Scandal: "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner"
B+

Scandal: "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner"

I’m stepping in for Sonia Saraiya this week, which is no small order. Have you seen her fanfiction Hostages review? Go read it right now. We’ll wait.

In the meantime: Scandal continues the momentum that kicked off its new season last week with this episode, which focuses on Olivia and her father. Liv has daddy issues! Not surprising, considering her leanings toward older, powerful men. We see most of her paternal relationship in flashbacks to five years ago, when Fitz was still governor, Huck was homeless, and Livvy had bangs. The bangs are very important as our main gateway to the past.

Five years ago, Olivia had dinner with her father Eli (Joe Morton) every week so that he would pay for her law school loans (very Gilmore Girls). They eventually had a falling-out when she realizes (through a logo on a pen) that he works not for the Smithsonian (no more fun mastodon stories!) but for B6:13, the dark, scary, CIA branch that made Huck an assassin. She tries to rein her dad in by getting her then-boyfriend Edison on a House Intelligence committee, but Eli combats with getting Edison involved in an accident, and threatens further injury for the senator unless Olivia breaks up with him. Maybe she fell for the president because she thought he was the only guy her father couldn’t touch.

We left off last week with White House staffer Jeannine Locke (Samantha Sloyan) getting thrown under the bus as the press reported that she was the person Fitz was having an affair with, not Olivia Pope. Olivia’s plan this week is to clear Jeannine’s name, but Mellie said the president was having an affair with someone, so if not Jeannine, who is it? As Sonia pointed out last week, Olivia is faltering this season as things are spiraling out of her control, and all of the men in her life seem to be failing her. Fitz leaked her name to the press. Her father is back in her life, trying to control her. Cyrus created a kill file on her. And in the most heartbreaking scene, Huck attacks her when he learns her father was his commander in B6:13.

Eli Pope makes Olivia a deal: Unless she lets the country believe that Fitz had an affair with Jeannine Locke, she’ll never see Jake, who is now in the same literal hole in the ground that Huck was once in, again. Faced with this choice, she still chooses Jeannine, begging her not to sell a piece of her soul for a price (and $2 million in a tax-free account doesn’t really seem like that much for Monica Lewinsky-ing your name). Even with Jake’s life in the balance, Olivia knows the destruction of not telling the truth: She has not forgotten Defiance and all the devastation that came with that reveal. So she still begs Jeannine not to admit to a fake affair with the president. But Fitz beats Olivia to the punch, naming Jeannine himself so that Jake will be freed. But in the end, Olivia’s father is the one to send the released Jake her way, so is he even more powerful than the president? Seems that way.

These machinations and revelations are so intricate that it takes an incredibly strong performer like Kerry Washington to lead us through them. She has complicated relationships with all of these men, and Washington expertly plays off of each of them. Only two weeks into the season, it’s hard to spot the long game here, as so far Liv just keeps fighting for her own survival, but it’s riveting to watch. When Fitz actually trumps her with his own press conference, we know that having Olivia stumble is a rarity. Scandal is smart to focus on Washington and let the rest of the gladiators just mill around this episode, with minimal Harrison, Abby with her new hair and eyeliner, and ever-more-mercenary Quinn.

Except for Huck. Huck attacking Olivia in the parking lot is one of the most devastating scenes Scandal has ever done, as the two of them seemed irrevocably bonded. Credit is due Guillermo Díaz, who can go from sympathetic to terrifying in his portrayal of Huck in a matter of moments. The attack certainly opens up major questions for the rest of the season: Olivia is Huck’s main tie to reality, so how will he possibly function without her?

At the end, a solitary Olivia is delivered the man she’s been searching for in the morgue: a bloody and bruised Jake Ballard. Although his battered appearance is devastating, after all she’s been through, it’s a relief that Olivia does not end the episode alone. But she—and we—wonder what her possible next step will be.

Stray observations:

  • I like how Olivia’s dad doesn’t even blink when she mentions B6:13 for the first time, which he writes off as Huck being mentally ill.
  • Would a super-secret CIA front actually have its name on a pen? These are the types of logic leaps I have trouble with.
  • Romantic Fitz/Liv phone talk: “Something happens, and you’re the one I want to talk to.” Fun fact from Joshua Molina (David Rosen)’s Twitter feed: He feeds Kerry Washington Tony Goldwyn’s lines when she has a telephone scene with him.
  • Quinn is not the gladiator I would choose for wardrobe advice.
  • Love Fitz’s look of pride as Olivia attacks the White House.
  • Cyrus and Mellie: “You’re evil.” “You’re welcome.”
  • Huck’s whole CIA story really does just sound crazy from the outside.
  • Nice to see the beginning of Olivia’s appreciation of fine wine.
  • Cyrus to Eli as he ends his phone conversation with yet another threat: “You know some people just say goodbye?” Not on this show. People are constantly hanging up on each other mid-conversation.
  • Next week: Shonda Rhimes does like her dramatic bomb scenes, doesn’t she? This time, Cynthia Stevenson straps herself with explosives to threaten the White House. Too bad bomb expert Kyle Chandler got blown up in Seattle.

More TV Club