Overall, this week’s episode looked a whole lot like last week’s: Liv and Fitz are frozen between giving up and giving in, Mellie is in pain but trying to spin it into professional growth, Abby is frazzled, and Quinn, Huck, and Jake are half-goofing off, half-working back at OPA.
But despite a lack of external change so far, some our fair characters are undergoing quite a bit of internal growth — they’re learning to make decisions and stick to them, to go after what they really want, and to try saying “yes” to things (looks like Shonda Rhimes may have used her own Year of Yes as inspiration… Wait, was last week’s conclusion just a really subtle book plug?).
So let’s get to it. Mellie (and Bellamy Young, who plays her) was the clear star of this week’s episode. We haven’t seen monologues this good or hooch this strong since the days of Smelly Mellie! At the start, Mellie and Fitz are sitting down for their big, exclusive interview — you know, the one in which they deny the Olivia Pope rumors and pretend everything’s all hunky-dory in the big house, just as Liv is confirming to the press that she is, in fact, the president’s mistress.
Abby and her troops burst onto the scene to pull the Grants out of the interview room, but not before the reporter has some great footage, rife for blackmail, of the first couple lying about the situation on camera. In the oval office, Fitz and Mellie watch Liv’s statement on TV: Mellie is horrified, but Fitz’s smile is so giddy, he almost melted my Jake-loving heart. Eventually, Mellie goes to her office, and Liv comes into the Oval and apologizes for not warning Fitz about what she’d say. “I loved what you said,” he says. They smooch. It’s very cute.
Meanwhile, Abby is trying to convince Mellie that there’s a way to spin this: The Grants have grown apart after Gerry’s death, it’s amicable, etc….but she’s not having it. Who does Mellie call to save the day? Her old pal, Cyrus Beene, who is Fitz-and-Liv levels of thrilled to be back in the White House. What does Mellie want, Cyrus asks? “I want to destroy Olivia Pope. I want her to suffer like I have suffered. I want to make them bleed. I want their every breath to reek of poison,” Mellie intones like she’s possesed. Her rage, while understandable, is a little belated. Mellie, you’ve known about this affair for years. Some of those years, if I recall correctly, you even supported it because it kept Fitz docile.
“This is a very important moment,” Cyrus warns. “Don’t waste it being human.” Then, Mellie remembers her true desire: “I want the Oval.” The Lady is on a mission.
Team Mellie and Team Fitz commence with the negotiations, with Cyrus and Abby acting as go-betweens. If they can reach an agreement, Mellie will do the exclusive interview with Fitz and the reporter they bailed on before, or else the reporter airs the footage of them lying on camera. So…Mellie gets the house, the kids, Fitz’s full support for her presidential run, Liv and Fitz can’t get married, can’t be seen together, Liv can’t ever take the Grant last name. Oh, and half a million dollars per annum to use at her discretion. What does Fitz get? Just Liv. But that’s enough for him.
As it turns out, it’s not enough for Mellie: She’s hurt. She doesn’t really need the Santa Barbara house. What she does need? Some hooch…and she’s been saving a jar full of it in a shoebox in the First Closet.
There are other souls drinking their pain away in fair Washington: Jake, Quinn, and Huck are holding down the fort at OPA and drinking vodka (brand: vOdKa, according to the bottle). They tried to help Liv first, obviously, before Jake turned off the TV and unplugged the wires, much to Huck’s chagrin, who was working on some big hack. “You were going to turn off the Internet?” Quinn asked. “I was going to erase the Internet,” Huck said. They high-five. If you take away the face-licking and torture turn-ons, they’re pretty cute.
Jake, on the other hand — my poor baby Jake — is stuck deeeep in the mud of the Friend Zone. Liv calls him to see what’s going on over there, then confesses she might have made the wrong decision. He seems weirdly okay with the whole Fitz thing for now…but maybe it’s the vOdKa? I don’t know. We’re in love, but I can’t read his mind or anything, you know?
NEXT: Mellie shows Liv her “prison”
Back to Non-Smelly Mellie, Liv ends up in the closet with her (let’s be real, that closet is bigger than my apartment), where Mellie gives a beautifully tragic monologue about how rough Liv’s life is going to be when she’s in Mellie’s shoes. When Liv declines some hooch, Mellie informs her, “You don’t get to say what you don’t want. Not in here. Your wants, your needs? No one cares anymore. All that matters from now on is him.” It’s a brilliantly delivered speech: That sassy Southern accent was made for pontificating. “Living here, in this prison,” Mellie says, defending her liquor, “This is what makes you feel numb. This [gesturing to hooch] is what makes you feel alive!”
Her speech really gets to Liv, who is silently starting to cry, realizing what she’s giving up for this man. “I hope you know what you’re really fighting for,” Mellie warns. “Whatever hooch you dig up around here…consider it my parting gift.”
Liv, who’s also in a fight with Abby since her lies made Abby look like a fool, tells Fitz they should cut their losses since Mellie is clearly not taking their deal. Why doesn’t he just take her back for the 18 months left in his term? What’s the difference? Then she reminds him, “Did you ever think about what I’m giving up?”
It spurs something in Fitz, and he meets with Mellie on the White House balcony (which, I’m sorry, is so fake-looking, it really takes me out of the scene. Can’t they just keep meeting in the Oval?). “You’re feeling abandoned because I abandoned you,” says Captain Obvious. “I took everything you offered me over the years…and used it to get here.” Mellie doesn’t think he can get off with just an apology — “What did you ever sacrifice for me, Fitz?” — but he tells her she’s going to be the first woman president, and she softens. “I thought we would grow old together,” she says, and he says he knows. But is one kind conversation all it takes for this to be settled happily? OF COURSE NOT!
It’s Cyrus’s turn to make a heartfelt speech: After running some well-played negotiations earlier, Cyrus is in high spirits. In fact, he feels good enough to ask for his job back. “I am your guy. I have your back, forever,” he tells Fitz. Fitz takes on a tone he’s lately reserved only for Mellie and says, “You do not work here anymore. You can go.” We haven’t seen Cyrus look so heartbroken in ages — which, frankly, is terrifying, because this is a man who nearly had his own husband killed once.
Rejected once again, Cyrus is out for blood and marches to Mellie’s office to insinuate that she didn’t get what she asked for at all (including his job back). “I thought you’d be able to see him for what he is,” Cyrus says. “He’s the greatest politician in the world, Mellie. You got played.” Mellie thinks for a while as she walks with Fitz to the room where their second interview is about to start, hearing Fitz’s words replay in her head: “I took everything you offered me… I didn’t say thank you, but deep down I knew how I got here.” She pauses at the door, then turns around, telling Fitz, “You almost had me.” Looks like that footage might get released after all.
Abby’s ready to fix the situation herself, and Liv, though part of her clearly itches to get back into her comfort zone and be the one to spin the story, tells Abby she’ll be great. Liv knows what Abby’s going to do because she would have done it herself: And the defamation of Liv’s character (“Olivia Pope has a certain reputation here in Washington”) begins.
For his part, Fitz really tried to run into the press room and stop Abby, but Liv told him to let her go. “Sit down. Sit there, and watch me choose you,” she says, and he obeys — while Mellie and Cyrus drive off in the motorcade, ready to hatch plans of their own.
All’s well enough in Washington, right? Well, not so in the rest of the world: Back at OPA, Quinn has resumed watching the news, and remarks to the room, “The Louvre is burning right now, and the news is barely even covering it.” I thought this was a metaphor at first — tons of stuff is going on internationally and we don’t care! — but no, the Louvre, in Paris, is very literally on fire, and America is too distracted by a little sex scandal to notice. Jake runs out of the room, and straight to…
… Papa Pope. That’s right folks: To butcher Shakespeare, hell is empty and the devil is HERE. I mean, he’s still in prison, of course, but when Jake visits him, they seem to have some idea about who might be behind the fire. Always quick with an allusion, Papa remarks: “And Nero fiddled while Rome burned.”
Who could be behind this attack? B613? Mama Pope? And more importantly — who’s going to fix it? This episode might have been another calm one, but it looks like things are going to get pretty intense pretty soon. Cue the return of my recurring Papa Pope nightmares!