This week’s episode ended up being all about women in the world, and the various ways they are used by men—and turn that using around. But first, let’s skim the general plot set-up before diving into the many ways power differentials play out between women and the men who love and loathe them.
Randolph Cooper, the Scandal-world’s Reagan, has died. During his presidency, Cooper survived an assassination attempt, which left a bullet in his brain and his failed alleged assassin in jail. In Olivia Pope’s world, this means Leonard Carnahan, the assassin, claims he’s innocent and needs her help. In the White House’s world, this means being compared to a man who is held up as the pinnacle of modern Republican leadership—not ideal when you’ve decided to challenge Republican banner issues in your second term.
Meanwhile, Cyrus Beene continues his liaison with Michael the sex worker/spy, to the point where he’s getting him an apartment and secure cellphone. Oh, Cyrus. You used to be such a keen political operative. A veritable shark! And now you leave your Blackberry out where your lover can rifle through it. Needless to say, Michael gets some valuable tidbits out of it.
And, back at Pope and Associates, Quinn and Huck are still doggedly working away on the cliffhanger from last week’s case: What does that key Quinn dug out of a teenager’s guts open? Turns out it leads to a locker full of pictures of Olivia Pope. The plot thickens, and gives high hopes that Scandal will kick its plot into a higher gear soon.
“The words used to describe women!” Olivia exclaims after Fitz declares Abby to be a bitch. “If she was a man, you’d say she was formidable, or bold, or right.” This is as good a thesis for this episode as anything else. Olivia Pope made a splash, as a character, because she presented an intoxicating combination: a brilliant, independent, powerful woman who was swept up in a delirious affair in which she was still brilliant, powerful, and independent. The allure of Olivia Pope is that even though she is passionately (and sometimes downright CRAZILY) in love with Fitzgerald Grant, she is, at the core, still her own person, still committed to her principles. Kerry Washington and Shonda Rhimes together have managed the difficult task of keeping their protagonist true to herself through whatever loopy plot twist.
This episode is no different, but it shows us both Olivia trying to maintain her position, and, more tellingly, how the men in her life deal with her and around her. Olivia and Fitz are the primary couple here. He won’t return her calls, but will show up at her door unannounced and expect a glass of wine. He’ll deny her a visit to Jake, but then peremptorily change his mind and have her brought in to see her former lover. In this episode, Fitzgerald Grant is using whatever tools he has available to try and exert control over Olivia’s life. This season, she had essentially boxed him out. She’s kept pretty rigid professional standards, minus a slip here and there. So naturally, Fitz is using what slim bargaining chips he has—being president, Jake—to force Olivia to interact with him, to try and wring a reaction from her, even if it’s negative. Fitzgerald Grant wants to know if there’s any hope for them in the future, and what he gets from Olivia, with a disbelieving sneer, is the yes he wants.
Meanwhile, Papa Pope is using his daughter as leverage in transactions that she cannot assert herself at all. “I handed my greatest treasure to you on a silver platter,” Rowan tells Jake. “All you had to do was pay your respects to her father.” Rowan loves his daughter. We’ve seen that for sure. But this is not about his daughter. That quote tells you everything. This is a different power struggle, between Jake and Rowan, and in this Olivia is not a person, but a bargaining chip. She can be served up and she can be taken away. The most important thing for Rowan is not whether Jake loves Liv, or whether he’s a good or bad force in her life, it’s that Jake defer to him. Which is why it’s immensely gratifying to see Liv and her father face off at the pool after Jake is pulled from his grasp. “You may be Command, Dad, but I have weapons at my disposal. Weapons you can’t possibly possess,” she tells Rowan as she kicks off from the side of the pool. I know we’re supposed to assume she means the romantic hooks she has in Grant and Ballard, but those are just the surface level ones. Rowan’s a past master at manipulation, but Liv’s got a certain idealism, a righteous fire, and a deep well of empathy, that give her machinations sticking power.
NEXT: Power dynamics all over the place…