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WashingTelevision: Scandal Recap, Season Two, Episode 16, “Top of the Hour”

Olivia and El Prez make contact, and the mystery of Captain Ballard deepens.

Cyrus prematurely celebrates a win against Olivia. Photograph by Richard Foreman/ABC.

Welcome back, Scandal fans. After a few weeks off, the show returns with as many impassioned speeches, complicated relationships, and layers of intrigue as ever. To the recap!

This episode we see Olivia Pope making a welcome return to full crisis-solving mode. The case of the week centers on Sarah Stanner (played by Lisa Edelstein, a.k.a. House’s Dr. Cuddy) who is rumored to have had an affair with Murray Randall, whom El Prez has just nominated to the Supreme Court, when he was her professor in law school while both were married. The story blows up in very Scandal-ian fashion, with Sarah’s 13-year-old daughter, Annie, going to the front door of their house expecting the pizza delivery guy and instead finding a cavalcade of reporters brandishing microphones. Enter Il Papa, who’s dispatched by a friend of Sarah’s but who is also feeling some pressure from Cyrus, who wants the situation handled in order to get back into El Prez’s good graces. Interestingly, when the Dream Team walks in, Sarah immediately holds her hand out to Abby, saying, “You must be Olivia Pope,” to which Il Papa snaps, “Actually, I’m Olivia Pope.”

Olivia advises Sarah to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so Sarah owns up to sleeping with her prof in law school. Il Papa, since she’s representing Sarah and not Randall, tries to spin the story as one of a philandering professor rather than a philandering mother of two, despite Cyrus’s ire. He, in turn, wages war, instructing a group of pundits to assassinate Sarah’s character on TV, painting her as a crazed stalker and nearly managing to pull off the Supreme Court nomination, and it’s a lot of fun to watch Cyrus and Olivia try to take each other down without too much friendship-destroying animosity (barring the line “Is your vagina apolitical?”). Poor Sarah is even on the brink of losing her job as CEO of the Ryerson Corporation, due to the company’s “morality clause,” which apparently is a thing. Harrison threatens one of the (female) honchos of the company with a discrimination lawsuit, and it at first appears Sarah’s job is safe. Then Abby discovers a tape from two years after the e-mail trail of the alleged affair proving they rekindled their romance two years after the first time—which happened to be the same year Sarah’s daughter was conceived. The husband, who until now has been supportive and understanding to an unbelievable degree, flips out, tells her he wants a divorce and a paternity test, and storms out onto the front lawn to punch some reporters before Harrison manages to wrangle him back inside.

With news of the continuing affair all over the news, Randall’s nomination is back on the chopping block and Cyrus is back in the doghouse with El Prez—especially once he reveals Olivia is the one behind torpedoing Randall in the first place. Since the botched mission to rescue the captured CIA agents, El Prez’s approval ratings have plummeted, so he’s extra desperate to have the Supreme Court nomination go smoothly. When he finds out about Olivia’s involvement, he gets drunk in the Oval Office and calls her. She’s camped out on the Stanners’ patio while the couple fight inside. “I wish you’d just been honest with me,” he tells her. “You didn’t think I was good enough to be President.” She protests she did, and he says it doesn’t matter anymore. She asks why he really called, and he says maybe he just needed a bit more misery. “I trusted you, you know,” he says. “You were all I had. You ruined me. I’m ruined.” “I’M ruined,” Olivia says, to which he compassionately says, “I don’t care.”

Tears in her eyes, she hangs up and goes inside to where Sarah is seated at the kitchen table swigging wine from the bottle. Sarah miserably but politely cracks open a separate $300 bottle she’d been saving (“My husband calling me a whore feels like an occasion,” she justifies) and commands Olivia to drink, then tells Olivia she’s not sure whose child her daughter is. “How do you fix betrayal?” she asks pleadingly. “You did what you thought was best at the time,” Olivia tells her. “You can’t change the choice you made; all you can do is not let it ruin you.” They end up getting the paternity test, but when Olivia hands the husband the envelope, she also gives him a speech about how knowing the answer won’t change the years he spent as a father or the way he feels about his wife. And since this is a TV show and NOT real life, he rips up the envelope. Still, Sarah’s marriage and job are still on the line. Harrison and Abby manage to save the latter by presenting the company’s board of directors by carrying in an empty box and telling them it’s full of evidence regarding dirt on them that would also violate the morality clause. But all’s not right with the dynamic duo: Abby calls out Harrison for ruining her relationship with David, and says she now realizes they live in a world where he’s “a gladiator first and a person second.”

In the season’s ongoing arc, Quinn and Huck have teamed up to investigate the CIA director/mole, in a plot that’s almost completely divorced from the rest of the episode’s action. Huck is trying to impart his ninja spy skills to Quinn, leading to her tailing the director to a dry cleaner where she thinks he’s exchanging information and coming back shirtless. She does manage to memorize the number he uses to drop off his clothes, so they go back and discover $20,000 in the pocket of one of his suits. When she returns to give the clothes back, she spins a story to the dry cleaner about being a scatterbrained wife and waltzes out looking pleased with herself—but the dry cleaner is no fool and sends the CIA director security camera photos of Quinn. Ruh roh.

Meanwhile, Olivia gives the information on the CIA hostages they recovered from Wendy’s hard drive to Captain Ballard along with the usual spiel about how she can’t tell him where she got it and he just has to trust her. Once he realizes what the intel is, he tracks her down at Sarah’s house, which is only significant because it allows a photographer to snap a picture of the two of them together. Ballard takes the information directly to El Prez, who uses it to organize a raid and rescue the hostages without any American casualties. He’s back on top, meaning the Randall scandal (hehe) no longer matters. The only people not happy about this are Cyrus, who realizes he’s more out of the inner circle than ever, and FLOTUS, who’s getting suspicious about the secret meetings El Prez keeps having. She at first thinks he’s rekindled things with Olivia, but then realizes he’s not cheating on her—he’s “cheating” on Cyrus with Captain Ballard. Who, by the way, continues to be enigmatically creepy, breaking into the apartment of the photog who took his picture while wearing a ski mask and savagely beating the guy before stealing his memory card. He then shows up at Olivia’s house with a massive black eye to tell her the hostages are free. When she goes to get him some ice, he sits on the couch and stares unblinkingly at the spot where he knows the camera is hidden. Senator Davis is starting to look pretty good right about now, no?

Some thoughts:

Do you guys enjoy the new buddy cop dynamic between Quinn and Huck? I’ll be onboard if they figure out a way to integrate them more into the rest of the action.

As usual, the case of the week has blatant parallels to Olivia’s life—but I appreciated this one because now we can see the cracks in the polished facade Olivia’s always putting up. She admits, both to El Prez and to herself, that she did what she thought was right and it turned out to be a mistake—a far cry from the season one mantra, “My gut is never wrong.”

Another glimpse of America’s Baby! Are we ever going to see the other two First Children?

Who is higher up on El Prez’s hate list this week, FLOTUS or Cyrus? El Prez taking his child and slamming the door in FLOTUS’s face makes me think it’s her. 

Seriously, WHAT is up with Captain Ballard? And how often do we think Scott Foley practices that serial killer stare in the mirror?

What did you think of last night’s episode of Scandal? Let us know in the comments.