This week, Scandal doesn’t mess around — it just cuts straight to the chase:

There is no lead-up to the wine. There is just wine. We begin with wine. Wine is the alpha of this show, and someday, when it ends, the last shot should be Olivia in the most resplendent wine cardigan of her life, picking up a giant goblet full of elixir and taking a rich sip.

 

Liv is on the phone with Fitz, of course. “So I say there’s hope and that means you call me every night?” she asks, as if this is ANY kind of surprise to her, as if they haven’t been down this road a hundred times. Liv. Seriously. This is the old neighborhood. All the same houses are on the same sides of the street, the same ugly metal fence is right there on the corner, and there’s still that same dude who knocks on your door at 2 a.m. hoping for some pity sex. It’s THE SAME.

Now that Olivia has said there is hope, Fitz wants to skip straight to the part where she goes bobbing for apples in his pants. “Is Jake being fed?” she counters. Fitz stiffens in a different way when she goes on and on about whether he’s getting sunlight and protection and time on the jungle gym and being cuddled three times a day by an armed guard dressed as a puppy, and generally everything else one might expect in Supermax prison when one allegedly murdered the president’s child. I mean, really, it’s just a very under decorated day-care center.

Mellie and her resplendent grapewear are listening to this conversation. She realizes Fitz is in the middle of making a childlike “Hope 4 Pope 2014″ campaign sign and backs away.

Did you ever think to yourself, “Gee, I hope they’ll throw in a cursory scene about one of those old Case of the Week mysteries?” Because this Bud’s for you. Quinn gives us a LENGTHY recap: Sonya Walger’s stepdaughter Caitlin was murdered after overhearing her father having an illicit conversation at his office, and stealing a folder full of Olivia Pope pictures as proof of something. (Of WHAT? Did someone damn her with fake Prada?) So Quinn comes after the dad, and finds him sitting on the stairs of his house, listless. “You can’t stop what’s coming,” he says, because he was basically just waiting for a warm body to show up so he could be all dramatic about pulling out this gun and blowing his throat all over the wall. Quinn gasps, because she realizes that yet again she has no real story of her own, and Olivia has about twelve.

At least THIS is not her story:

If this actor has been waiting for a new IMDb profile photo, I think he’s found it. Senator McDonnell was taped by his prostitute wearing a makeshift diaper and then, yes, dirtying it with the yield of his anal canal.

Cyrus laughs really hard when he sees this — like, cackles himself breathless. And Jeff Perry does not sell it. At all. It’s cacophonous and forced and I’ve decided this is because he hated it. And didn’t believe it needed to be there, and didn’t think Cyrus would walk into a room and shriek, “DID A UNITED STATES SENATOR JUST… ON CAMERA… AHAHAHAHAHAHA,” and so he just could NOT do anything but overplay it. Like a coded message.

Abby is not pleased to find out that Senator Diaper’s projected replacement in Virginia is Charles “Chip” Putney, a.k.a. the ex-husband who beat her senseless. And Fitz has already endorsed him.

He is played by Michael Trucco, whom you might recognize from One Tree Hill (and if you don’t, WHAT WERE YOU DOING WITH YOUR LIFE) or Battlestar Galactica. My beloved snarkmonkey Paul Adelstein is running Chip’s campaign now that YUM YUM CRISPY PIGGY is no longer in play. Fitz thoughtfully uses Abby’s actual NAME when introducing her to Senator Putney, and seems startled to learn that Chip is her husband. The others seem aware, but Fitz does not. Really? NOBODY briefed him on that part of it? Although honestly, they could have, but if the sentence didn’t end with, “Olivia Pope naked on a bed of pancakes,” he wouldn’t have heard it anyway.

Speaking of which, Olivia is NOT naked right this moment, and I’m glad of it because that jacket is great. She is dialing David Rosen over and over and over again and barking things into his voicemail about Jake Ballard, while Huck and Quinn deliver lengthy exposition for us reminding us YET AGAIN about the Folder of Pope and the fact that they haven’t told Liv about it yet because they need to string this out deeper into the episode so that it feels less perfunctory.

Darby Stanchfield is very affecting in this episode, particularly in this scene. She has called Olivia to her in a panic, and is cowering behind her desk. Liv slips in with a dry-cleaning bag and comes to Abby’s side, with real gentleness. Abby tells her that she kept it together as best she could in Fitz’s office, but as soon as she was alone, she threw up in the bathroom and got some of it on her dress. My question is why her office doesn’t smell like baked vomit at this point. Maybe Olivia mistook it for Parmesan cheese and just thought Abby had thrown her lunch pasta into her wastebasket.

Abby, though, is shaken. She isn’t sure how to handle this. Olivia insists she should tell Fitz that the man he endorsed nearly broke her on every level. Abby refuses. “He’s a man to you. To the rest of us, he’s the President. He’s an idea,” Abby says. Which is a nice distinction to draw, but I don’t believe it coming from her because she was a Gladiator first and so she Knows Things about Fitz that would make it very difficult for her to slip into that fantasy of him where he’s a concept more than a person. Olivia steadies Abby and asks, “What do you want?” Abby knows what she means and insists the Putney family owns Virginia. “You can’t Handle this,” she says. “WATCH ME,” Liv intones, and after this my notes read, “Awwww yeah,” because it’s “Car Wash” time baby, only what’s getting wiped clean is this person:

Yes, that’s not her face, but that’s what you need to know about Chip Putney’s opponent’s campaign. EVERY poster was made by a child, although that’s going to end up coming in handy.

Olivia walks in determined to make this woman the next U.S. senator, so she immediately fixes it the only way she knows how: by shitting all over this woman’s underfunded and under publicized campaign, ridiculing her tiny campaign rally, and essentially belittling her in front of every person in her office. Even though there are admittedly only like ten. OBVIOUSLY if this woman COULD have more people and an actual sizable rally, she would; it’s not like they are sitting around playing Drinking Jenga. “I’M OLIVIA POPE,” Liv thunders, expecting our girl Susan Ross to kowtow. And she does, because this is Scandal.

Of course, Liv’s ideas for winning this campaign are two: implying this woman is a hideous she-beast and frowning and wincing while they forcibly wax her face, and then digging up non-Abby dirt on Putney because that is the only way they can elect this person. If I were Susan Ross, I would have said, “You might be Olivia Pope, but no white smoke came out of my conclave’s chimney,” and turfed her.

Paul Adelstein pops into Abby’s office to ask where she and Chip Putney are with each other, you know, emotionally, and such. Because he has noticed what I started yapping about last season, which is that he and Abby probably need to get it on at the earliest convenience. No, seriously, he says he needs to know whether they’re acknowledging their teeming sexual tension or ignoring it. ACKNOWLEDGE, Paul. Always acknowledge.

A car bomb blew up in West Angola, which only has anything to do with Man Bangs for Hire because Cyrus uses it to plant information: He tells him Fitz has ordered the U.S.S. Roosevelt to the scene, when in fact, Fitz ACTUALLY ordered the U.S.S. Truman. O SNAP YO. It’s a test: If this information makes its way into the press, specifically out of the mouth of Portia de Rossi, then Cyrus will know that his concubine is spying through his hair curtain.

Mellie is contemplating creating a Grant china pattern. It will be hollow and indecisive about itself. She does, however, give the Reagan and the Roosevelt china the most exquisite look of desperate boredom, and Portia de Rossi strolls in to say hello, because apparently you can just walk in on the First Lady if you want. Portia greets her pleasantly, and Mellie points out that Eleanor Roosevelt authorized her china pattern to create jobs: “She didn’t give a rat’s ass about china any more than I do.” Mellie complains that the day there’s a female president, “First Lady” will end up becoming a real, non-condescendingly-named paid position rather than just let a man die on the vine. I sympathize with Mellie, but also, it’s not like she didn’t know what the job was when they ran for office. Portia, however, is licking her chops over this delicious prey. She calmly tells Mellie that she’d like to discuss foreign policy “and how you can help the party shape it.” Mellie laps this up like a dog devoid of affection.

Liv wants into Supermax, so she keeps haranguing David Rosen for how to get inside. His refusal to help her contains at least two too many glib quips, all delivered at breathless speed, including “This isn’t JailhouseMingle.com,” “They added SUPER to the already quite clear MAXIMUM SECURITY,” and, “That place holds people who eat people,” referring to Jeffrey Dahmer. It’s classic overwritten Scandal dialogue. I’ve realized that this show has Sorkinist aspirations without realizing that Sorkin is both hard to replicate, frequently a few steps too far itself, and possessed of diminishing returns the longer he stays at it.

Liv finally gets in a word to tell David that he’s wrong about her wanting to see Jake. What she DOES want:

And these scene made me ROLL MY EYES like you would not believe. What’s it about? How beautiful Olivia is. Seriously. Tom gazes at her and starts panting, saying that he never really got to LOOK at her because he was always keeping his eyes on the perimeter to protect his president. “I’ve never really seen you,” he says. “And you. Are. BEAUTIFUL. The face that launched a thousand ships.” When I say that Olivia Pope is becoming the Joey Potter of this show, I don’t mean it as a compliment.

Tom then goes on to talk about how Fitz positively revolves around her, and he doesn’t understand why Olivia ever left him. “Was it an order from Command?” he asks. Liv says her father doesn’t give her orders, and Tom scoffs — while also still devouring her with his eyes — that Olivia doesn’t have a father. “You were raised by Command. Command doesn’t have a family. Command has soldiers,” he says.

I really think they should have done her hair better if they were going to go all Helen of Troy here.

Tom then tells the story of bringing Fitz to Olivia’s place the day he realized she’d left town, and the horny, abandoned yawp he let loose. “He’s my president, and he needed you. He wanted to die. He tried, you know,” Tom says. “I could protect him from everyone except you. I could never protect him from you, Miss Pope.” And THEN he goes back to, “You ARE beautiful. But really it’s what’s behind your eyes.  And you know they all love you — my president, Jake, Command, and I can see why,” and he REPEATS that her face launched a thousand ships and says she’s the same as Helen of Troy because their fathers were both gods. And like… I get it; it’s the first time he’s stared right at her, but just for once it might be nice to pretend any of these people love her for her mind. Fitz might, but he doesn’t express it, and Jake basically just tells her to shut up and have sex with him. It would have been strange in this moment for Tom to say, “You are stunning, but also, you have this really banging brain and personality for days,” but… I mean. JUST ONCE. Someone. Anyone. Although it might be a lie that she has personality for days. I actually don’t know that she does have much of one.

She is feisty, though, and she jumps into action here. She tells Tom urgently that Command doesn’t like loose ends, and Tom is the very definition of one. She warns him that her father will order Tom killed the same way he did Jerry Grant, but Tom does not change his story. He still implicates Jake.

It’s a good thing Olivia waived her fee for Susan Ross For State Senate, because she’s kind of half-assing this. Here, she’s realizing that Susan Ross is terrible on television, and then gets an idea when she sees Huck joking around with the woman’s daughter. Note to Olivia: I realize this was helpful, but Huck tortures people with home hardware equipment. Keep him away from people’s children.

The ensuing ad, however, is hilarious. They use the daughter to talk up her mother…

… and her mother’s college degree, and her dead father…

… and oh, yeah, her grandfather the coal miner, because Susan Ross is OF THE PEOPLE. There are frequent cutaways to her pink bunny slippers as she takes us all on a photographic tour of her life, and it’s actually really well done — it’s clear it’s meant to be funny to US and yet also hitting every single obvious hot button. Including:

“My Mom Susan For Senate” cracks me up. I hope they change the ballot to read “My Mom Susan.”

Everyone knows Olivia has taken up Susan Ross’s cause, so Putney corners Abby in the parking garage and tries to slither his way into her good graces. He talks about how great she looks, and how much fun they could have if he weren’t married, then gets snotty with her when she points out that he almost killed her — you know, the usual “Oh THAT old song and dance” defense that creepy assholes use. “It’s always the blame game with you, Abby,” he says.

And then she does something that she is VERY LUCKY worked out for her: She goes into her car and fully bends and crawls into it, leaving herself TOTALLY defenseless and vulnerable for the several minutes it takes her to scramble around in there. Luckily for her, Putney uses that tome to check our her ass from a distance, rather than get violent with her; I’m really rather surprised they blocked it this way. Abby would NEVER have turned her back on her abuser for that long, and in a position where she could not have defended herself if he’d decided to force himself on top of her.

It does work, though, because she eventually comes out of there in the nick of time with a gun. But seriously, it took her so long to GET it that this was a dumb idea. Because this is TV, she gets it cleanly and waves it in his face and explains that she will shoot him in the face. So he slinks off back to the Factory of Stereotypical TV Villains whence he came.

Abby confides in Liv, who tells her to use her podium, especially because of all the women it would inspire.  Abby points out that they did that for years, fixing people, but “what happened to those women, Liv? They became Anita Hill, Monica Lewinsky. They stood up, Liv. They stood up and told their story. But where are they now?” Darby Stanchfield is doing a really nice job with this episode. I bet this is her Emmy submission. Quite possibly the first one she’s ever had with this show.

The only redeeming feature about Liv’s bedroom is that closet. And of the things IN said closet, I do love this poncho she’s wearing. See? I am nice.

If you stare at the clouds in Fitz’s painting, you might see a butterfly, or a baby, or the words FITZ IS THE WORST.

Because Fitz calls Liv to tell her that Jake gets an hour of sunlight a day and is otherwise well fed and guarded. But he gets angry and condescending when he finds out she went to Supermax, until she tells him it was to see Tom. “He told me you tried to kill yourself,” she says. Fitz is silent and then asks her what, exactly, hope means to her. He testily asks if she just told him that to save Jake. “I don’t lie,” Olivia says. “Then come over here and prove it,” he says, because, what, the only way he’s going to believe her is if she performs a skin-flute sonata? The blood rushes to his junk in staccato bursts that, in Morse Code, spells out IT SUCKS BEING THE WANG OF A GUY WHO IS THE WORST.

Olivia tactfully apologizes for saying anything and upsetting him, and that she can tell he’s drunk. Fitz would rather have phone sex. So he tells her exactly what he would do with her. And, surprise surprise, it involves making her COMPLETELY submissive to him, because — like Rowan before him — all he wants is to own her, except problematically I don’t think she show SEES that about him. He says, and let’s just get the whole thing down here: “I’d take off all your clothes. I wouldn’t kiss you yet. I’d make you wait for that. And once I get you unmasked, I’d spread you out on the desk so I could see you, every inch of you, and then I’d start at the bottom and work my way up slowly, deliberately… and then once you’re begging me, and I wouldn’t stop until you were begging me, I’d finally kiss you, on the mouth, so you could taste yourself.” And here, Olivia is swooning. I mean… seriously, if a dude said that to me I would laugh in his face. LAUGH IN HIS FACE. It’s like trying to turn on a lady by reading a Nora Roberts novel out loud without any sense of humor about it. And yet Olivia is fanning herself and all but licking the phone. You two deserve each other. She gulps and asks, “Then what?” And Fitz says cheerfully, “That depends on how much hope there is,” and hangs up on her. She falls back on the bed, groaning with the lady equivalent of blue balls.

scandal-recap-season-4-episode-7-recap-43

Oh, and after continued catfishing and an aborted meet-up at an arcade — where Huck actually lets Javi go wait for him, a person he thinks is some random stranger, and then just stares at him through a window; this is both a shitty thing to do AND terrible parenting, because he should be telling Javi not to give his information to Internet strangers who might turn out to be creepy guys who lick the faces of their conquests — Javi finds Huck and is all casual about it. “I’ve seen pictures. I know you’re my dad,” he says. “I want to know why you left.” Huck sits him down and says, “Son, there comes a time in every man’s life when he takes a job as a black-ops agent, torturing people, drilling into human flesh and getting turned on by the viscera and the mess and the cleanup, and then that man has to go live in a hole for a while, and then in the Metro, although you’d think that would have taught a man NOT to breathe through his nose when in fact that is ALL this man does. And then that man might take a job working for a woman with great coats, and murder a few more people, and then pull out the teeth of the woman he loves before having sex with her, and that’s why I left.” Or at least, in an entertaining show, that’s what he would’ve said.

Adelstein comes in and gloats to Abby that they’ve driven the nail into Susan Ross’s coffin: She was never married to the little girl’s dead father, and voters and Republicans will hate her for it. “YAHTZEE,” he crows, because they won and Olivia Pope lost. I love it — nobody uses the word YAHTZEE enough. Abby is perturbed, though, and calmly sits back in her chair and says, “My jaw was wired shut for six weeks and I still have a pin in it… and my two front teeth are fake. My collarbone hurts whenever it’s going to rain. Charles did that to me. So yeah, you won. Yahtzee.” BOOM. Good for her.

I mean, seriously, don’t even dress her underneath the coats. They are enough.

Rowan is furious that Liv went to see Tom. She can’t believe he had her followed, and then wonders rhetorically why she is surprised. I also wonder why she is surprised. Do ALL of these people have selective amnesia where this guy is concerned?

scandal-recap-season-4-episode-7-recap-32

And then, another salivary Niagara. “You do not disrespect me. EVER. Can I make that any clearer?” Rowan spits. “I’m the one who protects the republic. I’m the one who protects you.” He says he spent a lifetime trying to clear her path, so that she might never meet an obstacle nor anything less than everyone’s adulation. “You might not believe this. You may think I’m a misguided vicious dinosaur from my museum who attacks without thinking. Let me assure you I am not,” he hisses. “When I strike it is precise and it is for a reason, and you do not interfere, you do not get in the way, and you never, ever choose one of them over me. I won’t have it.” SINCE WHEN. Dear Scandal: You did  TWO SEASONS in which Rowan Pope didn’t give one single solitary crap about Olivia. They had a strained relationship. She chose a LOT of people over him for a long time and he didn’t care until you needed a cliffhanger. Get over yourselves.

“What’s clear is that you seem to have wasted a lifetime doing all the wrong things,” she says. He puts his hands around her cheeks, and she jerks away. “Against me, you will lose,” he says simply.

Meanwhile, Tom’s bunk inspection turns bloody. “I have a message from Command,” the guard says, and then he stabs Tom like six times and leaves him for dead. And, spoiler, this is how you know Rowan had nothing to do with it. Rowan doesn’t leave anyone for dead. If he wants you dead, he makes sure.

Oh, hey, remember the Case of the Week? So does Scandal. Liv gets out her shoehorn and pries open the episode and shoves in a scene where she finds out about the Olivia Pope Folder. She is creeped out that someone has been following her. Uh, someone is ALWAYS following you, Olivia. We actually just had a scene all about how your FATHER is always following you. This would have been a lot more effective if they hadn’t tried to shove it here. It feels like they have NO idea where to put any of these scenes to keep that storyline alive, and the thing is, nobody cares so it had better be going someplace good or else it’s not worth the ham-fisted effort.

Mellie puts on her very highest hair and her most powerful power-shirt and turns her interview about the Grant china into a treatise on West Angola. And she drops the U.S.S. Roosevelt bomb.

Cyrus, who had been cuddling with his rental — who must be paid handsomely by Cyrus because he doesn’t appear to do anyone else — freaks out about this. As Hooker T. Washington crawls into bed with him and hands him a specific coffee order, he coos, “I know all your weaknesses now, Cy.” And Cyrus gulps, “Yes, you do.” I hope he has to hire Olivia to fix his prostitute problem.

I really wish I could tell if this was catastrophic or cute. It could go either way. Sometimes TV directors are so selfish, you know?

Paul Adelstein has popped by to celebrate that Chip Putney withdrew from the senate race. Apparently someone leaked to the press that Chip set up Senator Diaper and paid the woman to record the whole thing, to force the vacancy. “Susan Ross is going to be the next senator in Virginia,” he says, wincing. Abby realizes he leaked it because she told him Chip is a dirtbag. “Whaaaat? Please,” Paul says. And then he kisses her. Abby lets him, then sits back and marvels that she did. “Have some more bourbon and I’ll touch your boob,” he offers, teasingly, and they both laugh, and he is a delight. Sorry, David Rosen. You’ve been Handled right out of my affections.

As Mellie surveys her future kingdom, Fitz comes out to scold her for talking foreign policy instead of place settings. She smiles coldly at him and tells him that she’s only doing exactly what he screeched at her to do. “You hated Drunk Mellie and Crybaby Mellie and Smelly Mellie, and there was one about food, I don’t know what you called it. I like to think of it as Chicken-Fried Mellie. You wanted those Mellies gone, so they’re gone, she purrs. “Here I am. The real Mellie. Remember how much you hated the real Mellie? Be careful what you wish for.” Sometimes people wonder why I like Mellie so much. A big part of the reason is that Fitz Is The Worst, and so I LOVE it when people put him in his place, and nobody wounds him with that quite as much as  Mellie can. Therefore, I tend to like Mellie even though she’s done some pretty awful things in her history as well.

Fitz is all shocked and appalled that she’s giving him lip. Mellie snaps that she held him up for twenty years and never complained about any of his bullshit, but she had a two-month tragedy-induced food coma and he ripped her to shreds. This is a bit oversimplified — he also was quite sympathetic to her for a lot of that time, and I seriously doubt she never complained about any of his bullshit. I think we even heard her do that. I like Mellie, but let’s not recast Mellie as a wounded, wronged angel, because part of what I REALLY like about her is that she’s complicated and thoroughly imperfect. Nonetheless, she is cross, and more so when she answers Fitz’s phone for him and it’s Olivia.

And Fitz is even MORE shocked and appalled when he finds out what’s been going down: Tom survived his knifing, and called Olivia and confessed on tape that Rowan was behind the murder and not Jake. Liv tells Fitz that she played Tom just the way Rowan would have, having Quinn pay the guard to stab him and, presumably, make sure he lived. It’s ridiculous that Tom didn’t smell a rat the second he woke up. If ANYONE should know that when Rowan wants you dead you don’t wake up, it’s Tom.

As this sinks in, Olivia has a montage of flashbacks to her telling Fitz there is hope, to her father insisting she’ll lose, to Jake giving her permission not to choose him (because God forbid she make a choice that a man doesn’t bless; I hate carping about all that stuff ad nauseum but it’s really getting to me). And we end on Jake entering Fitz’s bunker, met by Fitz and Olivia. It’s a bunker we’ve been in before; it was here that Olivia and Mellie and Fitz met after Olivia was implicated as his mistress, and they brainstormed a way to tell most of the truth about it so that they would all be free. And we know how THAT went. And now we’re back with another love triangle, but unlike last time, no Wronged Angel in White. So maybe this will get down and dirty. CHOOSE YOURSELF, OLIVIA. LET KELLY TAYLOR BE YOUR GUIDE.