I’m just gonna come out and say this: Olivia Pope really needs more girlfriends. Or any girlfriends. Whenever the stress of her insane world gets too much for her she runs to the various men in her life who treat her poorly: El Prez, Jake (remember when his whole purpose was to spy on her?), and in last night’s episode, her dad. Rarely does a scene with Olivia pass the Bechdel test; even her conversations with Quinn lately have been mostly about Huck. I’m not sure where I’m going with this, except that it’s a way to avoid talking about the latest devastating development: James, my dear Ira Glass Lite, is dead. I suppose it makes sense from a story perspective and as a way of spurring the characters to action, but I am really going to miss Dan Bucatinsky. To the recap.
We open where the last episode left off, but this time from Ballard’s perspective. He gets out of his car and shoots the reporter and the NSA leak, and as IGL turns to run he gets him in the head and he falls. Then Ballard points the gun at David and tells him he always liked him, because he seemed smart. Then he asks whether David will be smart now.
Turns out he will; Ballard makes James’s death look like a carjacking gone wrong, and David takes over the investigation to make sure Ballard’s story holds up. Meanwhile, Olivia is at the White House taking care of Cyrus, who is basically catatonic. We get a flashback to when James and Cyrus met on the campaign trail. Cyrus is condescending about James’s job; James is sassy about Cyrus’s neck beard. It’s adorable. These flashbacks are peppered throughout the episode, and they’re really sad (though not quite sad enough to erase all the times Cyrus treated James like his second-favorite chew toy). In the present, Olivia tasks 19-year-old Ethan (at least he looks 19) with taking care of Cyrus, then heads to HQ, where she and the Dream Team figure out in about two seconds that with the reporter and the NSA leak missing, James’s death was most likely a hit. Olivia suspects Sally and Leo, so she calls Jake and asks him to look into it, which he agrees to do after he finishes the small matter of burying the two women in a park in broad daylight. (Seriously, where was that supposed to be?) Olivia asks Huck to look into James’s file, and when he opens it he realizes it was tampered with. He looks at the footage from the security camera he installed in the safe, because of course, and sees Quinn stealing the file, so Huck tells Olivia that B613 knows the truth about Daniel Douglas’s death and is behind the hit. Olivia goes to yell at Jake for ordering the murder of a friend and then realizes it was his call. She says he’s turned into her father, and he tells her he’s different for his basically insane plan that rather than task some soldier with doing the dirty work he’s going to do it all himself. “Accept that James died in a carjacking and the world keeps on spinning,” he says. And if she doesn’t? “Bad things happen to good people all the time.”
This latest revelation leads Olivia to the Marine Corps War Memorial, where she’s asked Papa Pope to meet her. He’s brusque, but she pathetically asks him to be nice to her. Then she asks him what the point of anything is if the deck is stacked and there are no white hats. He laughs at her, but when she begs him for a real answer, he tells her he’s responsible for the deaths of 183 people. As Command, “you become the hand of god,” and that’s “the worst punishment in the world.” And as for the deck being stacked, “if everyone’s a monster, everyone is worth saving”—and her purpose is to drag people into the light. Oddly enough, she doesn’t look comforted by this.
On Ballard’s orders, Quinn and Charlie convince a random mechanic to take the fall for James’s death, but David drags his feet on arresting him. Ballard—who now has to begin every conversation with “I’m not here to kill you”—comes by his office and tells him to arrest the guy or else. The weight of all these secrets is making him shut out Abby, but without too much difficulty she harasses him into spilling the beans. Huck, after seeing Quinn on camera, goes to her house and says he came to kill her because he thought she was broken—but he realized that he only saw her on camera because she wanted to be seen, which means, “somewhere in there you’re still a gladiator.” She spits in his face, and then of course he starts making out with her, and I cover my eyes. Then she tells him to get the hell out. The snazziest member of the Dream Team is also not faring well: Harrison gets a visit from Adnan Salif, who is feeling less than confident about her partnership with Mama Pope after watching her murder someone right in front of her. Adnan tells Harrison she might be looking for a way out, then immediately gets spooked and is like, Nevermind, kbyeee! All these plots culminate in an amusing scene in which all the Dream Teamers converge on Olivia in her office detailing their various troubles, as she sits in silence looking completely overwhelmed.
Everyone tries all episode to get Cyrus to take some time off and, you know, maybe go home and see his daughter, but he insists on continuing to work. El Prez suspends a meeting with the gun lobby out of deference to losing his press secretary, but Sally and Leo have no such qualms, so Cyrus dispatches FLOTUS to go charm them with her Southern belle ways, with Andrew Nichols as backup. This whole plotline is basically an excuse to get FLOTUS and Nichols in a room together so they can bang, and they do, but I can’t even be happy for Mellie because I’m so sad about IGL.
Olivia finally springs into action and meets David at the Lincoln Memorial. She tells him Ballard did what anyone in his position would do, and rather than try to take him down, they should team up and dismantle B613 brick by brick. “We need to be patient, and alive,” she says, and tells him to lose the battle over the truth about IGL’s death “so we can win the war.”
David sees her logic, and arrests the patsy. Cyrus, still running on a high of shock, goes to make the announcement at a press conference—but as he’s standing there and we get a flashback to the moment at El Prez’s first state dinner when Cyrus officially went public with IGL, Cyrus in the present breaks down in an explosion of raw grief. El Prez gently leads him out of the room, and Olivia (why has she not been playing press secretary the whole time, by the way?) steps in to give details on the arrest. Then there’s a final flashback, to the night IGL died: Ballard’s first shot intentionally didn’t kill James, because Ballard needed the murder to look amateurish. IGL lies on the street, choking on his own blood, as Ballard sits beside him and apologizes for making his death slow and terrible, but says IGL isn’t alone and that his daughter will be fine. It’s the most horrifying thing I’ve ever seen on Scandal, wrist-eating included, and a seriously down note to end on. Looks like Ballard is officially in the running as this season’s Big Bad.
I like the Olivia-David partnership because it gives her character some direction, which she’s needed for a while—but her hopeful speech followed by that macabre ending doesn’t seem to bode well.
The James and Cyrus flashbacks were my favorite part of the episode; they showed so many facets of their long relationship, and served both as a goodbye to the character and as a glimpse into Cyrus’s state of mind.
Quinn and Huck? Please, please, please don’t make this a major storyline.
RIP, James Novak. May your heaven be filled with chubby, adorable babies.
What do you think of last night’s Scandal? Let us know in the comments.