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'Scandal' recap: 'Gladiators Don't Run'

Posted on

Mitchell Haaseth/ABC


TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
run date:
Kerry Washington, Tony Goldwyn, Joshua Malina
Drama, Thriller

Here we have the one and only lot up for auction today, Olivia Pope, Washington D.C.’s premier fixer, former White House Press Secretary, suspected/known lover of the sitting president, and expert-level white-coat-wearer. Let’s open the bidding at 1 million. Do I hear 1 million? 

That’s right, the auction for Olivia Pope, engineered by Olivia Pope (via her captors turned partners), gets underway at the top of this episode. She’s up for sale on the Darknet with a whole host of terrorists and unfriendly governments ready to spend precious millions for some leverage on the US government. Before tonight’s episode, a warning popped up about graphic violence. “At an auction?” you think, imagining stuffy old folks bidding quietly. This is not your grandma’s auction. There are really three parties in tonight’s action, as far as we’re concerned.

The first is the White House itself. Fitzgerald Grant is cleaning house, replacing his Secret Service and prepping to oust his weaselly VP. He decides he also wants in on the bidding for Liv. “We can win this. Who has more money than the United States of America?” he asks, only for Cyrus and Mellie to rattle of a string of countries who are way richer than us. Sometimes I wonder how Fitz ever got elected, or what fantastical America he think’s he’s in charge of. Of course, it’s not seemly for governments to be seen negotiating with terrorists, so the White House gets one of their old terrorist buddies to front for them.

Meanwhile, Andrew refuses to go gently into political obscurity. He threatens to take down Fitz, Cyrus, and everyone with him—if they accuse him of treason, he’ll make sure the whole world knows the West Angola action was done for Liv’s sake. “Going to war for your sidepiece doesn’t just make you an unpopular president,” Andrew sneers. “It makes you a criminal of the highest order.” Real talk, Andrew, these people have been criminals of the highest order for a long time. Like, since the inception of this presidency. Cyrus flips Liz North, whose first-half-of-the-season cool has been irreparably shattered by the left turn her conspiracy has taken. She’s still got the blond power-helmet-hair, but Lizzie Bear is a shadow of her former domineering, party-controlling self.

Andrew plays his last card, and it turns out to be a good one. He threatens Mellie with revealing their affair, asking, “How’s that for your husband’s legacy?” It’s the wrong question. Mellie is much more worried about her own future. A tender talk on the Truman balcony between Fitz and Mellie reveals that she wants to be president some day. It’s a nice moment, the couple interacting as partners, if not lovers. Fitz has clearly tired of the whole political circus, but Mellie’s as ambitious as ever. She’s supporting Fitz in getting Liv back (“We sleep better when she’s lying between us”), and in return he supports the career she wants to pursue. Andrew gets his get out of jail free pass.

NEXT: Bidder No. 2[pagebreak]​

The second active party is Jake and the Gladiators (band name?). Quinn, Huck, and Jake don’t trust the US Government to get things done right (and, frankly, given the Grant White House’s astounding incompetence, I wouldn’t either) so they make a plan to bid themselves. They’ve got the cash, a cool 2 billion and change that used to be the B6-13 bank account. But, despite the fact that all three are various levels of reformed hitman for hire, they’re too squeaky clean to get an invite to the big dance. “Do we know any all-star international terrorists?” asks Quinn, sarcastically. A lot, right? You guys worked for a super black ops division of intelligence? I would hazard you know a lot of terrorists.

However, they go to the all-star terrorist most likely to want to save Liv. Maya Pope it is! She’s hanging out in prison, making cat noises at David Rosen, Quinn, and Jake. Maya Pope hasn’t always been my favorite character—her appearance in season 3 was just another crazy point in a crazy season—but Khandi Alexander is such fun, and when the writers use her right, Maya Pope is a welcome jolt of oversize personality, much like Rowan. Maya’s no idiot, she’s not giving away her contacts without a little give from the government. “I already spent 20 years locked up. My husband hasn’t been locked up a day and he killed the President’s son,” she notes. “I’m negotiating in good faith here.” She doesn’t get moved to medium security, or a library, but she does wring a TV out of them, plus basic cable (with David Rosen’s extremely begrudging permission). 

Maya gets them in touch with a big league Guatemalan drug-dealer who will help them gain entry to the auction. The price, though, is killing a bunch of Gustavo’s men who are skimming his cash. Huck’s on the case, and when Jake enters later to back him up, finds a literal bloodbath. Last week Huck didn’t carve anyone up, but he started on this path of going completely maniacal. Quinn is sure he’ll work it out for himself, while Jake is less certain. I would go with Jake on this one. Huck’s starting to look severely wigged the longer Olivia is in captivity. 

NEXT: Bidder No. 3[pagebreak]​

Our third party is the auctioneers themselves. Ian and his crew are setting up the Olivia Auction. Andrew, charmingly naïve, calls Ian under the impression he still has control over the operation. He is wrong. Oh, Veep, you really didn’t see this coming? As Cyrus and Mellie pointed out, there are a lot of people in the world with a lot more money than the USA, particularly the part of the USA controlled by the Vice President. Olivia and Ian are pretty chummy through all this, discussing her sale price (1 billion to 1.5, in Ms. Pope’s opinion). The rest of the kidnap crew is less thrilled, specifically Gus, who was last seen on the floor after Olivia clocked him with a lead pipe.

Gus, well, Gus is out of his damn mind. He bristles that Olivia is being treated like a person instead of a prisoner. Fed up, he shoots Ian in the back of the head and promptly assumes control of the whole operation. He harasses Liv, cupping her face as he wipes off Ian’s blood, offering to “be nice” to her. It’s the first time sexual violence has really been floated in this entire kidnapping situation, however subtly. Liv is not having any of that, warning that anything that gets close to her mouth might get bitten. Gus’s co-conspirators know he’s nuts, but as one says, “I want my brains in my head.” Even a patented Olivia Pope righteous speech and soulful lip quiver can’t convince them. They want the cash. They are almost certainly going to be shot as abruptly as Ian was. Sorry, henchmen. 

Everything gets upended at the last moment, as Gus preemptorily shuts down the auction 12 hours before it’s supposed to be finished. He received a private offer from Iran, and he’s pleased as punch to hand Liv over to them. Back at Pope and Associates, Huck loses all hope and declares Olivia as good as dead. The White House learns of the sale and the CIA recommends she be “neutralized.” Fitz will have none of that, giving a long speech about how she has to come back, because the soldiers who died in the West Angola action went there for her (though they didn’t know it), and somehow, Liv’s continued life will justify their loss. As Fitz says, he sent people to die because he wasn’t willing to let her die. This monologue doesn’t quite make sense. Soldiers, all of them, in any war, go to their deaths because the president asks them to. Sure, saving Olivia isn’t a great reason, but frankly, there haven’t been many good reasons for war.

Meanwhile, let’s take a moment to think about poor Abby Whelan, who belongs today to none of these factions. She can’t get Liv to return her calls. She spots the enormous wine stain leftover from Liv’s abduction. She’s frozen out by Huck and Quinn when she goes to Pope and Associates to ask for info. No one thinks to loop her in on what’s going on in her office. I’m amazed she kept her cool as long as she did, but when she does find out Liv’s gone she turns her anger and her fear loose on David Rosen, haranguing him for not telling her about it. Abby, you should go shout at Cyrus, because he knew as well and has a lot more right to divulge info than the Attorney General. (Also, this is just a sign that the people you work with do not adequately respect you. Leave the White House.) But David pours her a drink and reminds her that he’s here for her (because even if he doesn’t want to give Maya Pope HBO, he is basically a good guy).

Our final moments see Olivia being hustled out of a truck in a deserted bit of mountain land, about to be exchanged. We’ve been told her buyers are Iran, but ABC ends the episode with a big “Next Week Olivia Pope’s Buyers Will Be Revealed” tease, so I suspect things aren’t quite as straightforward as they may seem. Who wants to lay odds on who the buyers actually are? My personal long-shot, Hail Mary call is that Papa Pope is pulling some strings, despite having declared himself out of Liv’s life before the winter break. Maybe Maya and Rowan are in it together—that would give us a real scenery-chewing finale at least. Any other guesses? Who bought Olivia Pope? (It’s like the new Who Shot JR? only resolved in a week.)