Oof. This was a gut wrencher by Scandal standards, thanks to a surprising amount of gore and some disturbing character development. The case of the week lacks tension but not pathos, and the main story gets several new twists. To the recap!
First, the case of the week: A plane has crashed in Virginia, killing all 120 people onboard, including a “Senator Sanchez,” whom El Prez liked and admired. Olivia and the Dream Team are representing the pilots union, in particular the captain of the plane, Laurie Mackelson. Laurie is a former alcoholic, and the airline plays on that fact, plus the fact that the rest of the crew were out getting wasted at a hotel bar the night before the flight, to direct blame away from the airline. But the Dream Team manages to find a witness who says Laurie actually wasn’t drinking, and thanks to the black-box recording and the connections Stephen maintains with his many, many past lovers, they’re able to determine there was a mechanical failure with the plane and that the last inspection report was forged. Of course the airline’s CEO is one of those rich dudes with a heart of gold you only ever find on TV shows, so when Olivia tells him about the forged report he says he just wants the truth, no matter that it’ll cost him millions of dollars in profit. In a sad resolution, we find out the report forger is a mild-mannered mid-level employee, a woman who tells Harrison two people used to do her job and now it’s just her. She had a huge backlog of work and wanted to make it to her daughter’s piano recital, so she duplicated a report. It’s overdramatic but also uncomfortably realistic. SO glad I’m getting on a plane today. The plotline wraps with the CEO apologizing to the families of the victims and accepting the responsibility of the airline’s role in the crash.
Far more interesting this week is the overarching story of Amanda Tanner. The episode opens in Olivia's apartment, with the Dream Team investigating Amanda's disappearance. Quinn thinks she ran away, but Huck says she was taken and goes on to explain how in almost exact detail (well, he says she was probably put in a duffel bag, but, small details). "How do you know?" Olivia asks. "Because that's how I'd do it," he says. He also lets Olivia know she's being watched; her trash is gone even though it's not trash day, and there's an SUV with tinted windows and government plates parked outside her house.
Il Papa, as she does, runs to Jerk Jeremy for help, telling him only that her client is missing and it's important that she's found. JJ, for God knows what reason, agrees to help her.
At HQ, Gideon, Boy Wonder, shows up to see Quinn, who bitches at him for never calling first. Seriously, bro. He tells her Amanda's father filed a missing persons report. Huck is reviewing footage from traffic cams outside Olivia's apartment and eating a delicious-looking sandwich. He pauses on a shot of a man crossing the street. Cut to him having breakfast in a diner with the same dude. Turns out they know each other from the CIA. They share that they're calling themselves "Huck" like Huck Finn, and "Charlie"--"Like Charlie Brown?"--Huck jokes, totally deadpan. They're frosty to each other at best. Charlie Brown tells Huck he should get into his line of work, which is . . . being a hitman. "Once you go black, you never go back. Ops, that is," he says. Huck and I both scoff at this horrible, horrible joke. Charlie Brown tells Huck to stop looking for Amanda because "she's gone."
Huck arrives back at HQ as the Dream Team is investigating the aforementioned plane crash. Huck tries to talk to Olivia, but she's barking orders and ignores him--until he yells, "Amanda Tanner is dead!" Shocked silence. Olivia asks if he's sure, then goes right outside and gets up in the face of the Secret Service agent parked outside HQ. "You tell the President of the United States I know what he did to her," she yells. I guess the goon actually takes Olivia's words to heart, because next she gets a call from El Prez himself. But not before Quinn brings Amanda's poor dad to the office. He's worried about his daughter, and Quinn promises him everything will be all right as Olivia shoots her Death Glare. It's really sad. Olivia immediately drags Quinn to the kitchen and whispers that Amanda is dead but they can't tell Mr. Tanner yet, and that Quinn can never promise a result they can't deliver. She leaves Quinn absorbing how she managed yet again to screw everything up as she goes to her office to answer El Prez's phone call. El Prez asks why she's been harassing his agents, and she replies that she knows he had Amanda killed. "War is war," she says, "but murder is murder." Profound. He tells her he had nothing to do with it. "You know me," he keeps saying. He wants her to come to the White House to talk to him face to face, which, really? Keep it in your pants for, like, one second. She says if he didn't kill Amanda, they both know who did. "If you let a pit bull off its leash and it mauls a baby, no one blames the dog. You let Cyrus off his leash, that's on you," she says.
Olivia goes to see Huck and asks him to retrieve Amanda's body, even though she know's it's "not what you do anymore." She says if he needs reining in she will be there for him. He tells her he's got it, and leaves. She looks deeply concerned.
Oval Office. El Prez breaks the news about Amanda to Cyrus, who says "How sad" with less sincerity than if El Prez had just announced they were out of his favorite jelly doughnuts at the store. Cyrus breaks it down: The fact that the "disturbed girl" who was carrying an illegitimate Presidential Fetus is dead can only be a good thing.
Oh, ew. Huck's method of finding out where Amanda's body is involves torturing Charlie Brown. He's got him laid out on some plastic sheeting with duct tape over his mouth, naked. The music choices in this show are totally bizarre; in this scene, Curtis Mayfield's "Pusherman" is playing, completely undercutting the tension of the situation. Still, Huck is very scary; he babbles about how Charlie Brown trained him at the CIA, and they "took stuff" from him. Eventually he started enjoying his work, and then finally ended up homeless on the subway (the Metro?), which is where Olivia found him. There's a power drill involved. It's gross. Finally Charlie Brown croaks out an answer.
Olivia goes to tell JJ where Amanda's body is, which is at the bottom of the river by the 14th Street Bridge. (Interesting choice, given that this ep deals with a plane crash.) We see them dragging the river, and then get a close-up of Amanda's blue face. Um, did I accidentally turn on Law & Order? Cut to the morgue. Hi, Mary Cherry! She's having Mr. Tanner identify the body. I am so sad for this man. Later Stephen goes to see her and asks for the autopsy report. "Are you still engaged?" she asks him. "Not so engaged I don't remember the freezer," he says. Yep, still disgusting. At Olivia's office, JJ fills in that Amanda's death will be ruled a suicide, then asks Olivia who she thinks killed her. "I know I give you a long leash," he says. "But I can't look the other way on this." She tells him the white hat looks good on him.
White House. Cyrus tells El Prez they received another blackmail note, and that now he knows it's not Olivia, because she's "not that crazy," and it's not Amanda, because she's dead. El Prez asks what the demand is. The blackmailer has demanded El Prez leave office, by way of mailing them a tape of Nixon's resignation speech. That's kind of awesome.
Back at Olivia's apartment, she simultaneously gets a phone call and a knock on the door. On the phone is Stephen, who's discovered thanks to the autopsy report that Amanda's baby was not, in fact, El Prez's. At the door, shocker, is El Prez, who's managed to sneak out of the White House. She immediately hangs up on Stephen. "Hi," he says. "Hi," she says.
There's also a whole subplot about the DREAM act, which was supposedly the pet project of the senator who died in the plane crash (bonus points for political relevance, Shondra). The upshot is that we finally meet the Vice President--who is a woman! She's played by Kate Burton, who was Meredith's crazy mother on Grey's Anatomy, and was also in the failed pilot for something called Washingtonienne. She also, strangely enough, plays a senator in our other WashingTelevision show of the moment, HBO's Veep (also about a female Vice President--worlds colliding!). She's a religious nutjob with a killer Southern accent, and she and El Prez are often at odds. There. Aren't you glad you didn't have to sit through that?
A couple of thoughts: I have to admit, I was surprised the show killed off Amanda so early. I was expecting her to make an 11th-hour soap-style return, so color me slightly impressed. That said, there are some major tonal inconsistencies here. Things waffle between lighthearted quirky workplace shenanigans and crushingly serious situations with real consequences. I almost wish this was an HBO drama, because there's so much real emotion and sticky moral ambiguity to mine here, and it keeps getting shunted aside in favor of the relationship drama. You can't kill off a pregnant sort-of main character in the fifth episode and expect me to care when Abby's jealous of Stephen's man-whoring. Also the music choices just throw me off every time.
What did you think of this episode? Let us know in the comments.