In case you haven’t been following along, here’s the major conflict so far: El Prez and Olivia used to have A Thing, then he had A Thing with former aide Amanda Tanner, and now Olivia is trying to keep a lid on the story. Unlucky for her, Intrepid Cub Reporter Gideon has started sniffing around, making Olivia’s life way harder. This week we see Olivia dealing with a rape case while also bunking down with Amanda, teaching Gideon to heel, and fending off the creepy advances of not one, but two White House denizens. Let’s get to it.
The case o’ the week centers on Travis Harding (hey, it’s Zach from The O.C.!), the playboy son of super-rich CEO Sandra (JoBeth Williams), a good friend of Olivia’s. Travis is on trial for rape but can’t be bothered to show up for court, let alone stop soaking himself in booze and cavorting with blondes in hotel rooms. Olivia and the Dream Team know that in a case like this, where it comes down to “he says, she says,” perception equals reality, and the jury and the public (and me!) see him as an entitled rich boy who thinks he can get away with anything. The girl pressing charges, Helen, is basically a saint on paper, according to Abby–American U grad, barely drinks, holds a vague, saintlike job at a nonprofit that helps special needs kids. The one catch: She’s massively in debt, so Olivia tells Sandra their best bet is to settle. The dream team offers Helen $9 million, plus another half a million to the charity of her choice, but Helen refuses, asking how many millions it would take Olivia to forget the experience of being strangled and raped, to not wake up every morning wanting to kill herself. Kerry Washington is pretty great at playing the subtle beats of Olivia’s uncertainty; she believes Travis is innocent, but Helen’s graphic descriptions and obvious distress pull at her conscience.
Their next strategy is to make sure Travis shows up in court, dressed in a cheap suit so he doesn’t seem so 1 percent-y. As Harrison helps him dress, Travis shows the first concern all episode as he realizes he might actually go to jail. He suggests offering Helen even more millions, because “they always take the money in the end.” Harrison gets Worried Face as he realizes this might not be Travis’s first rodeo, so to speak. The Dream Team dig into Travis’s financial records and find out a few years ago he gave an Arlington waitress named Rachel $600,000 and a Mercedes S-Class. Olivia suggests they track her down to figure out the deal, but Abby fills in that they can’t–she killed herself a couple of years after the payout went through. Turns out it was her best friend who found her body. Her best friend from American U. Helen. Yikes.
Olivia debriefs Sandra and Travis that he isn’t guilty of the particular crime he’s on trial for, and since Rachel had dropped the charges he’ll definitely go free. But that doesn’t erase the fact that he basically destroyed another human being, Olivia points out. Mommy Dearest, shocked, asks Travis if it’s true, and he immediately fesses up. “You always told me to fix my mistakes,” he says. “So I handled it.”
The next day in court, the defense attorney, who totally sounds like Wallace Shawn, viciously attacks a crying Helen on the stand, basically calling her a money-grubbing slut. Olivia is so disgusted, she leaves the courtroom and finds Mommy Dearest on a bench outside. Sandra reflects on how she managed to produce such a shitty kid. Both women in this scene are great at selling the regret and remorse and internal conflict of conscience involved here. Olivia tells Sandra it’s not her fault who Travis turned out to be.
Speaking of disappointing men, El Prez is in fine form this week. We first see him sleeping peacefully as FLOTUS checks her e-mail and sips coffee. When he wakes with a start, we find out she canceled his morning appointments (including one with NELSON freaking MANDELA) because the poor widdle Prez was up all night pacing, so she thought he deserved a chance to sleep in. He helpfully reminds her that he’s the LEADER OF THE FREE WORLD and has more important things to worry about than his beauty sleep (although Tony Goldwyn’s eyes do look a little puffy).
Meanwhile, Amanda is sitting in HQ’s conference room while the Dream Team gapes at her through the window like they’re at the aquarium and she’s Myrtle the Turtle. They’re voting over whether to keep her on as a client, but Olivia tells them it’s not up for discussion, and that Amanda will be staying with her while they try to weather the potential media storm. AWKward.
Gideon the Intrepid shows up at HQ, in a suit but minus the stubble, which makes him way less cute. Quinn freaks, but he says Olivia invited him there. Il Papa lays it out for him: He has no story because he’s still stuck reporting on how the cherry blossoms are so late this year (FALSE), so as soon as he gets something juicy on Amanda all the vet reporters will snatch it right from under him. But if he keeps mum for 72 hours, she’ll throw him a bone on Amanda’s background, and maybe even a quote. He jumps all over the deal like a dachshund on a Snausage.
Back at Il Papa’s apartment, Olivia asks Amanda whether she has proof of her affair with El Prez, because she’ll need it if it comes down to “he says, she says” (sound familiar?). Amanda admits she does, but she’s not willing to share it yet (I’m calling it now: It’s totally a baby). Olivia then asks her what her end game is. “Do you want money? Do you want to stay in Washington? Do you want your job back? You have options.” Amanda counters that she wants one meeting with El Prez. Alone. Ominous chords.
Olivia goes to see Cyrus and asks him to set up the meeting. Fifteen minutes, then the problem goes away for good. Cyrus says he’ll make it happen. “We made a President together,” he says. They talk about how she used to be his work wife (aww), then he tells her El Prez isn’t sleeping. What’s Olivia supposed to do about it? She settles for telling him she isn’t either as she walks away.
Back in Cyrus’s office, El Prez comes in, gushing about some wounded vets he met earlier that day. I can’t tell if he’s supposed to be completely naive, as Cyrus seems to think, or if he’s so hard-boiled that this whole lovesick puppy idealist persona is a total affectation, and his creepy molester personality is the real deal. Anyway, in this scene the latter wins, as Cyrus has apparently received an e-mailed copy of an audio tape of El Prez “moaning with a White House aide.” Ew. Cyrus immediately assumes that since Olivia is representing Amanda, it was obviously her who sent the tape and she’s trying to blackmail him. El Prez looks like he might pass out.
Olivia and Quinn walk in on Amanda finishing up a heated phone conversation in Olivia’s kitchen. She tells them Gideon won’t stop calling her, which Olivia says means he knows something juicy. Quinn offers that she thinks he likes her and would be willing to take one for the team by going on a date with him to find out what he knows. Rough life. In typical spastic Quinn fashion she makes plans to meet him at a bar later.
Stephen and Olivia are in her office, and he’s pointing out her amazingly massive conflict of interest in the Amanda Tanner case. As if on cue, Olivia gets a call from FLOTUS, who strong-arms her into attending a state dinner that night. Stephen looks smug.
Quinn heads to the bar for her “date” with Gideon, with a little help from Huck, who bribes the bartender into giving Gideon “three fingers of booze” in every drink and Quinn only virgin margs. Um, that seems wildly creepy, especially in an episode with a subplot involving date rape. Anyway, it’s all for nothing, as Gideon can tell Quinn is just there to pump him for information by the fact that she’s wound so tight she’s basically a human Slinky. He proposes turning their sham date into a real one, and Quinn looks charmed, but then asks why he broke his deal with Olivia. Downing his third margarita, he says he never did. “I want that quote.” Hmm.
At the state dinner, Olivia, looking super hot in a backless white dress, dances with Billy Chambers, who hits on her this way: “I’m trying to figure out how I can sexually harass you and get away with it.” Nice, Billy. FLOTUS swoops over and cuts in, and it’s become pretty obvious she’s doing her damndest to get El Prez and Il Papa to interact. They dance, and he’s just a disaster, and Olivia keeps hissing at him to stop looking at her. Instead he tells her to meet him at “their spot,” and leaves his own state dinner. Probably no one will notice. Right? Instead, enter Cyrus, who tells Olivia she’s “getting played by the best politician in the world,” and that the Amanda meeting is off. He then finds El Prez in the “spot” and tells him basically the same thing about Olivia.
Olivia shows up at Sandra’s door and says she changed her mind: It is Sandra’s fault that Travis turned out awful, because Sandra keeps cleaning up his messes. Olivia tells her she needs to make her son face his own wrongdoings. Hello, pot? It’s kettle. They head to Olivia’s office, where they meet Travis. Sandra tells him he should turn himself in, which Trav is having none of. Showing a scary lack of remorse for the fact that he caused a woman to KILL HERSELF, he suggests that instead he’ll go to Europe for a couple of years until things blow over, then come back and run the family company. Sandra, looking infinitely sad, says that won’t cut it. Enter the cops, who drag Travis away.
At the White House, El Prez is sulking. He asks FLOTUS why she invited Olivia to the dinner. “Because I know you needed to see her,” she says. “Tonight you’ll sleep like a baby.” Ooh, look who finally got interesting.
At HQ, Olivia’s figured out a way to protect Amanda, after all. Rather than giving Gideon access to her, she’s giving him an exclusive on Sandra turning in her son and resigning as CEO. Quinn follows her out and tells her Gideon never called Amanda. “I don’t think Amanda’s telling you everything,” she says. THERE IS TOTALLY A BABY. If there’s a baby, you guys owe me $5 each.
Olivia heads to her apartment to confront Amanda, who pathetically says El Prez is mad at her and that she doesn’t need 15 minutes, just five. Olivia says she knows Amanda feels like a crumpled big Mac wrapper thrown to the curb, but she still needs to tell Olivia everything. And boom goes the dynamite: “I’m pregnant,” Amanda says. Feel free to send those Lincolns to the office.
So what did we find out from this episode? FLOTUS most likely knows about Olivia’s affair with El Prez, and El Prez knows she knows, if he didn’t already. Olivia knows about the Presidential Fetus but not about the sex tape. Cyrus knows the opposite. Billy knows nothing about women. And we all learned a valuable lesson: Never have sex in the White House, because someone will tape you.