TV Recap: Scandal Season 4, Episode 2, “State of the Union”

Sometimes you’re collateral damage.
TV Recap: Scandal Season 4, Episode 2, “State of the Union”
This week, Olivia reprises a role she knows well: marriage counselor. Photograph via ABC.

Last week’s season four premiere established the new rules of the Scandalverse: who assumed what role in Olivia’s absence, and exactly how committed they are to holding on to those roles. The second episode deepens that understanding by having Olivia try to jump back in right where she left off, only to find out she doesn’t know everything, after all. To the recap.

The main action tonight centers on El Prez’s State of the Union address, which, Republican though he may be, plans to center it on gun control. Cyrus seems remarkably unfazed by that fact, possibly because he enjoys how much it annoys RNC chair Elizabeth (Portia de Rossi and her power mullet). To help his cause, El Prez has invited to the address a couple in New Mexico who are the walking, talking embodiment of the need for gun control: James, a Marine who endured two years in an al Qaeda POW camp, and Lisa, a former elementary school teacher who saved multiple children’s lives in a Sandy Hook-style shooting before taking a bullet in the spine that lost her the use of her legs. They are now saints and gun-control advocates; they also hate each other. (Hilariously, both think the other has a martyr complex, which is one of the better cynical jokes this show has done.)

Cyrus, who is now a forced vegetarian after his late-season-three heart attack, asks Olivia to do him a “favor” and make sure James and Lisa show up, and when she says she doesn’t do favors for the White House anymore he reminds her that her bank statement says otherwise. He threatens her with the IRS, and Olivia laughs at the thought of being scared about tax evasion, but Cyrus has another weapon: He says he’ll tell El Prez that she’s pining for him, that she tries to call every day. The look she gives him is simultaneously terrified and murderous. “Sorry to be such a bastard, Liv,” he says. “Craving human flesh really brings out the worst in me.” (Okay, he said meat, but we all know Cyrus is basically Hannibal Lecter.)

Olivia gets James and Lisa to DC and puts them in the care of another monumentally screwed up couple, Huck and Quinn, who were for some reason wearing matching plaid shirts the entire episode. Huck still won’t speak to Quinn, so she pulls him into a bathroom for a come-to-Jesus talk, during which he says he would gladly pull out her tooth again to teach her the same lesson. They look like they’re about to make out (oh, please, no) until they hear a yell from the bedroom. Lisa has stabbed James in the leg with a corkscrew. The only thing that saves the day? Olivia tells them they need a divorce, and she will make sure to spin the situation so they can still support themselves independently, which convinces them to have one last public hurrah as a married couple.

Meanwhile, Abby is juggling her duties as press secretary and trying to help David prep for his Senate confirmation hearing. She finds out Olivia has been using Cyrus as a mouthpiece to feed her lines, and flips out on her former boss. “You don’t work here anymore; I DO,” she says. She also helpfully fills Olivia in on a few details she missed during her island sexcation, namely that Huck and Quinn were “incesting” (did I hear her right?) all over the office. Ugh, don’t remind us.

Poor David Rosen can’t catch a break. Remember way back in season 2 when Olivia makes it look like he beat his former wife, in order to get Abby to break up with him? (Props to the continuity department!) Well, Elizabeth has somehow found those photos and tells Cyrus David has to turn down the AG position. But David, for once, is tired of getting screwed over, so he uses a B613 file to blackmail one of the senators on the committee to endorse him. Look who’s learned to play the game!

El Prez’s other problem is, of course, “Madam First Crazy” as the press so uncreatively dub Mellie after photos leak of her lying against Gerry’s grave in a bathrobe having a heart to heart with a very large bag of chips. El Prez says she has to come to the State of the Union, but she refuses; not even Cyrus, in an emotional speech about resenting that his loss of James is somehow lesser than hers, can convince her. But Abby prevails: She and her fabulous blazer deliver a no-BS rant about the thousands of Americans who’ve also lost a child, and how they need to see that the First Family hasn’t forgotten them. So Mellie shows up, looking pretty and clean and sad, and gets the full blast of the Olivia Pope-enhanced state of the union address: On il Papa’s advice, El Prez talks about Gerry, and their devastation at his death, and ties it all in to gun control to a standing ovation from the crowd. After the speech, Mellie stumbles blindly into the hall and collapses, sobbing, on the carpet as El Prez apologizes profusely.

Where’s Ballard in all this? Gamely trying to assert his manliness, checking himself into a hotel suite and telling Olivia he can’t be there to “service” her because he has Things to Do, but she’s welcome to come over for sex whenever she wants. He’s also investigating Adnan and Harrison’s murders, and finds out our old friend Charlie was involved—but then gets a distraction in the form of a naked-under-her-coat Olivia toting a bottle of expensive wine. Apparently she does do booty calls, after all.

As for good old Cyrus; he and his new hair plugs (which I confess I somehow didn’t notice in the season premiere) are trying graspingly to move on after James’s death, which he tries with an incredibly toothy guy played by Hey It’s That Guy Matthew Del Negro (seriously, how does he fit all those in his mouth?). Turns out Tooth Guy is actually an escort (though he calls himself a “sex worker,” which, ew) in the pay of Elizabeth. Cyrus doesn’t give in this time, but Tooth Guy says he’s confident he can gnaw down his defenses.

BEST LINES/RANDOM THOUGHTS

“Olivia Pope, for all her talk of white hats, gets whatever she wants, and sometimes you’re collateral damage.” Is this the end of Moral and Upright David Rosen as we know him?

“You look like crap.” “No, I don’t.”/“I am never concerned that Olivia Pope will fail.” It’s too bad Cyrus is gay, because I feel like his and Olivia’s black, black souls were made for each other.

Hey, El Prez remembered that Teddy exists! No sign of Cyrus’s daughter though (what’s her name again?)

Hey, the show remembered Andrew exists! He is still both Vice President and persona non grata, if his one line is any indication.

Olivia and Jake go jogging. Romantic?

WINNER: David, for finally taking a win rather than expecting to earn it.

LOSER: Mellie. Even her crushing grief gets used for political means—plus I bet that necklace was expensive.

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