C’mon, we all knew that was coming, didn’t we?

 

In a twist about as surprising as the news that Andy Kaufman is, in fact, still dead, it turns out that Mama Pope is still alive, if not exactly well. In the closing seconds of Thursday’s “Scandal,” Rowan pays a visit to his spouse-prisoner, who’s living in some kind of dank underground cell -- just one of the many bunkers in this most paranoid of shows.

 

It’s predictably unpredictable in that way that “Scandal” is, a development that caps off an episode in which Olivia’s unfolding back story takes a backseat to Mellie. One of the things I’m enjoying about this season is the show’s turn away from the problematic Fitz-Olivia affair to focus on filling in the back story of its characters. Most notably, we’ve seen Olivia develop from a one-dimensional superhero clad in white to a woman whose emotional invulnerability, a symptom of her wildly unhealthy relationship with her father, may be her greatest weakness.

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And in “Everything’s Coming Up Mellie,” we get a glimpse not just into the first lady’s Sirkian life story, but also learn even more about Cyrus, Fitz and even Sally’s quite possibly closeted hubby, Daniel Douglas. The present-day events on “Scandal” are already crazy, but it’s nice to know that things were perhaps even more nuts in the past.

 

The episode opens as Mellie is giving a televised White House tour a la Jackie Kennedy (“It’s not fair, it’s America,” says Cyrus by way of explanation, once again delivering the line of the episode.)  Then it flashes way, way back to the early days of the Grant marriage, when they were still a happily married, hot-for-each-other couple untainted by the nasty business of politics -- though not for long.

 

It’s 1998, though judging from Mellie’s Kate Jackson bob, it seems more like 1978 and the future first lady, who is perhaps in her late 20s, is already a partner at a law firm. Her husband, on the other hand, is a relative nobody with a well-known last name, a military record and his eyes on the governor’s mansion.  His powerful father, Jerry -- a nightmarish version of Joseph Kennedy --  has enlisted strategist Cyrus Beene to help turn Fitz  into a viable candidate. Cyrus and Jerry want Fitz to emphasize his service in the Navy, but he’s reluctant to do so, probably because of that time he was asked to shoot down a civilian airplane carrying 300 people. Can’t really blame the guy, can you?

 

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The bickering continues between father and son, and, in some kind of horrifying attempt to mark his domain, Jerry blindsides Mellie first by telling her about Operation Remington, and then by raping her as Fitz dozes upstairs. Just chew on that for a second, will you? Mellie finds out that her husband is responsible for killing hundreds of civilians who may or may not have died anyway thanks to a dirty bomb, then a minute later is sexually assaulted by her own father-in-law. That’s some traumatizing stuff right there.

 

“Scandal” rarely misses an opportunity to remind us of the perils faced by women in (or near) politics, and Mellie seems to have the most harrowing tale so far: A bright, talented woman who seems to have more political talent than her milquetoast husband, she gives up everything for her his career -- including her own right to justice.

 

Worst of all, her unborn child -- who will grow up to become one of the nameless, faceless Grant kids who are always off at boarding school or something -- is most likely not Fitz’s, but Jerry’s. Mellie tells Fitz nothing of the attack, but it’s clear the trauma has only made her more determined to see him succeed. It’s a fascinating, if deeply depressing, view of female ambition as a side effect of victimization.