Now that presidential campaigning is in full swing in Scandal-land, it’s debate time. And the Republican candidates will have Sally Langston as their moderator. Lucky them!
There’s a lot of hemming and hawing beforehand over debate logistics — Elizabeth North is negotiating on behalf of Susan Ross (no Lucite podiums because she’s short and needs to stand on a box), Olivia for Mellie Grant (she wants a buzzer and light to signal when a candidate’s time is up — or else no Mellie), and Hollis Doyle on behalf of Hollis Doyle.
Susan, meanwhile, is deep in debate prep, talking about immigration with Fitz subbing in as Hollis. And…she’s kind of killing it. Abby even calls Olivia to tell her how well the VP is doing and tries to entice Liv to drop Mellie and join up with them, which she declines because she really does think Mellie could make a good president.
Before they hang up, Abby has one question for Olivia: Has she heard the rumors? Liv says she’s looking into it, and we get quick confirmation of what they are. She meets her ex beau Sen. Edison Davis in a parking garage and asks him point blank: “So, are you running for president?”
And, he is — as a Democrat, meaning he’s running against Frankie Vargas and not the Republican Grant-Ross-Doyle trifecta. He’s announcing the next morning but first wanted to check with Liv about something called “Meridian Terrace.” She says not to worry about it and tells him he’ll be a great candidate.
“I figure it’s about time we had our first black president,” he tells her.
Liv nods, then responds, “I think it’s about time we had our first woman president.” (Amen to that!) They wish each other luck in the election and part ways.
Meanwhile, David Rosen’s gross two-timing finally (FINALLY!) catches up with him and all because he goes to another former flame looking for advice on what he should do about being a dumb cheater. Sleeping with two women — the “good” one, he says, and the “nasty” one — is affecting his work because he’s in a “weird dirty sex trance.” Abby, smartly, wants to hear none of it and tells him to get out.
He leaves her office only to get pulled into another with those exact two women. Elizabeth wants him and Susan to go public with their relationship at the debate by having him come on stage at the end when all the other candidates’ families and loved ones do the same. Susan says that’s a lot to ask, but he says he’ll do it for her. She looks thrilled, which makes me feel even more rage toward David than usual. (More on him in a bit.)
At Vargas’ election HQ, Cyrus is trying to rally the volunteers with a talk about the campaign message, but he’s overshadowed by a new face in the room — this guy is loud, passionate, and really rallies the troops. He’s also Frankie Vargas’ brother, Alex Vargas (Danny Pino). Cyrus, not one accustomed to being out-maneuvered, goes to Vargas to complain (Side note: To hopefully sort out confusion, when I say “Vargas” I mean the candidate, I’ll use “Alex” or “Alex Vargas” for his brother), but the presidential hopeful rebukes him. As Cyrus tells Tom later when he asks for dirt on the brother, blood is blood, and while he’s got no problems taking down someone who’s after his job, it’s a lot harder to do that when family is involved.
Meanwhile, Mellie’s debate prep includes watching focus groups discuss what they think of her, and none of it seems to be nice — people think she’s smug, arrogant, and is great until she starts talking. Ouch.
Olivia doesn’t mince words either. She tells Mellie voters think she’s out of touch and won’t vote for her if they think she thinks she’s smarter than everyone. She wants to make her more relatable, more like the woman everyone saw on the Senate floor during her filibuster. Her solution? “The Gettysburger Test.”
Oh man, what a disaster this was. It starts out fine — Mellie puts on a hat, pulls her hair in a ponytail, and goes to a local Gettysburger, where she waits in line like everyone else and orders a “double Lincoln with cheese,” per Olivia’s instructions. She’s told to sit at a booth by a window (all the better if other people are already there), finish the WHOLE burger, and act like a woman of the people.
The press, surely tipped off to this by OPA, asks if this is her first time at a Gettysburger, and this is where things go off the rails real fast. She lies and says yes. They ask her where. She mentions a location or two, and then adds that she and daughter, Karen, used to stop in every Sunday after church. Nope. Wrong. Try again, Mellie, because apparently Gettysburger is closed on Sundays.
So the “Gettsburger Test” becomes “Burgergate” because naturally something like that would become a trending topic almost immediately. Mellie is pissed at Olivia because it was her idea, and Olivia is pissed at Mellie for lying. Definitely not a great thing to happen right before a big debate.
NEXT: Jake’s link to Vanessa, uncovered [pagebreak]
Susan Ross pays a visit to Abby and notices David’s datebook (is that what it was? Or some sort of file? It’s something of his, is the point) on her desk and asks what it’s doing there. Abby tells her he was in her office lamenting how he’s jugging “a couple of women” — apparently not having any clue that Susan is one of those women. Whoops.
Not surprisingly, this revelation pulls the VP’s attention away from debate prep, and she’s nowhere near as sharp as she was before. Hollis, meanwhile, thinks debate prep is for “ninnies,” and Olivia was prepping Mellie with what turned out to be the Great Gettysburger Disaster of 2016.
In the middle of that, Alex Vargas walks into OPA with a proposition — to exchange information on their rival candidates. He has dirt on Susan Ross, and he wants dirt on Edison Davis. The way he sees it, during the primaries, they can be allies, and once the general election hits, they can be adversaries. According to Huck, this guy has successfully run all his brother’s campaigns up until now with an M.O. to win “by any means necessary.” Olivia turns him down, saying she doesn’t play dirty.
Then, she goes to her father and asks him if she should do just that. Mellie is polling third after Burgergate, so should she take Alex Vargas’ intel on Susan Ross? She wants to, and she came here so she could get the full-throttle, seize-your-power speeches Joe Morton is so great at giving to reaffirm her decision.
Instead, he tells her Edison has been nothing but nice to her. She’s played dirty but only with people she loathes, and this would be hurting someone she respects. She’d no longer be playing Robin Hood. She’d be…her father. And does she really want to do that?
“The reason Mellie Grant imploded today is because you were trying to make her into something she wasn’t,” he tells her. “I’d hate to see you do the same thing to yourself.”
Elsewhere, Quinn’s Jake surveillance hasn’t turned up much, so she and Liv opt for plan B: putting Quinn in a set of pearls and chatting up Vanessa at an event, pretending they were classmates at Smith. While pretending to be “Jackie,” Quinn discovers Vanessa handed over all her financial information to Jake as part of what a supposed NSA spousal background check, but they realize it’s really so he can funnel money through her bank accounts to fund a super PAC for…
…Edison Davis. She goes to him and tells him her suspicions about her father and the super PAC, but he’s unfazed because he already knows. “You’re getting into bed with a monster,” she warns him.
His reply: “Correction: I’m getting into bed with a monster’s father. Anyway, thanks so much for stopping by.”
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Olivia then interrupts a cozy dinner between Jake and Vanessa to let him know she’s onto him. His phone pings, and he leaves the table, finding Liv waiting by the ladies’ room. They go in, and she pushes him against the door, locks it, and kisses him. She unbuckles his pants while calling BS on him wanting someone “normal” over her. “You tell my father that whatever game this is, I will win,” she whispers in his ear, before leaving him high and dry and walking away.
Susan, devastated, confronts Rosen and asks for the truth. “Are you cheating on me?” He denies it, lying straight to her face, and says he wants her and only her. That second part isn’t a lie because he goes to Elizabeth and breaks up with her, saying he loves Susan and can’t do this anymore (which elicits this reaction: “She’s a Muppet! Not even one of the main ones!”). Elizabeth tells him she actually liked him and wasn’t sleeping with anyone else while they were together.
Fitz pays Susan a visit before the debate. She apologizes for being off her game earlier and asks him to ask her a policy question. He throws one out on the deficit, and she responds with questions of her own: “Why’d you cheat on your wife? Why does anyone cheat?” She wants to believe David but doesn’t know if she should. Fitz gives her a surprisingly honest answer. People cheat for lots of different reasons, he says, but if she feels like he’s cheating, he probably is. Susan takes this in with a deep breath — and then answers his deficit question perfectly.
Then, right before the debate, she goes and dumps him. Rosen tells her he broke things off with the other woman (though he doesn’t say who it was) and that he loves her. But she still seems pretty firm that it’s over, and offstage, she and Elizabeth share a hug and a cry before she composes herself to go onstage.
Olivia assures a distraught Mellie to go out there and do her best and she’ll take care of everything else. She then goes outside and meets Alex Vargas for that information swap. She gives him evidence about Meridian Terrace, which it turns out is a rehab facility she sent Davis to for a painkiller addiction. She looks at what Alex gave her, but we don’t get to see what it is (though the preview for next week gives some hints).
And with that, the candidates step onstage and Sally preps the audience for what to expect. Next week: they debate!