Jaws on the floor, gasps at the TV, that out-of-breath feeling. If it’s a Thursday, that can only mean one thing: “Scandal” is back.
Our favorite TV show returned to the airwaves for Season 3 on Thursday (Oct. 3), and it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say the ABC hit had a lot to live up to. Season 2 of the series blew up into a cultural phenomenon, captivating audiences and critics alike with its twisty, addictive plotting, breakneck pacing and first-rate acting. The big question going into tonight’s premiere was: Could Shonda Rimes and her crew keep it up.
Well, if “It’s Handled” is any indication, the answer to that question is a resolute yes. Picking up just 22 minutes from where last season left us clamoring for more, with Olivia Pope’s (Kerry Washington) name leaked to the press as President Grant’s (Tony Goldwyn) mistress, “Scandal” hit the ground running and never looked back.
Rowan (Joe Morton), now revealed to be Olivia’s father, is escorting his daughter to an escape route: a plane waiting to take Liv to an island hideaway with a new identity. (Whoever thought Liv would actually go along with that, you must be new.) This opening segment was one of the tensest moments in an episode full of them, shining some light on the clear dysfunction in the Pope family. The way Rowan belittled Liv was frightening, but also taught us a lot about just why she is who she is. That said, Washington’s face as Morton spat “Do you have to be so mediocre?” at her was heartbreaking. (No offense to Claire Danes, whose work on “Homeland” is just fine, but Washington’s work in this scene, and throughout the premiere, shows an actress who deserved a different outcome at this year’s Emmy awards.)
After calling Cyrus (Jeff Perry), who convinced her that she needed to stay and fight alongside the White House, Liv found the gumption she needed to get off the plane and return home to handle this scandal like the pro she is. “The White House will destroy you,” Rowan seethes. “That’s what mom used to tell me about you,” Olivia coolly replies. There’s some dark stuff hidden in the Pope family closet, and I for one can’t wait for spring cleaning.
The hour was one full of signature “Scandal” twists and turns, with allegiances shifting and plans formulated on the fly only to have them proven impractical a minute later by someone else’s obstinate actions. Ultimately, what the hour boiled down to, though, was determining just who leaked the intel that set this cataclysmic chain of dominoes into action.
Cyrus learned from James (Dan Bucatinsky, who took home an Emmy last month for his fine, fine work in this guest role) that the reporter who broke the leak regularly haunts a Malloy’s, a bar that the Secret Service are known to visit in their downtime. As Mellie (Bellamy Young) quizzes one agent, who admits he drunkenly said Fitz’s mistress was a trusted advisor, though he offered no name, it becomes clear that there’s more to the story when a video of Fitz leaving Liv’s building makes the news.
While Cyrus spring into action, ready to sacrifice Olivia in the face of the new, undeniable evidence, She Who Wears The White Hat makes a Hail Mary play, calling in her Providence Key. Taken to a bunker with Fitz and Mellie, the three formulate a new plan. Fitz pushed for the truth and Olivia determines that it could work, but Mellie won’t be made a fool, standing by Fitz’s side as he admits to having fallen in love with another woman. So, they craft a story that works as an admission, while severely underplaying the reality of Fitz and Liv’s relationship. It’s a taut and uncomfortable set piece, full of that first-rate acting I’ve been so keen on throughout this review.
Fitz and Olivia leave the summit with the understanding that a press conference was being arranged to come clean, but Mellie wouldn’t be Mellie if she didn’t have something else up her sleeve. Running to Cyrus, she tells him she has a plan to stop Fitz from going through with it, offering up a disc that makes it way through the Gladiators and into James’ hands. On it? The evidence needed to shift focus from Olivia and onto Fitz’s communications aide, Jeanine Locke. “One thing is clear,” James says in the new clip. “Olivia Pope is owed an apology.” Only she doesn’t want it. Livid, she storms into her office, bellowing, “What did you do?!”
She’s not the only one hopping mad. Fitz isn’t too pleased, either, telling Mellie he knows it was Cyrus, when the First Lady drops the bomb: It was all her idea. Why? Because she figured out who the leak was: Fitz. Cue my jaw on the floor.
It turns out it was Fitz who arranged Liv’s name to get out there, not, as Mellie believes, to get her in the White House, but because “This is a war, Mellie. You and I are at war.” He tells his wife that this was but a step in his plan, one that made sure Olivia was no longer a weapon in her arsenal. “Now, she is free,” he says.
And just as it looks like war is coming to the White House, as well, with Pope & Associates taking Jeanine on as their client, the episode throws another twist our way.
Cyrus arrives home to find Charlie on his bed, next to a drugged James, pointing a gun at him. He takes Cyrus to Rowan, who shows him a folder containing information on Operation Remington, the classified mission Fitz and the holed-up Jake (new series regular Scott Foley) flew in Iran — “what really happened.”
“Oh, my God,” Cyrus says, in shock. Oh, my God, indeed.
Just like that, we have what looks like our next big mystery. What happened with Fitz and Jake in Iran? I, for one, can hardly wait to find out. Welcome back, “Scandal.” We’ve missed you.
– Though she’s a treacherous snake, it was a bit sad to see Fitz and VP Sally Langham (Kate Burton) finally connect, only for him to be forced to break his word to her. Oh well, it’ll be fun to keep her in the villain column.
– “Couldn’t we just kill another intern? It wouldn’t be that hard.” The Gladiators didn’t have much to do tonight, but that one line, and the way everyone else reacted to it, made clear that Huck (Guillermo Diaz) has lost control of Quinn (Katie Lowes).
– The information Cyrus’ team dug up on Olivia’s past, and how wrong it was in terms of her father, makes me even more excited to learn about the Pope family. What is going on there?
– How soon until Jake gets out of that hole?