We don’t have much time to waste with last season’s antics (read this if you need more of a refresher), so in brief: Previously on Scandal: The press found out about Olivia’s affair with El Prez, and we found out that shadowy figure Rowan is Olivia’s father. The episode picks up where we left off, with a news anchor helpfully explaining that Vanessa Chandler of the Post’s style section (!!) broke the story. She says she got the intel from a single source, but a good one. Meanwhile, Olivia and Papa Pope are in the Limo of Uncomfortable Silence, until Rowan breaks it by snarking that he wishes she’d have been that quiet as a child. “Why’d you try to have me killed?” she counters, but he says the target was actually Captain Ballard. They end up at an airport hangar, where Rowan somewhat graphically takes her to task for giving it away to “a man with too much power.” She says El Prez would never burn her, but he tells her that power is in charge, not her lovah. He reminds her of his guiding principle: “You have to be twice as good as them [them, I assume, being white people] to get half of what they have,” by which he’s saying she should aspire to be much more than First Lady. “Do you have to be so mediocre?” he asks, which to her must be one of the worst insults ever, then tells her he’s arranged for her to disappear with a new identity.
Olivia gets on the plane, uncharacteristically meek, then borrows the flight attendant’s phone and calls Cyrus. He promises he won’t throw her under the bus and begs her not to run, because then El Prez will think he had Olivia killed and will never trust him again. She calls him a monster, and he replies, “I’m a monster, but I’m your monster.” It’s convincing enough for her to get off the plane and head back to HQ. “The White House will destroy you,” Papa Pope tells her. “That’s what Mom used to tell me about you,” she says, all steel.
The White House is in full panic mode. El Prez’s redheaded staffer Janine is dealing with reporters while Cyrus tries get VP Sally to take over El Prez’s public appearances while they get a handle on the scandal, but she won’t because she’s the lord’s instrument or something. She calls him out for his “homosexual lifestyle” and his “sweet brown baby” and I cackle like a madwoman, and Cyrus practically has another heart attack. Then El Prez, who is weirdly calm throughout this, asks to speak to her alone. He offers her a Scotch and a dose of honesty: He owns up to his affair, then tells her he failed her. He wants to own up to it publicly, but he needs some time to prepare the people in his life. Finally she agrees to take over his public appearances and deflect questions.
Olivia arrives back at HQ, and her limo is mobbed by reporters until Huck rescues her and pulls her inside. She tells the Dream Team the situation is “being handled” and to go about with business as usual, but Abby offers her a reality check: The phone has been “ringing off the hook” with clients calling to fire them. Olivia gets on the phone to try (unsuccessfully) to do some damage control, while Harrison hisses to the team that they need to handle the situation because otherwise they will all go down in flames with Olivia. Abby and Quinn apparently deal with crisis by really stepping up the eye makeup.
Cyrus comes up to Ira Glass Lite in the hallway all sugar, which IGL knows means he wants something. Cyrus teases him for letting a low-level blogger scoop him. “Is she sleeping with someone?” he asks. (Is that a House of Cards reference?) He wants to know where said blogger got her information, and IGL tells him reporters hang out at a bar called Malloy’s, because Secret Service agents drink there. Cyrus kisses him fully on the lips in the crowded hallway, shocking him. He then presumably tells FLOTUS, because she goes to her favorite Secret Service guy, Hal, and asks him whether he spilled the beans about Olivia. He tells her he admitted the affair but didn’t give the name.
David Rosen comes to see Olivia and tells her not to reveal anything because the less he knows as US Attorney, the better. He tells her she should come clean. Then a clip comes on the news showing El Prez leaving Olivia’s building in the middle of the night, and after about two seconds, Cyrus orders Janine to start a “kill folder” on Olivia. We find out her middle name is Carolyn, her mother died in a plane crash when she was 12, and her father “curates antiquities at the Smithsonian.” She also never lived at home after her mother died, and has had a string of powerful older men as boyfriends. Cyrus says it’s enough to play the “ambitious slut card.”
Olivia is moping on her couch when her phone beeps. Then she’s meeting in a parking lot with Papa Pope, and she asks him where Ballard is. He tells her Ballard refused an order, which nobody is allowed to, and she’s all horrified, but he tells her she can only do what she does because he works to give people freedom and democracy. He tells her to get on the plane because she’s running out of options. “I’m never out of options,” she snaps. So she heads to a safe hidden in her closet and pulls out a folder with a phone number on it, which she dials. A fleet of black cars comes to her house and one takes her to a secret bunker, where she meets with El Prez. “We need to make a plan,” she says. Then FLOTUS comes in. Bellamy Young is so awesome in this scene, all wounded pride topped with bitter rage sauce. She calls Olivia a whore, and El Prez suggests instead of finding a way out of the situation, they find a way through. He says he should admit the affair with FLOTUS by his side, and Olivia comes up with a whole carefully managed plan that even includes their mysterious children from boarding school, until FLOTUS tells them to stop. She cites the hundreds of times he’s picked Olivia over her, and says that’s not a simple affair. “That’s me being in love with another woman,” says El Prez. In no uncertain terms, FLOTUS tells him, “If you try to tell that disgusting fairy tale to the press I will make such a scene.” Then Olivia asks her how many times she would be okay with telling the press that they slept together. FLOTUS says two, and leaves. El Prez tries to comfort Olivia, and she sobs in his arms for a moment, but then steels herself and leaves too.
The next morning, El Prez is drinking more Scotch in the Oval Office as VP Sally comes in. He asks about her husband, and she says he is “having more fun” than usual since they moved to Washington. She’s says there are challenges associated with being the most powerful woman in the free world. In a moment of seeming honesty, he tells her to use his affair to position herself as the moral center of the party and rise up. She says she will.
Despite El Prez and Olivia’s best-laid plans, the people in their lives all conspire to spin the story their way. FLOTUS and Cyrus agree they can’t go public with the affair; back at HQ, Harrison is telling the Dream Team the same thing. Huck says Olivia should decide how to handle it, but Harrison eloquently asks, “Are we gladiators, or are we bitches?” Then we see him hand off a CD to Cyrus, which is leaked to the press and contains video of a younger, very drunk Janine talking about how she thinks El Prez is hot. So Janine becomes the scapegoat and runs to Cyrus, protesting she never had an affair with El Prez, and Cyrus of course tells her she doesn’t need a lawyer. “You’re part of the family,” he lies to her face.
FLOTUS visits El Prez in the Oval Office as he’s trying to change his planned statement to make sure people know his affair was not with Janine. But FLOTUS has other ideas. She says she’s so smart and educated that being First Lady is “fundamentally boring,” but at least gives her a lot of time to think—and she realized leaking Olivia’s name to the press was the first step in getting the public to accept Olivia as a match for El Prez. But he counters: The first step was actually going to her with the appearance of looking for forgiveness. He says they’re at war, and long as FLOTUS had Olivia’s name as a secret weapon, Olivia was at her mercy, but “now she’s free.” Ruthless.
Olivia is similarly pissed at Harrison, but he tells her, “There is nothing wrong with a little self-preservation. It doesn’t mean you don’t wear the white hat.” She snaps that they have a client, and as she walks into the conference room we see the client is Janine.
Cyrus arrives home to find Charlie sitting on the bed next to a drugged James and pointing a gun at him. Charlie takes him to Papa Pope, who brings up “Operation Remington,” the flight mission El Prez was on with Ballard in Iran. Papa Pope hands him a folder that explains what really happened. Cyrus takes one look, and says, “Oh, my god.”
• Way to dive right into the insanity, season three! I dig El Prez and FLOTUS being at war with Olivia as more of a pawn between them. It would be interesting to see how someone who’s so used to being in control deals with not having the reins for a while.
• Cyrus continues to be basically full evil. How does anyone possibly have an ounce of trust for him anymore?
• Curious that VP Sally mentions her husband. Is this building to a scandal of her own that El Prez will use to wrest political power from her?
• Any guesses as to what happened during Operation Remington?
What did you think of last night’s Scandal? Let us know in the comments!