As much as my relationship with this show is frequently one of frustration, there’s something soothing about the return to Scandal of the Week storylines, because it pushes (Un)B-Lievable stuff down and away from the fore. Of course, having said that, Portia de Rossi is stepping into that space and filling it with her own brand of being one scheme ahead of everyone, and while it’s nice to see a lady puppet master, it’s also a little exhausting to replace one shady behind-the-scenes operator with another.

This week, Portia and the NRA honcho (played by Kyle Secor; I think he’s been on before?) are commiserating about Fitz’s insistence on gun control legislation, which is chapping the hide of her party’s extremist power players. She reassures him it isn’t going to pass, because she keeps all her schemes stashed in the hair that’s as tall as the Chrysler building. It’s like a head-purse full of plans.

Some dudes who were taking video selfies accidentally got video of a man falling to his death, potentially pushed by his bride. The news has gone with the name “Killer Cliff Bride” even though that doesn’t actually mean anything. She isn’t the bride of a Killer Cliff, the cliff itself didn’t do any killing, she’s not “a cliff bride who is like totally excellent,” and nor was she married ON said cliff, I don’t think, so basically… I mean, it’s totally the kind of name the news WOULD give that seems to make a lot of sense until you pause and parse it. Like me, because I am an over-analytical pill.

I love this shot for the shocked and/or highly doubtful faces being made in the background. I also miss Abby’s saucy pants and cardigans and pelvic chains. When she eventually leaves the White House, I eagerly anticipate the slow-motion shot of her set to ’70s funk as she re-enters OPA with that sucker thwacking her groin to the rhythm.

Mental Mellie has her own form of wine cardigan, although in this case it’s an apple cardigan, which… I guess it’s better for her heart health if she’s not eating fried chicken ALL the time. Her sloth cardigan is comfortable-looking; I approve. Anyway, Mellie is wandering around eating, which commenters have correctly pointed out is something Cyrus would be nipping in the bud if he weren’t so busy seeding his scalp with wheat. (And that Abby would be stopping, if she weren’t so busy licking the wound of nobody knowing her name.) When she sees Abby’s team watching the news, Mellie becomes fascinated with the Cliff Bride Shove Killer and how everyone wants to blame her, so she vows to prove that she’s Cliff Bride Accident-Haver.

So she sits on her couch and obsesses, and obsesses, and obsesses, and Fitz lets her because she’s so relieved she actually may have taken a shower and has stopped going full Fred Flintstone on a chicken carcass out on the Sads Balcony.

Olivia is having problems. Her team is in shambles, and she and Jake are now squabbling about whether or not they’re officially boyfriend-girlfriend, which is as juvenile a sentence as it feels while watching it. Jake’s consistently whiny about how he’s not her BOYFRIEND so why should he blah-blah-blah, and Liv handles him with the kind of patient fatigue you apply to a toddler. At one point in this episode she shows up to see him and he will only open the door a couple inches. He claims he’s working. “You don’t have a job, Jake,” she says, unblinkingly, and untrustingly even, and I actually applauded a little because although Olivia is not my favorite, Jake practically has two legs in a pair of Pampers.

She also turns up at her father’s, just to visit and bring him coffee. He diagnoses that she’s only there because she’s having problems with re-entry into her life, but wants to exploit it by inviting her to dinner and pretending everything is normal and that he didn’t shove her mother into a torture hole. Although SHE thinks he killed her, so… which racks up bigger therapy bills? Killing her terrorist mother, or dumping her in a floor prison? She IS using her dark purse and coats a lot right now, though, so Olivia is obviously all kinds of mixed-up.

This shot is just room-porn, for those of you who like furnishings and drapes with large valances and the sight of Huck half-blocked by a couch that looks like it may rise up and eat him.

The case of the week: Sonya Walger plays Catherine, a law school friend (or college?) of Liv’s and Abby’s, which is a clue about how THOSE two came together. Her stepdaughter is missing…

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… and while they wait for Quinn to track her, Liv changes into a wine cardigan AT WORK so that she can have a glass. It’s Pavlovian. There can be no wine without a sweater. I love that she has both emergency vino and an emergency drinking uniform at her office. I don’t know the deal with her shirt, though — is it just badly pinned, for modesty reasons, or… wonky, for inane reasons?

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The wine cardigan might be see-through though. Just be warned. Much like with her actual job, Liv isn’t doing her best work. Because, what happened with the girl she was going to defend from the premiere? That didn’t feel finished. And what’s with her deplorable lack of curiosity in Harrison’s death? She accepted a lot at face value about that, for no reason other than it was evidently easier for her. Put on your white hat with your wine cardigan, Liv, and DO SOME STUFF.

Quinn tracks the kid to a hotel, so Liv sends the mother after her, so that they can make up. And then, horrors happen:

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Liv is asleep IN HER SLEEP MASK and Huck breaks in and stirs her, so she wakes up to the sight of Huck — a nose-flaring creep with skull-drilling fetishes — hovering over her bed. It’s just to tell her that the stepdaughter has turned up dead (and thus Catherine might be the killer), but still. She needs Huck-proof doors.

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When they ID the body at the morgue, at least Olivia LOOKS like she threw on the first coat she saw and jammed her hair into an elastic. I appreciate that.

The white light of Fitz’s favor has David Rosen all smug and smarmy. This week, he has to sell everyone on Fitz’s gun control legislation, and he just desperately wants daddy to give him a pat on the head and a quarter for an ice-cream cone.

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But guess which perpetual sourpuss is making back-room deals to torpedo the legislation? There is no end to the chicanery she can conceal in her coif.

Scandal, Season 4, episode 3

Fitz calls David to the Oval Office and, in front of the portrait of G-Dubs himself, laments their failures with the gun control law. He rants at how he wants this whole presidency and all his sacrifices — he offhandedly mentions Vermont, which Fitz doesn’t realize refers to the life he won’t have with Olivia — to mean something. Presumably he’s also referring to the death of Jerry that catapulted him back into office. It started out as a thank-you meeting, but by the end of it, Fitz has basically made David feel like everything is his fault. So David goes digging in his B-Contrived files and finds some juicy blackmail material on the swing vote on the committee that needs to approve the Yada-Yada. Mr. Swing Vote claims he has always voted his conscience and would never accept a bribe, but David refuses to leave it to chance, and drops the information-bomb that Mr. Swing Vote once killed a girl when he was drunk behind the wheel. The guy blanches, votes David’s way, and then kills himself. So David tastes both the celebratory Champagne with Fitz, and the bitter sting of evil. The question will be whether his flirtation with the Dark Side ends with him in a cape and an iron lung, answering to a wrinkled old crone with major static-electricity issues. But at least Jake Ballard would be proud that he’s using his B-Shifty files.

What is Jake up to? I’m glad you asked:

Jake tracks Charlie to whatever vending machine he’s romancing, and shoves his face into it. When Charlie wakes up, he’s half-naked and wrapped in plastic and getting ready to mouthify the business end of a power drill. He tells Jake that he can spare them a lot of time by telling him EXACTLY what he needs in order to talk.

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Yeah. This. Jake lures Quinn there, and then locks her in the sex dungeon with Charlie. She spends most of the night ignoring him or spitting insults at him about how she’s not as empty as he is, but by the end of it, they do the thing where two damaged souls hope that the union of their saliva will create a balm for a better tomorrow. I far prefer them to Squick, because at least Charlie has an impish sense of FUN while he’s casually murdering people for profit.

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And when Quinnbo Slice comes back after being held captive, and realizes Huck and Olivia didn’t even NOTICE, she freaks out at them. On one hand, she’s not wrong; it sucks to think you have zero impact on anyone’s life. On the other, they are used to Quinn working for B-Absent and so it’s been a while since they HAD to care about her on the regular, and also, she’s not exactly mentally stable herself. So maybe they don’t really CARE where she is and they should ALL just go and find new friends.

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I mean, that’s basically Olivia’s reaction to Quinn’s speech. That doesn’t say, “I feel sad that I have wronged my friend and protégée.” It says, “Why is that Finn girl still talking?”

It was Abby who got their friend Catherine in contact with Olivia, and when she finds out what’s up, she goes to Olivia’s place wanting to know the strategy. Liv won’t discuss it with her. She freezes Abby out completely, but at least Abby still has routinely fabulous hair. Seriously, that is solid work. The White House may be miserable for her state of mind but it’s a Carnival of Happy for her follicles.

Points for this cute ensemble, even if I can’t tell how flattering it is. ABC loves its plaid this season, and this is a very White House-appropriate version.

Abby warns Fitz that Mental Mellie wants to summon the dude investigating the Bride Cliff Killer, and Fitz doesn’t want to hear it — he just orders her to give Mellie whatever she wants, because he’s so relieved that what she wants involves less peril for her arteries.

And so begins the most awkward meeting ever, in which Mellie has guys from the Department of Agriculture and the FBI and NASA, along with her thick binder and a bajillion Power Point graphics, to prove to the guy her theory that Killer Bride Cliff didn’t do it. Halfway through, the investigator clears his throat and says, “Um, we know she didn’t do it. It’s fine. Already handled.” Abby deftly pretends Mellie has another meeting that will take her away.

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Fitz is concerned because this means he has to care about Mellie again, and that’s just so much work for him — like, he’s already exhausted from diverting all those resources away from his wang. What more does anyone WANT from him?

This was well done, though, because Mellie doesn’t look right. Her hair is just a bit off. Her makeup is, too. The fit is wrong on her cranberry outfit. All of it seems like she’s thrown it on to play a role that doesn’t fit her right now, not yet, and as soon as you see her you know she’s not herself.

Fitz brings Abby to his office to praise her handling of Mellie — he’s REALLY into Verbal Thank-You Notes right now, which are super hot for fall — and she impresses him with her tiny ladybrain’s knowledge of man-drink (whiskey). He’s SO outwardly impressed that she knows anything about anything that he invites her to join him, and she boldly tells him to stop f’ing calling her Gabby already because it’s not her name. (Anyone being charitable with Fitz last week when he called her Gabby: He did, indeed, NOT know her real name, and worse, it means Olivia didn’t bother to defend Abby’s dignity by correcting him, so they’re both still awful selfish people.) Fitz is surprised that this woman who used to work for the love of his life, and who has sat in on meetings with him and worked on his behalf on many under-the-table issues, has a name of her own that is different than the one he bestowed upon her, so he tentatively calls her Abby and has her sit down for a cocktail. Abby smiles, delighted to be in the inner-circle at last…

… until he uses this as an excuse to ask about Olivia, and it’s a lovely moment for Darby Stanchfield when hurt and disbelief washes over her face.

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This story is irritating. Cyrus ran into Prostitute Michael at a breakfast meeting and thought he was soliciting, but in fact, he was dining with his business school classmates, or something, and so Prostitute Michael got to shame Cyrus for assuming that a bang-for-hire would have anything else going on in his life. This makes Cyrus decide that Prostitute Michael cannot be denied, so of course, he lets himself get talked into paying a boatload of cash for sex (Michael convinces him that the fee isn’t for the deed, it’s for the discretion). I know Cyrus is lonely, and evil, and the cocktail of sins and grief probably makes him needy and blind, but: COME ON. Is he really going to HIRE A MALE PROSTITUTE when he is the WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF? Maybe he’s self-sabotaging. Because isn’t Cyrus smart enough to know that’s going to get him MAD CRAZY BUSTED? Then again, maybe he feels like, if everyone else does it then why shouldn’t he. But the story feels EXTREMELY trite at this point — the idea that Cyrus, who NEVER turned off his scheming brain even when his own husband was in bed next to him, would be as easily played as a glockenspiel — and I’m over it already. And I’m cringing at the image of a future scene where Cyrus thinks he and Michael can see each other for real and Michael is like, “Nope, it was just a job,” and then proof finds its way to the Washington Post.

Charlie sang like a homicidal canary, and told Jake exactly how Jerry Grant died. Conveniently, B-Insecure has video footage somewhere that he can hack into, so he gazes at the exact moment of impact when the squarely Secret Service guy jabbed him with the disease…

… and then goes to the world’s most awkward family dinner, at which he and Rowan give clipped answers and nobody really talks, and then as soon as Liv leaves the room they start hissing at each other. You know Jake is a secret egomaniac when he can’t RESIST telling Rowan that he knows EXACTLY what happened to Jerry, and Harrison. Why would you do that? Why would you not keep that card tucked in your deepest, darkest inside pocket, until such time as you can surprise him with a trap out of which he can’t wriggle? Whatever happened to SURPRISING your enemy, instead of giving him time to get all REVENGE on you? I think both Jake AND Rowan get off on the battle of wits, but this is more like a battle of twits. I did enjoy Rowan lunging with his knife and stabbing the table right between Jake’s fingers. Knifeplay makes for the most loving dinners.

Oh, and: It turns out Sonya Walger was sleeping with her stepdaughter’s seventeen-year old boyfriend, and is a statutory rapist. She swears that although she is twisted and gross, she did not kill the girl, and then Huck finds a video of the daughter fighting with a mystery man at her father’s law firm over a manila folder. I would suggest the plot is thickening, but I almost forgot this plot was even HERE. I wish the plot was quickening toward its conclusion, but it looks like we’re going to march on into the next hour with it. Maybe this season should involve a Scandal of the Week cliffhanger in every episode that they fail to resolve, and then Episode 12 comes along and EVERYTHING gets handled all in one batch of fixernusse cookies.

Tags: Scandal