"Scandal" is back! "Scandal" is back! After months of waiting and rewatching the first two seasons on Netflix, we start the first season by checking in with Pope and Associates. Huck, Harrison, Abby and Quinn are preparing for battle, locking doors and taking the phone off the hook. Olivia has just been outed as Fitz’s mistress by a “Post Style-section reporter,” leaving every one reeling. Mellie, Fitz and Cyrus all look miserable, but no one is more upset than Olivia Pope.She’s still in the back of that limo with Daddy Pope, who reveals that he wanted Jake Ballard killed, and not Olivia. Which…kind of makes sense, but that doesn’t mean he’s a particularly loving father.They pull up to a hangar. Daddy Pope continues to berate Olivia, whilst delivering the first rambling Sorkin-esque monologue of the new season. The gist of it is that he’s disappointed in her for buying into the fairytale of becoming Fitz’s first lady -- for “opening her knees” to a man with power whop will undoubtedly throw her under the bus to save himself.Olivia refuses to believe that Fitz would do this, but her father argues that Fitz doesn’t have a choice. Fitz doesn’t have power – he is run by power. (I am kind of loving Olivia’s father as a character. He’s horrible and frightening and obviously very powerful. This scene teases Olivia’s origin story a bit, and I am very anxious to learn more about her this season – outside of the affair with Fitz and her career.)Her father is upset with her for being so ordinary, the same lecture that Ellis Grey gave Meredith when she was lucid for a day. But his lecture is grounded, not only in his belief that his daughter is better than allowing a man to blur her vision, but because he feels she forgot that as a black woman, she has to work “twice as good as them to get half.” Mostly, he wanted her to aim higher than first lady. He is disappointed that she is so “mediocre.”But Daddy Pope has a plan to fix the mess his daughter has made. And that plan is to pay off her associates and put her on a plane to some faraway island with a new identity and a Swiss bank account. There, she’ll wait for eight months, then he’ll ship her off to Brussels or Johannesburg.We have seen Olivia weak before. We’ve seen her in a hospital bed. We’ve seen her curled up in a ball in bed, crying for days. But this is something else. Olivia’s slack-jawed and stammering, unable to assert herself because her father is just that intimidating.It’s understandable. Most of us regress when we’re around our parents. We start whining or cowing or fixing. Olivia cows. After boarding the plane, she borrows the flight attendant's phone to dial Cyrus, who is horrified at the idea of her fleeing.Olivia isn’t buying Cyrus’s concern, and is convinced that he wants her in the states so that he can throw her under the bus to salvage Fitz’s political capital. Cyrus tries another tack: he is worried that Fitz will believe that he had Olivia killed if she disappears. He claims he’s on her side. Olivia calls him a monster. He says that he’s her monster.Not sure if she believed Cyrus, but Olivia does get off the plane. “I am many things, but stupid is not one of them,” she spits at her father, and suddenly, she’s Olivia Pope again, breezing past this obstacle and thinking on her feet.Daddy Pope tells her that the White House will destroy her. “That’s what mom used to tell me about you,” she shoots back after climbing into the limo, now firmly in control.This is what we love about Olivia – along with her freakish ability to wear white all the time and remain stainless. This is what all of those inane “think” pieces that mull over Olivia’s inability to serve as a role model miss: Olivia is imperfect, but you still root for her. She’s that person who is always able to say the right thing when she is insulted, who can break the rules and still save the day. She is the type of person who would attack her friend’s abusive husband with a tire iron.She’s not always right, but we are in awe of her. How people can still “like” Don Draper and not “get” Olivia is beyond me. Olivia wants to be right. Don, Walt, Tony -- all of these male anti-heroes are firmly rooted in being brilliantly awful. Olivia still wants to wear the white hat that always seems to elude her.In the Oval Office, Sally Langston is being Sally Langston: self-righteous and Southern. Writing her lines has to be fun. Cyrus wants her to take over Fitz’s public appearances, dodging questions and buying them time.Sally’s not going for it. She cannot come to the aid of an adulterer, and Cyrus has had enough. They finally have the argument that has been brewing between them for the past couple of seasons. Cyrus yells that “The Lord did not fill out a voter registration card,” and Sally responds by commenting on his “godless, sexual lifestyle” and the “poor, sweet brown baby” that he and James adopted.Most of all, she is refusing to help him because she feels that he condescends to her and disrespects her because she is a Christian.They continue punching way below the belt. Sally calls Olivia a whore about 12 times, until Fitz finally asks everyone to leave. He pours Sally a Scotch, so that she knows that it’s sharing time. He admits the affair and apologizes to her because he failed her: as her teammate, as her President, etc. He lived a lie. She bends and they sit to talk.A resolved Fitz has decided to admit what he’s done to the world, but he’s not ready to take that step just yet. He needs time to plan, in order to protect the people in his life. He needs Sally to buy him time. She agrees, acting like his partner for the first time ever.Olivia finally gets to her office, and the photographers swarm around the limo. Thinking quickly, she takes down her hair to help shield her face, but the driver gets out to try to confront the photographers and one of them scrambles into the limo, snapping away.It’s honestly terrifying, but Huck finally rescues her and leads her up to the office. Olivia changes her clothes, hoping to get to business as usual, but her associates let her know that her clients are only calling in to fire her.Olivia scrambles to call her clients to talk them into continuing to pay for her services, but they are all dropping her. I have a feeling that many of them will come to regret that decision in the near future.Meanwhile, Harrison is trying to talk the crew into fixing Olivia’s problem for her, arguing that they are the only ones with the skills do it.Cyrus is busy trying to pump James for information. He wants to know exactly how the reporter who outed Olivia got her story. James suggests that he hit a bar called Mulloy’s, where many members of the Secret Service go for drinks. Cyrus is so pleased that he kisses James in front of all of his co-workers, but James wants to make sure that he knows that he owes them more than kisses.(I love James so much. I’m so glad Cyrus didn’t have him killed. Yet, I guess.)Mellie’s trying to track down the culprit, too. She tracks down one of the Secret Service men who’s loyal to her, to find out if he was one of those who talked. He says he slipped and told a reporter that Fitz was sleeping with one of their “most trusted advisors.” He was drunk and he’s always been fond of Mellie. It probably only took a little prodding.At Pope & Associates, David Rosen comes in to visit Olivia, as a friend. He doesn’t want details, in case he is interrogated, but he does want to know if she’s going to put on that damn “white hat” and admit guilt, or take the hard road to salvage everything.Looks like Abby and her awesome hair are on the rocks with David again. But there’s no time for that; the local news has a fresh tidbit to share about Olivia and Fitz’s affair. It’s the “first real evidence” that Olivia and Fitz were sleeping together: cell phone footage taken in an alley of Fitz leaving Olivia’s apartment building.And now, that ominous statement from Cyrus that ABC has been teasing in all of the previews: Cyrus tells his assistant to “start a kill folder on Olivia Pope.” Oh, I can’t wait to find out what’s in a kill folder!Harrison puts in a call to Cyrus, trying to get his help, but Cyrus is as cold-blooded as ever and hangs up, telling Harrison to never call that number again. His team has already thrown together Olivia’s kill folder: photos, resume (Princeton and Georgetown), and deets about her romantic life. She was a “party girl” in college, apparently, who slept around with a few “silver foxes.” (It also says that her dad, Eli Pope, works for the Smithsonian, as a curator. Ha.)Cyrus advises them to “play the ambitious slut card.” Somewhere, a thousand male trolls who have wanted to call Olivia all types of jezebels are rubbing their chins gleefully.Olivia, whose day just seems to be getting worse, meets with her father in a shady parking garage. She demands that he tell her where Jake Ballard is, but Eli just says that Jake “refused an order,” which is apparently a euphemism for “he’s currently being tortured in a little hidey hole somewhere.”Eli rants about how he breaks all of these moral codes so that Americans can be Americans: fat, lazy and addicted to reality TV, blah, blah, blah. He then tells Olivia, yet again, to get on the plane. She’s not going, of course. Instead, she gets into her car and makes a mysterious call, using military code and giving the password “Providence.” Which leads us to a bomb shelter where Fitz is waiting.Apparently, this was their “fire alarm,” and the NSA will not be able to give her another Providence code, and Fitz is not happy. Her name is out there, and she needs a plan. She has invited someone else to the party. It’s Mellie, of course, who looks amazing in that royal blue suit.She’s more Mellie than ever, waving away Fitz and Olivia’s cries that none of this would be happening if she hadn’t gone on national television and outed his affair. She says he gave her no choice by continuing to have sex with his “whore,” which Olivia shuts down immediately, by reminding her that they have things to do and she can’t do her job effectively while Mellie calls her whore to her face.Of course, Fitz wants to be honest about it all. Olivia, surprisingly, begins considering that plan: an appearance in the Rose Garden to give a press statement – no questions – with Mellie wearing a “soft color,” like lavender. Fly the kids in, but don’t have them at the press conference. Plan a staged Kennedy-esque photo with Teddy running near them. Interview with James, blah blah, and the whole thing will be over by the primaries.But Mellie calls foul. The details would get too messy and she refuses to stand by it.She won’t be humiliated any further. This is more than him making a mistake. Fitz rips off the band-aid, asking if it is because he is in love with another woman, but Mellie dismisses that. Using her scary voice, Mellie says that she will make a scene, pulling out their dirty laundry for the world to see.Olivia jumps in, deciding to bend the rules with a lie. She asks Mellie how many times they should claim she and Fitz slept together. Mellie says twice: the night of the Inauguration and after the assassination attempt.Logically, it all makes sense, but you can just see how humiliated Mellie is right now. It’s not about love or betrayal of vows. It’s just that she’s so much smarter than this. She could BE the president instead of the scorned first lady with perfect hair. Mellie’s resume is stellar, but instead of succeeding on her own, she is reduced to soft politics and standing by her man even though, affair aside, he’s horrible to her.Fitz and Sally Langston meet to discuss the way things are progressing. He wrote a speech and Mellie will be at the press conference with them. She’s a little shocked to realize that they are planning to stay together, but he says it’s for the kids.Sally is having a few marital problems of her own. Her husband, Daniel, has just moved to D.C. and he is having more “fun” than he used to. She’s the most powerful woman in the free world, and it seems to be taking a toll on her marriage.Fitz looks shocked by the admission. After his speech, he wants her to turn on him and use the moment to become “the moral center of the party.” She can and will do that. She wants to know why he is helping her, and he says it’s because they aren’t married to one another.Mellie goes to Cyrus, wanting to stop the press conference that she just agreed to a couple of scenes ago, because she is Mellie. Meanwhile, Pope & Associates is looking like a room of squabbling children who can’t decide what to do about Olivia.Honestly, this episode just isn’t about them, and all of their scenes feel like filler. Plus, Harrison is all, “GLADITOR IN A SUIT! GLADIATOR IN A SUIT!” which does nothing for me, besides the fact that I like looking at Columbus Short.Back in the White House pressroom, Jeannine Locke, the communications assistant who has been aiding Cyrus in all of his evvvillll schemes, is explaining the details of the upcoming press conference to a room of journalists when her day takes a turn for the awful. The news has a tape of her, drunk during the campaign, admitting that she thinks Grant is hot. “Super Freak” by Rick James in the background, Jeannine begins freaking out. She is now Fitz’s alleged mistress. Poor girl.She runs to Cyrus, who reassures her, saying that they will handle this because she’s a part of the family, and she seems to be eating it up. SMH. Even if Cyrus didn’t hand that video over to the press, I’m sure he’s not upset about Olivia being off the hook, even temporarily.Olivia assumes that her team planted the tape and storms into the conference room, demanding that her team admit what they did.Fitz, too, is fuming at the fact that an innocent woman has been thrown to the wolves. He vows to go on with the press conference and tell the truth, but Mellie tells him that she and Cyrus won’t stand by him, leaving him to get impeached. She then reveals that she was the one who leaked Jeannine’s name, and she got the idea from him…when he leaked Olivia’s name.This is what happens when you leave an incredibly intelligent and bored person to her own devices. She managed to deduce that he had Tony, the Secret Service agent, deliberately leak the name to the journo, in order to clean up his mess and get his way: divorce Mellie and bring Olivia into the White House.Fitz disagrees. It started when he pretended to apologize to her in Blair House. He declares war against Mellie, and says he leaked the name so that Mellie wouldn’t be able to use it. Oh, this season is going to be amazing.Back at Pope & Associates, Olivia is getting a pep talk from Harrison, who wants her to value self-preservation over good deeds, but Olivia isn’t hearing it. She’s got a new client: Jeannine.Elsewhere, Cyrus comes home to find James drugged and asleep, with Charlie pointing a gun at his face. But don’t worry. That’s just Eli Pope inviting him in to discuss Operation Remington, the mission Jake Ballard and Fitz went on together in Iran when they were in the Navy. Eli hands Cyrus the un-redacted version of events and we’ve got a new, and possibly even more exciting, scandal this season.This is why I love this show. Yes, I’m fond of a few of the characters and the dialogue is entertaining, but what I really love is the way it always goes there. No punches pulled, no theatrics spared. We are deep within the bowels of a nighttime soap that isn’t a “guilty pleasure” for most of us. We can’t keep calling things that we enjoy guilty pleasures just because women are the leads, or because the show makes us sob like babies every other episode."Scandal" is just everything. It is. And the sooner that the rest of the world learns to accept that, and the way Gladiators shut down Twitter -- Every. Single. Thursday. Night. -- the happier we all will be.Preview: Olivia is on the warpath, trying to clear Jeannine’s name; Mellie is stone-eyed and once again, officially scaring Cyrus.
Lauren McEwenFor The Baltimore Sun
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