Well, Susan Ross may be a bit of a Mary Sue right now — she is too awesome to be true — but her parts of the episode had panache and life, which only underscored how grim the rest is. With apologies to Scott Foley, who can only do the job he is given, whenever Jake opens his mouth I just zone out and wait for it to stop.
Let’s begin, though, with that wine cardigan.
Olivia was swaddled in this massive grey blanket of a sweater at the end of last weekwhen Papa Pope made an unwelcome return to her doorstep, popping up behind her new fling, Russell (from Stomp The Yard). What ensues is one of the prototypically irritating Scandal scenes, where Papa Pope exposits for us that if Olivia doesn’t put the kibosh on the Bust B-3.14159 scheme it will bring down the Republic AND the president she cherishes, and then Olivia climbs up on her high horse and unfurls a large banner that says, “I DON’T CARE ABOUT SAVING FITZ. I CARE ABOUT JUSTICE.” At which point Papa Pope responds with a maniacal monologue that made me want to put my fist through the television:
He begins by challenging her feelings for Fitz, and chortling about whether she’s finally realizing that he doesn’t live up to her lofty standards of perfection, that he’s disappointing, that he must have fallen short of her needs, and then cackles, “Wanna dig into some FREUD, baby? HA HA. [rubs hands together] Are you finding that no matter how far you run, no matter how white the knight — HA HA HA HA — that all men are in fact JUST. LIKE. YOUR. FATHER??” I don’t know if Joe Morton is being directed into this, or if he found this character organically and the writers started playing to it, but it is MASSIVELY IRRITATING and off-putting and it’s not really acting or even Acting but ACTIIIIIINNNNGGGGG and it grinds the episode to a halt. Lots of shows are guilty of this, when they hit upon a character or an actor they just think is great, and so then they turn over too much of an episode to them and it becomes an unwitting hijacking (for me, examples are Jenny Slate, Billy Eichner, and occasionally Aubrey Plaza on Parks and Recreation, and Chelsea Peretti on Brooklyn 99). Papa Pope is one of those characters. Whenever he’s on, it’s as if there’s a blanket mandate to give him a two-page monologue in which spittle spews from his maw like a power sprayer to a thirsty lawn. No one emerges undrenched.
Papa Pope finishes with a breathless and sharp speech to Olivia about how he knows she will pick a side “and then handle it in the manner we both know it needs” because “you would never allow people to get in the way of your fundamental belief that the Republic must stand at all costs.” She has 48 hours to crush David Rosen’s hopes and dreams or else suffer the consequences, basically. Did you miss his ultimatums? I think someone should start a fortune cookie company where the papers each have a Rowan Pope threat inside.
Oh, and if you’re wondering what happened to Stomp The Yard…
… he’s nappin’ Theta, courtesy of a sedative. “The alternative was to kill him. Would you prefer I go that route?” Papa says blithely. When he leaves, Olivia wakes up Russell and pretends they had way too much to drink and are both hammered, as a cover. She drags him off to bed, then fearfully locks all seventeen of her bolts.
For now, at least, Olivia is still on board with Operation B-UrnItDown, even going so far as to approve any threat to Fitz “if that’s the cost of taking out my father.” Note: For all her smug shouting about justice, she is not saying, “If that’s the cost of doing right by the Republic,” or even, “If that’s the cost of righting these wrongs.” It’s all about her father. It’s personal.
Meanwhile, over on the local news, remember Community Activist Marcus Walker, from the stirring Ferguson-esque episode?
He’s now potentially Mayor-elect Marcus Walker, which would be wonderful news for him if he hadn’t just called Olivia Pope to fix something.
It seems Marcus was sleeping with the mayor’s wife, who is now lying in a sticky pool of her own blood, which significantly inhibits her ability to be alive.
We’re then treated to flashbacks of how she died: They thought the husband was coming home, so Marcus hid in the closet, only to see masked men come in and break her neck. They mumbled just enough to each other that Marcus’s memory later is MAGICALLY able to pull together enough details to bust the culprits. But first we’re treated to a really disturbing series of shots in which this guy pokes her dead body with a knife over and over again, like he’s trying to find something hidden in a feather pillow.
And then Huck and Quinn clean up the crime scene using a technique deployed in the season premiere of The Americans, in which they break all her bones until she folds up nicely into a rolling suitcase. It was harrowing on The Americans because the characters were alternately queasy and clinical about the brutality, but this is practically a Whistle While You Work moment, which I guess speaks to how far apart this show and I have become.
Fitz, meanwhile, has been desperate to pass The Brandon Bill, which is based on events from that same episode. Cyrus is overcome with glee about it passing because he thinks it’s a conduit to black voters, and it’s all set to pass the Senate by one vote until someone goes out on maternity leave. Which means the Veep has to break the tie.
And bless Susan Ross, she insists on reading it before she votes. Cyrus is apoplectic, because they had their victory party scheduled already (after which Mellie plans to announce her Senate run), and Susan cheerfully says, “Then I’d better get started!” Which goes EXACTLY the way you imagine:
She dissects this sucker with the precision of a surgeon. Cyrus calls on David Rosen to nod and smile and make her feel heard so that she’ll stop reading and approve it; this fails. He then sends in Mellie, but Susan sees through it and repeats back to Mellie the ENTIRE plan about her being an unelectable VP and that she guesses Mellie wants her old Senate seat so she can make her own White House run. Mellie is flabbergasted that Susan picked up on all that, especially when Susan sincerely insists that she thinks Mellie will make a tremendous president (I guess the thinking is that shoehorning in three years in the Senate right NOW is enough to make her viable?). All these scenes crackle with Susan’s unexpected intelligence and genuine good intentions — if she turns out to be B-PleaseGodNo then I will be EXTREMELY ANGRY — and she is the shot in the bum that this show desperately needed, because she plays well with everyone: Cyrus, Mellie, David, and even Fitz.
Who, by the way, walks in and tries to put his veep in her subservient place, but she stands up and refuses to play the role and he of course completely respects her for it. They end up vowing to rewrite the entire 1200-page, ultimately unenforceable bill so that it’s actually useful, and are negotiating with a whiteboard how to strike things out and change them and get it to pass without anyone really noticing. It’s fun. Fitz is THE WORST when he’s condescending to her about how the VP is just his mindless lackey, and pretty great when he’s listening to what she has to say and deciding to govern like a person who has a genuine interest in that over which he governs.
Abby, depressingly, gets yet another scene with the press corps in which she is lousy at her job. Her entire self-confident speech to Paul Adelstein from weeks ago about how she ROCKS IT in there and is super powerful would have been way more effective if the show didn’t like to use her as dopey comic relief. Scandal is so fond of cutting to her in there being caught off-guard by reporters, and even mocked by them as they leave her tongue-tied or call her out on a bad answer. Can’t she actually BE competent?
Fitz gives Cyrus another headline to try and distract the media from The Brandon Bill’s failure to show up for its big vote:
Whoever is doing Mellie’s hair right now has an unhealthy obsession with 1981. And whoever is doing her graphic design has an unhealthy obsession with things that are awful. Seriously, that’s almost as bad as the old Go Fug Yourself mastheads I designed on Photoshop. I don’t want to vote for you if you can’t employ capital letters. Don’t lowercase yourself, Mellie. You’re not mellie grant. You are either Mellie Grant, or MELLIE GRANT, lady.
Also, it’s hilarious that she has random children up there on the dais with her, but NEITHER of her own.
The show throws Jake a perfunctory bone here by letting him tell Olivia that he’s here for her, whenever she needs a friend. Olivia basically ignores this except to nod. He has totally lost the code to the combination lock she keeps on her libido.
When Olivia finds out that Marcus has been illegally detained for questioning, or somesuch, she goes to the cops and gives another classic WAY overlong speech. The gimmick is, “Do you see this man here?” As in, let’s all pretend you never brought him in — because they shouldn’t have him there, they’d be in trouble for it, she can make a stink, she can ruin them, etc. — and so let’s just erase him from the room and never speak of it again. But she is so enamored of her own cleverness, and the sound of her own voice, that the vast and untenable amount of time she took to SPIT IT OUT had me shouting, “Just STOP TALKING and LEAVE before the press shows up. YOU ARE MAKING IT WORSE WITH WORDS.”
As is Jake:
His B-rutality testimony ends up circling back to Fitz. David Rosen asks if he had knowledge of everything in Command’s files, and casually mentions an “Operation Remington” that is mentioned nowhere except in one tiny footnote. He doesn’t even know what it is. Jake, of course, does, and so does Olivia. She sits there and listens quietly as Jake spills Fitz’s worst secret: that he was given, and he completed, an order to shoot down a passenger plane. Nobody says WHY he was given that order — Maya Pope’s name is left out of it entirely — but the news has the usual sadsack effect on David Rosen:
His face falls at least once in every single episode in which he’s featured. This is a man who’s had blood-spattered glasses thanks to close-range gun murder AT LEAST twice, and hangs out with the grossest and worst “good guys” ever, and yet still he manages to be disillusioned by things. It’s quite amazing. I often think each new day at the office is David Rosen’s worst day ever.
Wine cardigan time! And a drunk-dial: Olivia pours herself a glass of nectar and then calls Russell to come over. When he gets there, he husks that he knows all the info she fed him about the other night is total B.S., and he would rather stop calling her Alex and engaging in a totally shallow relationship based entirely on a slim false identity. Olivia listens very carefully to his outpouring…
… and then shushes him and encourages him to get with the program, because otherwise, he’s not going to get with her anymore. Russell has to think very hard about this. Does he want his yard stomped, or does he want to plant flowers there and tend them and watch them grow?
Stomp wins. And expresses his urgent need to have more sex with “Alex” by turning her around and banging her against a wall, because FOR REAL, no man on this show can engage her genitals if he hasn’t tossed her around like a subhuman rag doll. I don’t mean to shit on anyone’s romantic preferences, but the way this show does it, this never feels like a two-way erotic street. It’s a power play, with the man physically turning her and smashing her face in the wall while pinning her there. She should just start smearing her wall with exfoliant, so that at least when she’s forced to rub up against it, she’s getting a nice pore cleaning as well. Multitasking, dontcha know.
And then Marcus’s magic memory kicks in, and through a boring chain, they figure out that the mayor — of course — hired people to kill his wife and make it look like a robbery. But OPA’s plan was to turn it into a Missing Person case and then bribe the mayor to step down due to emotional trauma, while endowing Marcus as his successor (which he would never do to someone in the opposite party, but WHATEVER). Marcus gets up, surveys the crowd… and then quotes Dr. King before saying it’s all a lie and the mayor had his wife killed because she was having an affair with Marcus. He tells Olivia that he just couldn’t handle the lie, even if it was a stupid time to have an Attack of the Truth. She wheels around and informs him that it’s NEVER a bad time for that, because learning to accept and justify the small lies will lead to bigger ones, and then suddenly your parameters for what’s okay are totally warped, and it eats you alive and turns you into a person who couldn’t find the truth with a flashlight, two hands, a map, and written directions.
She tells Papa Pope to get stuffed. He informs her that he’s extremely proud of her for finally becoming a worthy adversary…
… and then has an operative lure Jake into a trap, wherein he is jumped and stabbed and in danger of becoming more than just sexually dead to Olivia. The identity of said operative?
OF COURSE. I had kind of hoped it would be Huck, with his brainwashing switch flipped. Instead, it’s Russell, showing absolutely no respect for Jake’s yard whatsoever, and stomping it with spiked shoes. He spits that Rowan always extolled Jake’s virtues as an adversary, and then sneers that this was really way too easy. And it WAS, by the way. Jake is supposedly following Olivia for Fitz. He has been tracking her all over town. So why he was fooled by a fake text message from her, drawn to her office, is beyond me — because he would have known, from his supposed nonstop tailing, that she is somewhere else entirely.
So yes, Russell is not impressed. And he decides to have another go at Jake. Much in the vein of the murder scene earlier, then, we see him poke and poke and poke at Jake’s gut with a knife, and fade to black on him having sustained about ten wounds to the stomach. He does not expire on camera, though, so anything is possible. But remember when this show managed to do impressively interesting things that didn’t involve SO MUCH FREAKING MURDER? And worse, the fetishizing thereof?
Why is Jake suddenly terrible at things? Why didn’t all of them step up security, or at least their vigilance, after Olivia told them Rowan had made direct threats against their lives? Or if she didn’t tell them that at all — maybe I misremembered that first scene in David Rosen’s office — then WHY didn’t she? And can Susan Ross please be president? I NEED A LIGHT AT THE END OF THIS TUNNEL.