WashingTelevision: Scandal Recap, Season Two, Episode Eight, “Happy Birthday, Mr. President”

A flashback-heavy episode with that Sally Hemings/Thomas Jefferson reference our writer's been dreading.

By: Tanya Pai

This episode jumped between scenes at the hospital, news broadcasts updating the situation (the newscaster is played by the dad from 7th Heaven), and flashbacks, so for simplicity’s sake I’ll explain the present and past timelines separately.

The Past

We get more of the backstory of Olivia and El Prez, starting with his inauguration. They’re in the Oval Office, and Olivia “The Bangs Are Back” Pope gives El Prez an American flag pin that used to be Eisenhower’s. They canoodle, until FLOTUS comes in all bubbly and excited. Flash to El Prez taking the oath as FLOTUS stands by him and Olivia smiles in the background. At night, two staffers (including Lane from Gilmore Girls!) come in to Olivia’s office with business questions, but she tells them to go to the inauguration ball instead because she is A Cool Boss. She doesn’t follow her own advice but rather wanders the halls of the White House, where she overhears Cyrus and Ira Glass Lite, not yet married but dating, fighting. Cyrus refuses to take IGL to the ball because he thinks everyone in Washington doesn’t already know he’s gay. Cyrus comes out and tries to cover up his relationship, so we know they weren’t quite as close as they are now. Il Papa heads back to her office, where her phone rings. She goes to the Oval Office, where El Prez is waiting, because he had zero other places to be that night. She tells him he should be at the ball, and he said he went to four of them and is now ready for a different kind of ball (sorry). He starts putting the moves on her, and she tells him to stop. “You’re the most important person in my life,” he tells her. “I can’t just stop. Can you?” Apparently she can’t, because she sits on the desk and pulls up her dress and the sex scene goes on for SO LONG that I started to blush even though I was watching it by myself.

The next day El Prez goes jogging with the same Secret Service guy who’s always showing up at Olivia’s apartment. The SS guy tries to tactfully bring up the fact that there are cameras in the Oval Office, and that somebody reviews the footage each morning and either archives it or deletes it. He says on his shift, there was “nothing worth archiving,” but that it won’t always be his shift. Rather than look ashamed, El Prez instead asks him what parts of the White House don’t have cameras. (Side note: Why, exactly, is this guy helping him? If you knew the President was a philanderer who had sex with his staffers in one of the most symbolic rooms in the entire country, wouldn’t you, I dunno, not want him to be President anymore?)

El Prez takes Olivia and Cyrus to Camp David to work on his state of the union address and also to have more of the sex with Olivia—that is, until FLOTUS shows up unexpectedly, and forces Olivia to have dinner with the two of them. Il Papa is pissed and starts ignoring El Prez, who tracks her down in the hallway. He asks why she’s been avoiding him, and she says—actually says—“I’m feeling a little Sally Hemings/Thomas Jefferson about all this.” WOW. Later he finds her in the White House garden and calls her out on that terrible line. “You’re pulling the race card because I’m in love with you?” he asks. She tells him she feels like he owns her, that she’s always waiting for him and watching for him, and he yells that it’s actually the other way around—that he waits for her and watches for her. “You’re nobody’s victim,” he says. “We’re in this together.” Next they go to the National Archives to see the Constitution, and she tells him she’s in love with him, too. It’s kind of sweet, but he loses his American flag pin, which a different Secret Service guy delivers to FLOTUS. She hands it to Il Papa and basically condones their affair with this gem of a line: “We’re both serving our country . . . I guess we just have different ways of doing it.” Olivia, presumably stricken with guilt, quits her job at the White House.

Hey, it’s Verna! She’s meeting with Cyrus and Olivia to discuss her nomination to the Supreme Court, which she was promised as a condition of giving up all her integrity to get El Prez elected. Except to get VP Sally on the ticket they promised her she could choose, and she has someone else in mind. Verna tells them in no uncertain terms to make it happen, which they do by having Cyrus tip off IGL about the nomination and leaking VP Sally’s candidate’s juvenile criminal record, essentially wrecking his chances of being nominated. Sally’s pissed. “I’m in this for me now,” she growls.

Il Papa also has to deal with a guy named Jesse Tyler, who works for Cytron and is trying to contact the White House about voter fraud in Ohio. She finds out where he got the info by way of a hilariously wigged and bearded Huck, who’s in his homeless phase and is being fed Funyuns by a White House security guard. Il Papa tells Huck he can move in with her as long as he showers, then goes to see Hollis Doyle, who says he’ll “take care of it”—meaning blow up an office building and blame it on Quinn. Olivia is horrified when she finds out, but both Doyle and Cyrus basically tell her it’s tough cookies and a means to an end, and Olivia knows there’s nothing she can do.

The Present

We open on a newscast. Anchor Reed Wallace (hey, it’s the dad from 7th Heaven!) is explaining that El Prez, the press secretary (Lane), and a Secret Service agent were all wounded, and El Prez is in critical condition. FLOTUS is at the hospital, as is Olivia, who gets a call from Davis. He’s being taken into a bunker with the rest of the Cabinet members—except for VP Sally, who’s carpe diem-ing it all the way to the South Lawn of the White House, where she makes a statement about being ready to assume power, enraging Cyrus. Olivia assumes the duties of press secretary and gives her own statement that El Prez is still El Prez.

From another news break, we find out that the press secretary is dead (Lane, nooooo!)—and then Davis calls Olivia to tell her VP Sally is collecting Cabinet signatures so she can assume the presidency. Il Papa knows only one person can fix the situation, so she goes to see FLOTUS at the hospital. FLOTUS thinks Olivia’s there to tell her El Prez is dead, but when Olivia starts to sit down, she snaps, “Don’t sit next to me like we are friends.” Olivia gets into real-talk mode and tells her she needs to make a statement. “Find me something to wear,” says FLOTUS, so Olivia goes to the (envy-inducing) closet she shares with El Prez. She touches FLOTUS’s clothes, no doubt wondering what it’d be like if it were her clothes hanging there, then gets out El Prez’s favorite Navy sweatshirt and cries into it before grabbing a sensible suit for FLOTUS.

FLOTUS makes a statement on camera, but when they hear from the doctors that El Prez is “lucky to be alive” and could be unconscious for weeks, Il Papa knows it’s over. VP Sally takes the oath of office as Cyrus trashes his office in despair. FLOTUS sits at the hospital, where Olivia finds her. She hands her the American flag pin, which she found on the floor, and FLOTUS places it by his arm.

The Dream Team, minus Huck, who is “on a date,” are watching the coverage on TV. Harrison repeats the description of the suspected shooter: dark hair, average height and build, possibly with a buzz cut, wearing a red hoodie. IT BETTER NOT BE HUCK. We flash back to the shooting one more time, then get it from the sniper’s perspective. He’s in a hotel room, and after he shoots, he packs up his guns. His hood is over his face, but as he starts collecting shotgun shells from the floor, he turns toward the camera and we see it’s Huck. NOOOOOOOOO, HUCK!!!

A couple of thoughts:

WHY, Shonda, WHY? I think we’re supposed to think Huck has gone so far off the deep end that he decided to kill El Prez, but there has to be something else going on.

Now that VP Sally is in the Oval Office, she’ll no doubt be about as easy to remove as a Cab stain from a white shirt once El Prez inevitably wakes up.

Speaking of which . . . the real tension in the situation to me stems not from whether El Prez will live or die, because obviously, but from what his injuries mean for all these people around him. Cyrus and Il Papa have put themselves in such a precarious position that while they obviously care about El Prez’s life, the stakes are so much higher than just grief.

What did you think of last night’s Scandal? Let us know in the comments.