Let’s all raise our comically large goblets of red wine to the fact that finally, something is happening on Scandal! It’s past time for a return to the high-tension, operatic juggling act that made earlier seasons so gripping.
After clearing Jake’s name last week, the triumphant trio meet in the secret presidential bunker—and promptly begin bickering. Jake was so good at taking the high road when he was imprisoned. Well, the medium road at least; he did like to needle Fitz on his principles. But in this case, he’s actively picking fights with Fitz, demanding he be allowed to kill Rowan, and asking Fitz to refer to him as Captain Ballard. “Jake is what my friends call me, and you’re not my friend, Mr. President,” he snaps. Fitz lets him know that all his fulminating aside, he’s stuck in the security bunker until they figure out what they’re doing.
Olivia, in all these arguments, tries to play the mediator between the Bicker Twins. “We stand in the sun, Jake, that’s what we do,” Olivia reminds her recently released paramour. (“That’s one of our catchphrases,” Jake can’t resist sniping at Fitz. “It’s from our time on the island together.”) It’s just barely enough to get Jake cooperating. Of these three, exactly one of them has proven themselves capable of truly standing up to Rowan Pope, let alone actually beating him, and that’s his daughter. The other two are dragging her down. Which, of course, is exactly what you’re meant to think when Olivia calls her father mid-bunker bicker session.
Of course, that is also a ploy, an attempt to set Rowan up. Finally, a season and a half into knowing what her father really is, Olivia seems to finally understand where some of his motivations lie. I’ve been noting, it feels like endlessly and repetitively, that Rowan has been hitting the parental notes very hard in his speeches at Olivia. Even tonight, he’s still saying all the right things, even when she fails to show up for family dinner and forces him to drink a bottle of 2005 Contador Rioja all by himself. (She’s a MONSTER.) “I will be here for you long after these boys have revealed themselves to be who they really are,” Rowan tells her. “You will always have a place at my table, whether we fight, whether you hate me. Whether you show up or not.” This is what you want to hear from your dad! It’s a credit to Joe Morton that while he’s offering this unconditional love, he makes it sound so, so dire. He imbues this supportive rhetoric with a tone that is so portentous, so threatening.
And that threat becomes fully realized, though not in the way you would think. Despite the episode title’s Christian overtones, this week’s Scandal has more in common with a classic Greek tragedy. Olivia is warring with her father and attempts to remove him from his throne. Rowan, being Rowan, obviously is way ahead of her. His speech to her over dinner about what she meant to him is high drama, juxtaposed as it is with the stealthy takedown of the SWAT team meant to capture him. “You have forsaken me. Your father, your family,” sighs Rowan. “You wanted to stand in the sun, in the bright, white light. It blinded you.” That’s almost as straightforward a mythological parallel as last week’s Helen of Troy symbolism. Olivia has tested his fatherly love to it’s limit, and Rowan is done.
We also get one of those rare moments where Scandal addresses, obliquely, how race colors Rowan’s view of Washington, and conversely doesn’t always color Olivia’s. “Those people that you’ve chosen over me? You do not see how they see you,” Rowan tells Olivia. “Those people are not your people. They never will be, and you never will be one of them.” Of course, for Olivia, they are her people. She’s been raised with elite educations, to move seamlessly in D.C. society, and to expect that she can attain whatever she wants. Her catchphrase (sorry, Jake) is “It’s handled.” But Rowan, being older and having done the striving to make sure she can be this comfortable, can’t help but see that’s she’s different. Can’t help but worry that she will be discarded or turned against.
NEXT: All our subplots begin to converge.