First let’s address the contrivance elephant in the room: This week’s A plot hinges on the audience believing that First Daughter Karen Grant—demure, twinset-and-pearl-wearing Karen—has been transformed through grief over her brother’s death into a drugged-out teen rebel willing to let herself be filmed having a threesome. Making that leap of logic even more awkward is the fact that the part was recast for this season, replacing Madeline Carroll with Mary Mouser. This is like when the Veronica Mars movie hinged its whole plot on a character played by the one actress they couldn’t get to reprise her role from the TV show (why, Leighton Meester, why?). Anyway, let’s recap.
Olivia is really into eating Gettysburger with Jake this week like they’re a normal couple, but things just keep interrupting them. This time, it’s a call from Karen, who’s gotten wasted at a party and needs a way to get out. Olivia and Quinn go to get her out before anyone sees (although how was she there long enough to get so wasted without anyone noticing her?), and as they’re in the helicopter on the way to the White House it comes out that Karen also had time to make a sex tape with two guys. El Prez, naturally, wants heads to roll, so he dispatches Cyrus to figure out how Karen slipped her Secret Service detail and asks Olivia to find the guys and get rid of the tape. One of the boys involved is a blue-collar scholarship kid; Quinn, via her patented throat-squeezing technique, gets her to reveal the name of the other, a nightmarish trust-fund brat with even more nightmarish parents. They attempt to blackmail the President, demanding $2.5 million to get rid of the tape. Olivia goes to El Prez and tells him to pay. “You have the money,” she says. (Does he? He’s that wealthy that he can just give up two and a half million dollars? I have a lot of questions about this episode.) El Prez would rather talk about Olivia being back, though. “I almost died without you,” he says as he grabs her. He asks if she missed him, and they make out, and I brace for another uncomfortable Oval Office sex scene until she tells him she didn’t go away alone. “You went with Jake,” he realizes—but when she tries to touch his shoulder, he grabs her wrist so hard she winces, and I think this is the moment their emotional abuse of each other nearly spills into the physical kind. He agrees to pay the money, but when the parents demand an extra half million, Olivia comes down on them hard, saying she will destroy them and putting enough fear in their mercenary hearts that they sign a non-disparagement agreement.
Awkwardly, Olivia also runs into FLOTUS at the White House, still roaming the halls in her bathrobe like the greasy-haired Ghost of Benders Past. Mellie hilariously/scarily yells “OLIVIAAAA” as she chases Olivia down the hall and demands to know why she’s there. Olivia says nothing, so Mellie takes her ire to El Prez, reminding him that she is supposed to be the one who picks up the pieces of their shattered family, and El Prez rips her a new one. He says he’s suffered through “Smelly Mellie,” drunk Mellie, and the Mellie who “eats everything that’s not nailed down,” and that though he shares “some guilt” in this situation, he’s managed to grieve his son while also running a country. He also explains that their daughter was caught being “Eiffel towered” on tape, which is why he needs Olivia around. These people are the worst at having conversations. So Mellie goes to talk to Karen, but rather than yell, she tells her she knows it’s because she misses Gerry and gives her a free pass. It’s sweet and sad, and Bellamy Young wins the scene as always.
Over in B613-ville, Jake and Rowan are continuing to try to destroy one another. Rowan orders Tom the Secret Service agent to kill Jake, but when Tom fails, Rowan threatens his life, too. Jake very reasonably points out to Tom that Rowan is trying to cover his own ass and isn’t likely to leave alive the one other person who could link him to Gerry’s death. Complicating matters is the fact that Cyrus has hired a consultant to examine Secret Service security issues, thanks to Karen’s little adventure, and some of Tom’s scheduling isn’t quite adding up. Tom knows he’s going to get pulled in for questioning, so he calls Jake, who tells him he has proof that Rowan was behind Gerry’s death and that Tom should cut a deal. Jake goes to deliver the proof to El Prez, who is not in a mood to see the guy who was boinking his girlfriend on an island for two months, and brushes him off. And now we see how screwed poor Tom really is: El Prez calls Rowan to take over the investigation, and Rowan forces Tom to lie that Jake was the one who ordered him to kill Gerry. The episode ends with Jake and Tom both in handcuffs and an El Prez out for revenge.
BEST LINES/A FEW THOUGHTS
“Have you ever thought about what it would be like to be Olivia Pope? It doesn’t seem like much fun.” Cyrus makes an excellent point to Abby, who doesn’t get to do much this week except try to hold on to what little ground she’s gained in the White House.
“Am I due for a good threatening?” Cynical David Rosen is my favorite David Rosen, even when he’s, as usual, immediately folding under Jake’s threats. Also “your ethics mean nothing” is basically the tagline of the whole show at this point.
I have to say, I have basically zero sympathy for El Prez. I get that he is also a grieving father, but he basically asks for a prize for doing his job while also tolerating his wife’s nervous breakdown. But Mellie is not going to lie down and take it, as evidenced by her line, “She takes after her daddy, doesn’t she?”
Gettysburger got so many mentions this week, it should demand to be made a regular cast member.
Michael the escort is still around, though no Lizzie this week. Maybe she was busy making Hot Ham Water for a fundraising dinner.
Are we supposed to believe Rowan is going to protect Tom for throwing Jake under the bus? I don’t see why he would, but that shot of them holding hands seemed to suggest it.
Even the fictional Secret Service can’t do things right!
WINNER: Feel free to disagree, but I’m going to give this one to Karen. Yes, both her parents have seen her doing things you couldn’t pay me to explain to my own mother, but the tape disappears and her mom gives her a get-out-of-jail-free card. And hey, no more twinsets!
LOSER: Jake. Things are not looking good for old Ballard—not only can he not even get a word in edgewise with his pseudo girlfriend, but he gets arrested for killing, like, the one person he actually didn’t kill, and apparently can no longer afford razor blades.
Find Tanya Pai on Twitter at @tanyapai.