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WashingTelevision: Scandal Recap, Episode One, "Sweet Baby"

Shonda Rhimes’s new show follows a high-powered crisis management team as they cover the asses of folks in power and try to solve their own problems by hiding in coat closets.

Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope in Scandal. Photograph by Danny Feld.

Welcome back to WashingTelevision, in which we recap shows set in DC (which mostly means lots of location shots of monuments). Today we’re bringing you Scandal, the new show from Grey’s Anatomy‘s Shonda Rhimes, about a high-powered crisis management team who cover the asses of folks in power. It’s based on the life of this woman. Major spoilers ahead, so proceed at your own risk.

We open with an aerial shot of DC at night, the Washington Monument and the Capitol in prominent view. A young woman (Katie Lowes) in way-too-high heels rushes across the street and into a bar, where she’s meeting a young black man in a suit (the awesomely named Columbus Short). “Harrison Wright?” she asks. “Quinn Perkins,” he replies. “Can’t stay,” she says. “What are you drinking?” he shoots back. She launches into a long explanation of how she “doesn’t do” blind dates, which is what she thinks they’re on. According to Harrison, however, it’s actually a job interview, which Quinn doesn’t believe. “Ask me who I work for,” Harrison says. This entire exchange, by the way, has taken roughly 45 seconds. Quinn peevishly asks. “Olivia Pope,” he says, at which her jaw hits the floor. ” The Olivia Pope?” she says. Harrison, taking advantage of her momentary speechlessness, tells her he knows she’d “kill puppies” to work for Olivia because she stopped breathing when he mentioned Her Holiness. He says he’s going to offer her a crap salary and she’s going to take it and like it, says something about being a gladiator in a suit, and then helpfully wraps it all up by saying she is not actually on a job interview after all. Quinn takes a deep breath. “I’m confused,” she says. And scene.

Next we see Olivia (Kerry Washington) and a besuited guy (Henry Ian Cusick) in an elevator. He’s panicking that “the ambassador” didn’t come up with the money he was supposed to. Olivia seems unfazed but asks pointedly, “Did you at least buy the engagement ring?” so you know she’s A Caring Boss. He snarks that the Ukrainian mobsters they’re meeting will just shoot them instead, so they have bigger problems than whether he proposed to his girlfriend. (Which I take as a “no.”) He tells her to focus.

They stride into the meeting, and the aforementioned mobsters ask whether Olivia has the money. “All $3 million,” she says. “We said six,” one guy says. She counters that the ambassador only had three, and tells him they better take it and GTFO out the US immediately because in four hours both the mobsters’ names will pop up on the no-fly list at Dulles, and $3 million in Kiev will go way further than $3 million in Georgetown, which: PREACH. Wacky Ocean’s 11-type music tells us everything’s gravy, and Olivia and her suited companion waltz out with what they came for: a cardboard filing box. “God, I love this job,” suit guy sighs.

Next we’re in a drab office building with narrow hallways, where Harrison is introducing Quinn to the team: Huck, the tech guy (hey, it’s Guillermo from Weeds!), suit guy, a.k.a. Stephen, the litigator, and redheaded Abby, the investigator (Darby Stanchfield) And, of course, Olivia. Quinn, practically hyperventilating, tells Olivia she’s a huge fan of her law firm. “We’re not a law firm,” says Olivia. They manage crises, save reputations, says Abby. Quinn flounders. “Did Harrison feed you a line about being a gladiator in a suit?” Olivia smirks. Quinn says she’s ready to gladiate. “Do you know how to gladiate a diaper change?” asks Olivia, as she pulls out–no shit–a BABY from the box she just retrieved from the Ukrainians. The ambassador and his wife rush in to reclaim their spawn, as Olivia tells them never to tell anyone about her involvement, because the FBI is sick of her. Everyone disbands from the conference room with self-satisfied smiles, leaving poor open-mouthed Quinn in their wake. Oh, girl.

Soon enough, Huck rushes back in. “We’ve got incoming!” he says. Cue a hot guy (Wes Brown) limping in, covered in blood. “You have to help me,” he says. “My girlfriend . . . she’s dead. And the police think I killed her.”

Our bloody babe is Lieutenant Sullivan “Sully” St. James, war hero, Sexiest Man Alive 2010, who now makes a living as a poster boy for the far right who “hates the gays” and loves prayer in school. His girlfriend, Paige, was found dead in her apartment.

Olivia says before Sully’s arrested they need to evaluate him from all possible angles, until they figure out a way to frame the situation. “This is the moment where we decide who he is,” she declares. They grill Sully as he cries and insists he didn’t kill her, that she was his best friend.

Olivia is banging on the door of an expensive-looking home. Grumpy US attorney David Rosen (hey, it’s Jerk Jeremy from Sports Night!) answers, and Olivia demands 48 hours before he arrests Sully. JJ tells Olivia she’s not backed by the White House anymore, she threatens to sic a cavalcade of reporters on him, and he buckles like a soggy piece of toast and gives her 24 hours.

Meanwhile, Abby is trying to get a look at Paige’s apartment, but the detective on guard gruffs that he’s not letting her in. She convinces him by mentioning his pregnant wife and something involving a stripper. “You’re a real bitch, you know that?” he says. “I do know that, Wally” she says, grinning as she walks past him. I might like her. She takes pictures of the apartment and the body, which get hung on a giant board at the office for the team to study. Stephen, doing his part, goes to visit a blonde coroner (hey, it’s Popular‘s Mary Cherry!), who says he’s an ass for sleeping with her and not calling her. “I’m getting married,” he protests (LIAR), which means that as much as he’d like to, he can’t do her in the freezer anymore (ew). She somehow finds this endearing enough to agree to slip him a copy of Paige’s autopsy report.

Back at the office, the changing light tells you they’ve worked through to the next day, and Olivia is staring at their board o’ crime. “We need more,” she says, then gets a text and heads out. Quinn looks like she’s wondering if she’ll ever get to change clothes. And whether her other job has figured out she’s not coming back.

Olivia is outside the White House, meeting with a man named Cyrus (Jeff Perry), who says, “He needs a favor.”

“I don’t work for him anymore,” says Olivia. “He trusts you,” insists Cyrus. Turns out “he” is the President of the United States, and the favor is that they want Olivia to shut up an aide who is running around saying they’ve been sleeping together. Olivia demands to see him.

On her way out to Camp David, Olivia doles out relationship advice to Stephen. “Get married. Be normal,” she tells him. “But you won’t even date,” Stephen protests. “I’m not normal,” Olivia says.

At Camp David, Cyrus greets Olivia and spouts some backstory on the President’s apparently formerly troubled marriage. Cue the First Lady (Bellamy Grant), who embraces Olivia. They gush about the First Family, FLOTUS offers to set Olivia up with someone, which she refuses, and then enters President Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn), who calls her “Livvie.”

Olivia and the Prez walk through the woods accompanied by Cyrus, who explains the situation of the 27-year-old aide, and Grant complains it makes him look like a dirty old man. “I have to ask,” Olivia starts, and Grant immediately turns on the presidential charm as he denies everything. Olivia says she’ll handle it.

As she walks back into the office, Abby scurries in, screaming delightedly that Paige was a whore–she had a guy on the side,who is now a viable suspect. Also delighted is Quinn,
who finally gets an assignment: to find out everything she can about the aide, Amanda Tanner, in one hour, and then Olivia will take her on a field trip.

Turns out the field trip is to stalk Amanda (hey, it’s Paris from Gilmore Girls!) through the park as she walks her golden retriever. Olivia tells Quinn she’s there as a witness that no blackmail or threatening occurred, before sitting down on a bench next to Amanda and getting right to brass tacks. “It would be a mistake to think there will be no consequences to you telling lies about the President,” she says. Amanda starts to freak, but Olivia says she wants Amanda to know how bad things could get if the press got wind of her accusations (apparently Quinn’s research included uncovering how many past sexual partners Amanda has had). Amanda, now in tears, says the President told her he loved her and gave her the dog as a gift. Il Papa tells Amanda to quit her job and GTFO of Washington. “Find a small city. Find a small job. Meet a boring guy.” Amanda cries that she’s a good person, and Olivia says even Monica Lewinsky, who was actually telling the truth, got destroyed. Amanda runs away as Quinn looks on, idealism shattering around her like so many spinning dinner plates.

Now it’s Quinn who’s crying, in the office restroom. Huck walks in, and she asks him why she was even hired. “What about me says, ‘Stand next to me while I decimate someone walking her dog’?” Huck launches into a speech about how she’s there because she wants to feel connected to a higher purpose. “You’re a stray dog, and Olivia took you in. Don’t question it.” I’m trying not to question this dialogue.

Olivia calls the President while she’s watching him live on TV, so we see both sides of the conversation. “Did you buy her a dog?” she asks him. He protests, and she asks him to turn his head a little to the left. He does, making eye contact with the camera she’s watching, which apparently is enough to convince the infallible Olivia he’s sincere.

On the Sully side of things, it’s not looking good. His prints are on the murder weapon, and he knew his girlfriend was sleeping around. But Sully maintains his innocence, and Olivia believes him “Go make his alibi stick,” she tells the team. Just then, Huck comes in and hands her a black box, which she gives to Stephen. Inside is a row of engagement rings. Abby, hilariously, looks like she’s just spotted a poisonous snake on the ground and leaves immediately. Olivia tells Stephen she’s already made him a reservation at a fancy-pants restaurant for that night, and after some protest about bullying he chooses a giant rock from the row of giant rocks. In the other room, Abby looks stricken.

Amanda shows up at the office, yelling at Olivia that she’s telling the truth. Look who finally grew a backbone! Olivia shoves Amanda back in the elevator, as in the next elevator JJ and his goons arrive with a warrant for Sully’s arrest. “We still have 40 minutes,” says Olivia.

The rest of the team use that 40 minutes to canvass the club Sully was supposedly at the night of the murder. They bribe the security guard with $500 cash and a deep-dish pizza to show them the security tape, which they watch back at the office. Twist! It shows Sully making out with a man. He’s gay, and “best friend” Paige knew, Olivia posits. She asks for the man’s name, but Sully freaks, yelling that he’s a hero, that he “honors the uniform,” that he’s a deacon in his church and might run for Congress one day. Can’t you still do all that, Sully? Instead, he walks straight out the door where JJ is waiting, and lets himself be arrested.

Quinn is about to head to the jail where Sully’s being held, when Huck walks in and says he got a call that Amanda tried to kill herself. Quinn runs out the door.

At the jail, Olivia tells the team to keep working to change Sully’s mind, then gets a text and rushes off. Stephen remembers his sham proposal, and Abby tells him to go. “Get down on one knee; women like that,” she says. He leaves, and she kicks herself mentally.

At the hospital, Quinn explains to Olivia why she thinks Amanda is telling the truth, which Olivia basically tunes out until Quinn mentions Amanda said the President used to call her “sweet baby.” Ew. Olivia looks shocked, and walks away as Quinn is in mid-sentence.

Olivia is in the Oval Office fuming. She gets a call from a panicked Stephen, then does that fake TV phone call thing where she replies without having given him enough time to say anything. In walks the President, who tells his lackeys that they need the room.

Olivia, in tears, repeats “sweet baby” to the president. He leads her over to the window, out of the range of the ceiling cameras. “You left me,” he says. “Because you were married!” she says. “And the leader of the free world!” Oooh, ick. They had an affair? And nobody found out? She IS good at her job. He pushes her up against the wall and grabs her. I’m uncomfortable. She asks about the dog again. “I love you,” he says. WHAT? She breaks away, slaps him, yells that he distorted her judgment and made her destroy a girl. To which he grabs her face and MAKES OUT WITH HER. In the OVAL OFFICE. Outstanding.

Just then, Cyrus walks in on them (AWK-ward) and gets Serious Face. “You want to go clean up?” he asks the President. “You have . . . lipstick . . . on your face.” The Prez sighs like a frustrated teenager and leaves. “Mother of God,” Cyrus says. Olivia is surprised he didn’t know, but concludes the Prez decided it wasn’t important enough to share, and storms out.

On to Stephen’s big crisis: He’s hiding in the restaurant’s coat closet, freaking out about proposing. “I’m not a good guy,” he tells Olivia. Olivia says her gut, which is never wrong, is telling her things will work out, which gives him the guts to leave the coat closet and get down on one knee. The restaurant bursts into applause, and Olivia tears up.

Cut to Olivia and Sully in jail. Olivia says Sully should seize the opportunity to come clean. “You love that man,” she says. “And you’ve been living a lie. You think you’re doing it for the right reasons . . . but who you love and who you are shouldn’t be a secret.” Sensing some parallels. Convinced, Sully finally tells her his lover’s name.

Next we see Sully in uniform at a press conference. He says he’s honored to be a gay man to serve his country as Stephen and Abby watch from the office. Stephen has his arm around her, and she looks alternately delighted and like she’s going to vomit.

The rest of the team is dismantling the board o’ crime to turn the materials over to the police, the murder as yet unsolved. Quinn is confused. “I thought you said we were the good guys,” she says to Harrison. “We are,” he says. “Is Olivia?” she persists. “She’s not one of the good guys. She’s the best guy,” he says. Cue massive eye roll from me. “It’s not enough to say it. You have to believe it.” My thoughts exactly, Harrison.

Cyrus visits Olivia in her office and compliments her on wrapping up Sully’s case. “He wants to see you,” he says. “Tell him to go to hell,” Olivia retorts. Cyrus starts to protest that he’s just the messenger, to which Olivia says, “You tell him to hope to God Amanda doesn’t want to come forward with her story, because she just became my client.” Ooh, snap.

Fade to black on Olivia’s resolute face.

What did you think of the episode? Let us know in the comments.