an answer: no one. “The only place you can talk privately is the only place you could EVER talk privately,” he says, and before we segue into where THAT is, WHY would Tom have any knowledge of this particular conspiracy? Tom was B-IggieSmalls. Unless this is supposedly connected to that organization, which I don’t think it is, then why would Tom — who has been in a cell — have any actual intel on the rogue band of storm troopers that has infiltrated the White House at Jon Tenney’s recent behest?
This seems very obvious. I understand why The Big Bads took the cameras out of Olivia’s place — because they knew Jake would be looking for them — but if Fitz’s whole team is untrustworthy and everyone is watching and waiting to make sure he doesn’t blab and double-cross anyone… why are they letting him into Olivia’s apartment alone, where they KNOW they don’t have ears and eyes on him? Wouldn’t the Secret Service just be like, “Nope, you can’t go there, sorry”? They’re doing a bang-up job preventing Fitz from doing anything ELSE of his own volition, except perhaps using the bathroom. Maybe he should’ve invited Jake Ballard into his shower. Although: unnecessary, because they manage to arrange this covert meeting at Olivia’s place, and in her bedroom of course, despite the fact that AGAIN all of Fitz’s moves and correspondence is allegedly being monitored by Evil. He and Jake must have sent owls to each other.
Fitz tells Jake everything he knows, and hands him the souvenir USB flash drive that he was given with Olivia’s taped message on it, and also a PowerPoint presentation on What Sets Our Terrorist Cell Apart that some idiot forgot to delete.
Jake and Company notice that Olivia’s “I need a glass of water” gambit during her message was so that she could chug it and give them a faint reflection of her captor. It’s a complete blur. Quinn asks if Huck could ever possibly make sense of it, and he replies with a bunch of totally meaningless tech mumbo-jumbo that might as well say, “I can cross-check it with the elephant flowerpot and try to chew the background pixelfrogs and see if it replenishes a robot.” Cool! It’s totally going to work.
Huck LOVES to say that Olivia dropping breadcrumbs, also — I believe he says it three times in this episode. Pretty soon she’ll be leaving a trail of breadcrumbs IN Vermont, while standing in the sun and wearing a white hat.
Liv, meanwhile, is holding her own with this creep. We have a moment where he gets leery and lewd with her, because this show will never pass up a chance to make Olivia feel sexually vulnerable, but it comes to nothing. She simply spits at him that Fitz won’t negotiate with terrorists, he laughs, and she reminds him that she believes someone bigger than he is holds all the cards here and that he’s just a hired hand. Which is the exact same argument she used last week on one of THIS guy’s underlings. She’s being very environmentally conscious about recycling her words.
Then, General Jesse Vasquez gets up and briefs Fitz on the situation in West Andrea Zuckerman, which it turns out has only been PRETENDING to be in Africa and is actually in darkest Van Nuys, California.
“You were in some of the most boring scenes in the history of 90210. Map your way out of THAT ONE, Vasquez.”
Abby swans in looking EXTREMELY chipper and cute considering the dire situation swirling around her. Cyrus is FREAKING OUT because Fitz had been going about his job sensibly until Jon Tenney piped up to the Joint Chiefs, with hidden warnings to Fitz about how if they don’t take prompt military action something worse could happen on the home front. Cy feels frozen out and can’t figure out why Jon suddenly has Fitz’s ear, and Abby is just all, “Oh, I don’t know, all is well, la la la,” until Cy points out that even SHE is more informed about West Andrea Zuckerman and its virginity status than he is.
It is here that I said to myself, “Obviously, Abby will think to go straight to OPA thinning she can ask Olivia what is going on with Fitz, which is how she’ll find out that Olivia is missing and it’s all Jon Tenney’s fault. Then SHE will tell Cyrus.” But no. Nothing sensible like that happens. Indeed, Nothing Sensible Happens is a good substitute title for a lot of shows I watch right now, like Pretty Little Liars, and Pretty Little Lawyers, and Nashville, and also sometimes the news.
Suddenly we’re back in a HORROR MOVIE. Portia has hired security to protect her house, so she pokes open the door to see her daughter sleeping peacefully, then smiles with relief and pushes the door open all the way and BAM:
It’s almost funny, except for how Huck is awful. Seriously, it is impossible to root for him, for me. If it means leaving Olivia in a hole somewhere, fine. Just stop making him relentlessly predatory, especially by having him LOUNGE IN A CHILD’S BED WITH HIS TORTURE TOOLKIT. Which he brandishes to Portia with a sadistic puff of air through his nostrils because he is physically incapable of breathing through his mouth. Huck might be this show’s worst miscalculation, and the kicker is, they get the math more and more wrong with every passing week. Nobody is getting any better at arithmetic.
Mellie swans around in a killer red velvet dressing gown, and Fitz pretends to romance her on the balcony so that he can whisper in her ear. Bellamy Young does a nice job looking a) secretly touched that he’s holding her close, b) freaked out because he NEVER holds her close, c) like she’s not totally freaked out because he never holds her close, in case anyone is watching; d) worried about him; and e) scared of what he’s telling her. It’s a nice cocktail and actually a well-blocked and acted scene. Fitz breathes all over her neck that in twenty-four hours he’s going to kill Olivia Pope. Because Mellie’s boyfriend will execute her if Fitz doesn’t declare war, and he can’t declare war over that. It’s Fitz’s finest presidential moment, because I’m sorry, but he’s right. He can’t send in the army just for one more shot at sex with his mistress. It is the ONE moment in which he does not govern with his wang.
And so what happens? Mellie shames him into changing his mind. And I seriously think the show agrees with HER. Basically, Fitz lays all that onto her, and then expects sympathy for the fact that he has to make a call that will lead to Olivia’s death. Instead, she pulls away and says she can’t believe all these years Olivia was nothing but a cheap lay to him, and that she only put up with it because she thought Fitz truly loved Liv. “I do love her,” he insists. “Then you know what you have to do,” Mellie says firmly. NO MELLIE. Am I crazy? Am I being harsh? This just seems like INCREDIBLY BAD PRESIDENTING to me. It’s one thing if Fitz crumbles on his own and it’s HIS choice and HIS spine crumbling to dust. But in fact, I think he was FINALLY actually being presidential and everyone ELSE is grinding his core to dust and telling him he’s foolish. I don’t… maybe I’m being INSANE, but EVEN OLIVIA doesn’t seem to think he would stoop to bartering for her that way. I can’t wait until she gets back and is like, “Fitz, I was wrong, YOU SHOULD NEVER HAVE BEEN PRESIDENT WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU I WANT THE LAST FIVE YEARS BACK.”
Jon Tenney drops by the Oval to remind Fitz that a mere drone strike isn’t enough. He then waxes on about how they have three years to fix the wrongs Fitz has done in his presidency — all the Democratic-leaning initiatives that are pissing off his Republican base — before Jon Tenney gets himself voted into office, thereby implying that they’ll keep Olivia until that happens. This seems like an AWFUL lot of criminal energy to expend. Why does Jon Tenney want to get Fitz’s presidency back on track? Why not let him dig his own grave and then run on a campaign of what a disaster Fitz was? (Which I assume he is, no matter WHAT his leanings have become, because as we all know Fitz Is The Worst.) Starting a war three years out from your election bid seems like the most absurd level of advance planning. How far ahead does Jon plan his wardrobe? What’s he making for dinner on September 3, 2016? I bet he knows. And I bet it’s microwaveable.
This old broad shows up asking for “the black lady,” and it turns out of course that she’s friends with Olivia’s neighbor across the hall, who has disappeared (on account of being super dead now), and she wants Olivia’s spare key to go check on her pal. Quinn makes this mental connection to Liv’s disappearance, she and The Hardly Boys go snooping in the apartment.
Huck somehow notices the ring that’s completely concealed under the entire rug. Jake is all, “How can you be sure it’s hers,” or something, and Huck responds, “She wears it for him. She never takes it off.” It’s semi-absurd to me that Jake would have had to ask that, because Jake is an operative, Jake is obsessed with Olivia, and Jake is jealous, and so Jake would have a) noticed Olivia’s favorite ring every single time she so much as moved her hand in his presence, and b) asked her about it, and then c) resented it heavily.
Then, Huck crows more stuff about breadcrumbs. They purloin the old lady’s router, which also might be left behind from the terrorists, and use it to pingtrace the autobahns and run them through the technotubbies to see if it triangulates the WOPR.
They follow the trail to a photo of this guy, and Quinn immediately IDs him as The Guy In The Glass. I don’t believe for a second that they could tell that SO clearly SO easily based on that blurry reflection, but maybe I don’t have enough faith in Huck’s ability to bajingo the quibblepicas.
Cyrus delivers a long and bloated and creatively punctuated speech to Fitz about how HE WILL NOT READ THAT RISK REPORT about the war in West Andrea Zuckerman because he isn’t interested in the stupid rollerblading RA she was having sex with AND Fitz certainly didn’t care what Cy thought BEFORE 31 Americans died on day one of the attacks in his stupid war. It’s a lovely tantrum, but Fitz just seethes at him for a while and then shoves the report at him and growls that he should READ IT READ THE GODDAMN THING THERE IS OBVIOUSLY A SECRET MESSAGE IN IT FOR YOU, YOU MORON.
I thought Fitz was being watched. Wouldn’t Cyrus also be watched, then? Aren’t the eyes and ears everywhere, so that Fitz can’t just walk into another room and be like, “Yo, Jon Tenney is rotten jam”? And so where did Fitz write this? If it was as easy as jotting down on a memo pad “Buy oranges, Muscle Milk, Clairol for Men, and They Have Olivia,” then why didn’t he do it AGES AGO, like at the top of the hour back when he was asking Cyrus to corral the Joint Chiefs? Why didn’t he do it before he went to war? Why didn’t he pause and write a treatise in Olivia’s apartment, where there are NO eyeballs? If that IS where he wrote this, why didn’t he WRITE MORE? Why didn’t he, in fact, tell Jake to get in touch with Abby or Cyrus and tell them himself? This whole thing feels like the structure dominated the episode instead of the storytelling. They needed Cyrus to flail for half an hour, and so flail he did.
One of my least-favorite Scandal tricks happens AGAIN here, too. We’ve seen Cyrus confused in the Joint Chiefs meeting. We’ve seen him rant to Abby about being frozen out for reasons that confuse him. We’ve seen him express disbelief to Abby during the press conference in which Fitz declares war. And we’ve seen Cyrus yell at Fitz for doing so without a cogent reason. So when Cyrus lays eyes on the note that says, “They have Olivia,” WE KNOW HE IS PUTTING THE PIECES TOGETHER. We don’t need the show to flash back to ALL OF THOSE SCENES I JUST MENTIONED. When did Scandal, or ABC, decide that viewers are too stupid to remember what happened THREE MINUTES AGO?
Olivia is not waiting for these fools to finish having unnecessary flashbacks so they can save her. Instead, she starts working her captor’s brain. First she goads him into confirming that he’s not killing her until, most likely, Fitz leaves office in three years. Then she turns that around on him. She notes that spending three years as a highly paid babysitter makes him pathetic, whereas turning around and selling The Woman Who Controls The President on the open market would make him a power player. She cleverly notes that the advantage for HER is that in this situation, she knows she dies at the end; in the other, she can at least roll the dice with a new overlord, and she gets a shower and some fresh clothes so that she’s in premium condition for the sale. “Are you a bitch, or are you a boss?” she challenges him, echoing both “Are we Gladiators or are we bitches,” and “little bitch baby.” These people REALLY love the word “bitch.” It’s their only MIC DROP word.
Oh, Fitz. You probably shouldn’t have negotiated with terrorists, dude.
And Portia had to negotiate with a terrorizer. This is gross, by the way:
Huck and his toolbox did that to her. I find his character thoroughly and completely vile at this point. The key to a troubled, flawed hero — or anti-hero, or even just CHARACTER — is to give them SOME boundary they are loath to cross. Huck has none. He’s not fun to watch and there’s no nobility in his barbarism. He’s just an asshat with a gore fetish.
Damn right, Mel.
Cyrus saunters out onto the balcony and tells Fitz that he read the report and he understands now what the risks are. He does not say, “SINCE WHEN DO YOU NEGOTIATE WITH TERRORISTS?” He just acts like, “Oh, well, if they have Olivia, then shit, Global Thermonuclear War sounds totes fun. Have you met my man-whore yet?”
Then Mellie comes out and pretends to kiss Fitz and purrs, “I’ve taken care of it.”
And again, because it’s Scandal, we get the photograph-style flashbacks: Mellie, prompted by Portia’s visit, barged in and sexed Jon Tenney STRAIGHT to sleep. Seriously, they show her climbing off and fixing her skirt while he is lying there passed out. He didn’t even finish getting dressed. Did she drug him with some of Agent Carter’s Sweet Dreams 102 Lipstick?
She then stole his phones and handed them to Portia, who we see delivering them to OPA so that Huck can analyze the datajuice and debunk the starcoded pancakes. There’s a bunch of malarkey about Ian — that’s Liv’s captor’s name, by the way — bouncing his cell phone signal off every satellite in the known world, which ends with this: They trace him to an abandoned aircraft hangar in Philly where he’s chillin’ out, maxin’, relaxin’, all cool, and shootin’ some b-ball outside of the school.
Jake Ballard gets David Rosen to tell the DEA it’s a raid, so that they’ll provide backup. David can’t resist underscoring how amazing it is of him to help Olivia Pope, and that Jake should picture him “in a ten-gallon white hat.” David, she WAS kidnapped and is being threatened with execution most foul. You don’t get gold stars for helping someone survive a criminal attempt on her life. Stop being a baby. Man, I’m cranky. This episode of Scandal really waxed my pajamas.
It did bring us a hellaciously unflattering Night Vision shot of Jake Ballard, though, which I’m sure Scott Foley would like to destroy.
By the time he gets to Liv’s cell, all that’s left is her wine cardigan. I hope she left it as a clue, somehow, and not as a symbol that she’s abandoning the wine cardigan portion of her life in favor of becoming a person who wears whiskey shawls. Or maybe it just goes to show that Ian is a) not as thorough as he thinks, or b) totally disrespectful of those of us who understand what The Way of the Wine Cardigan is all about.
In a classic TV and film trope, Olivia’s moxie worked only too well, and Ian spirited her out of there and put her up for sale just before Jake got to her. He lets her say hello to Fitz, briefly, before hopping on his phone with the janky antenna and telling Fitz that he doesn’t care one whit about the war in West Angola. He’d rather auction off Olivia to the highest bidder of all Fitz’s other enemies. Does this mean Fitz can now CANCEL the war in West Angola, because Jon Tenney’s consortium has lost its leverage? I guess it’s hard to declare war and then two days later be like, “You know what? I was just hangry that day. Let’s not.”
Huck notices that all of a sudden the bad-guy community is BURSTING with chatter about Olivia. “She did this,” he wheezes at Quinn. “She’s dropping breadcrumbs.” Yes, and I hope she coats you in them and then dumps you in a deep fryer, you gross flesh-ripper. Huck celebrates this as Olivia flies away looking pleased with herself for having secured the one kidnapper in the world who would give her a blowout and a straight-iron and a nice coat. I mean, he’s SELLING HER TO CRIMINALS, and he’s still treating her better than Huck treated Quinn WHO HE WAS IN LOVE WITH AND DOING SEX TO AND STUFF. Do I have to be Team Ian here?