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'Scandal' recap: 'Dog-Whistle Politics'

Posted on

John Fleenor/ABC


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

Scandal was firing on all cylinders tonight: We had some really sweet Liv-Fitz moments, some angry and compassionate sides of Mellie, some slick OPA problem-solving, two new faces, a scary Papa Pope speech, and drama galore! After a couple slow moving weeks of set-up and simmering blood, this week gave us plenty of action and a couple new plotlines to be excited — and terrified — about.

A televised Olivia Pope exposé frames the episode, as scenes from this special report play throughout the hour: The press is digging up its dirt on Liv, talking to her grade school teachers, surfacing old footage of Liv as a Georgetown Law student expressing about her White House, and displaying photos upon photos of the older, powerful men she used to date. We’re watching what the people in Scandal‘s universe are ostensibly watching, and while it’s scary watching the press try to rip her apart, it’s fun being in on everything they don’t know: That Maya Pope is alive, that Rowan is the furthest thing from a Smithsonian employee, that Olivia doesn’t just date men for power moves, etc., etc.

We’re still in jail with Papa Pope and Jake at first, but fortunately this is our only scene with Rowan this week. Really not looking forward to his return, because he haunts my nightmares. Through their conversation, we learn that “Lazarus One,” last week’s Louvre fire, was Rowan’s plan. Jake is determined to find out who Rowan’s working with on the outside, but Rowan’s not showing any of his cards. “True power is never lost,” he says. “And freedom? Boy, I am always free.”

Quinn is taking OPA into her own hands while Liv just tries to keep her head above water amid the deluge of vulturish media and anonymous internet threats. Just like she was recruited to OPA, Quinn calls our old pal Marcus Walker, who you might remember from his two-episode arc last season, in which he played a sharp, honest activist-turned-mayoral candidate who wasn’t a fan of Liv’s dirty politics. Quinn gives the classic (and cringe-inducing) “Do you want to be a gladiator in a suit?” speech, looking pretty self-satisfied until Marcus is like, “No… you’re shady.” He’s not into the lying, and he knows OPA is broke, so… bye!

Fitz, like the rest of America, can’t stop watching the media tear Liv apart, so he decides to fire Abby — since she’s the one who threw Liv to the wolves in the first place (with Liv’s implicit consent, of course). Liz convinces him it’s not worth another scandal (although a scandal within a scandal would really make the show feel true to its title!), so Abby stays, but Fitz isn’t happy about it. He whines to Liv, but she’s standing firm in her choice to bring their affair out into the open, and she tells him she can handle being the media’s “punching bag” for now.

Meanwhile in the B613 camp, Jake has teamed up with our old lollipop-loving pal Charlie (who dodges death better than anyone else on this show, I swear) to try to track the paintings stolen from the Louvre, and in doing that, figure out the identity of Rowan’s co-conspirator. But when the woman Charlie’s hired to track them, who has apparently killed more people than the two of them combined (NOT POSSIBLE!), it turns out Jake knows her… well. And she’s mad at him.

Here’s what we learn: “Jake” isn’t his real name, he and this lady, Elise, used to be married (or were pretending to be married?), and she was supposed to meet him at Grand Central Station years ago. He waited for her for an hour, 35 minutes longer than the allotted 25 (after 25 minutes, you’re supposed to assume they are dead). To him, she never showed, but apparently Elise just showed up late. Really late. Jake grieved for her, thinking she was dead, and she fumed for years, thinking he didn’t wait for her. Later on in this episode, a man comes to her apartment and they both end up shooting each other, so she’s off to a really great start on this show. (She’s still alive — later, in the hospital, Jake asks her to come back to the States with her.) Welcome, Elise!

In one of the night’s best scenes, Mellie gets called to a secret Senate sorority meeting, in which a table of female Republicans and Democrats explain how the Senate really works. “A bunch of men are going to gather somewhere with cigars and scotch,” one tells her, where all the votes the women have fought for, and all the work they’ve done, can fall apart immediately, totally unbeknownst to them. “This isn’t about Republicans and Democrats,” one sassy old bird says. “It’s about peckers. Too many peckers.” I would watch an entire show about this room (the women, not the peckers). The reason they’ve called Mellie here is because they want to impeach Fitz — but, classy as they are, they want to make sure she’s okay with it. Cyrus is all for impeachment so Mellie can take the White House for herself, but she isn’t so sure.

Of course, soon after, Mellie and Fitz share an adorable parenting moment in which baby Teddy is giggling, hiding in a curtain with his little shoes sticking out, while his parents pretend they can’t find him. Classic kid move, but cute every time. I’m just sad we didn’t get to see Teddy coming out and giving them a hug — it’s always nice to be reminded, about three times per season, that Fitz and Mellie actually have kids. This scene really broke my heart a bit.

NEXT: The new gladiator on the block


Across town, OPA ends up getting their new gladiator after all: Marcus changed his mind! His character in “I’m Just A Bill” really stood out, so it’s exciting to have him on the show. Plus, he’s got great lines: When Quinn tells him they’re not hiring, he replies, “I need the cash. Might as well take it from you guys while you still have it to offer.” They explain that their strategy is to work, and pretend Olivia is too busy working to worry about the media nonsense. Marcus, sick of the media nonsense himself, soon develops his own strategy: calling them out on their dog-whistle politics, which he explains to Huck and Quinn as the media using coded language like describing Olivia, a black woman, as “well-spoken” or “sassy.” To white audiences, these words don’t seem to mean anything, which is how the media can get away with the implicit racism in their broadcasts. To black audiences — particularly black women like Olivia — it’s clear what the reporters are really getting at: “well-spoken… for a black woman.” Thus, the dog-whistle: An unsettling sound that only those affected can hear. (Another example: Reporting that Olivia pulled herself up by her bootstraps, when really she went to elite private schools her entire life.)

The montage that follows is classic Scandal: the team putting people in their places with ease and smarts. Marcus, Quinn, and Huck suit up and go on-camera, turning the tables and putting the other story, racist media, in focus. Marcus is shifting the conversation, and he’s very good at his job.

Fitz calls in the old boys in the Senate to talk quid pro quo: If they don’t impeach him, he’ll help them out with campaigns and all that stuff. He’s a little self-righteous and condescending (“Unfortunately, I do have a country to run, so as much as I’d like to stay…”), but even before that comment, these white dudes probably weren’t going to let him leave there. “Let’s start talking about the true cost of mercy,” Stanley says. They want him to get rid of the Equal Pay Act and Brandon’s Bill — the one that emerged from the Ferguson-themed episode. Brandon’s Bill, we’ll remember, was meant to be Fitz’s legacy. But this guy doesn’t stop there: Not only does he imply they’ll vote to impeach if Fitz doesn’t kill Brandon’s Bill, but he leaves with, “Next time you decide to go outside your marriage, choose yourself a girl that’s a little more palatable to the base.” That’s after admitting that they all have affairs, Fitz just got caught. A philandering, extorting racist! Just who we want running the country. Fitz, be strong!! Who cares if you get impeached if you can finally be happy with Liv? I hate when they say “Vermont,” but I really wanted him to think about Vermont right then and just back off!

Liv isn’t thinking about Vermont either: She’s at home glued to her laptop, like a normal person would be, googling herself and finding terrible things, like three different porno versions of her and Fitz, and thousands of rape and death threats. On the phone with Fitz, she starts to break down. Would they be threatening her if they knew she owned a gun and had shot someone? she asks. If they knew she’d been kidnapped and tortured? “I’m fine… I’m just… I’m losing it,” she tells Fitz. “But only a little bit.”

Cyrus and Mellie are fighting about the whole impeachment thing: Mellie wants Cyrus to let it go, Cyrus wants her to grab all the power she can take (and then, you know, give some to him). Finally Mellie is like, “Why are you so hell-bent on revenge?” She’s the one married to him, after all. Cyrus goes totally berserk, says that Mellie’s only able to dust herself off and walk away because she never loved him, while Cyrus, Cyrus thinks of Fitz as his son, and Mellie is lucky that her son is dead because the worst already happened to him. “My child is breathing and talking right down the block from me…” he says, not talking about his actual daughter. “All you have to do is turn on the news to see that the bad things for him are just getting started.” Give me a break, Cyrus! You don’t get to love Fitz more than Mellie did! You are too evil for love! Then Mellie says, “Get out,” Cyrus quits, and the Terrible Two are no more.

While Mellie and Cyrus break up, Fitz and Abby make up. They decide that while Liv’s job was always to be practical, unemotional, and pick the smartest choice, that’s not what Fitz’s job is: He’s supposed to be moral, do the right thing. It seems like he’s not going to give up the Brandon Bill, after all. Yay, Fitz!

And that’s not all: A breaking news broadcast shows the presidential motorcade, sirens blaring, making its way into a residential neighborhood. But if Fitz isn’t scheduled for a visit to Congress or anything else on the books, where could he possibly be going with such fanfare? Is that… Olivia Pope’s building? Yes it is — and Fitz is not sneaking in with a trusted team of two Secret Service agents, he’s brought the whole team. “What the hell are you doing?” Liv asks, but she’s smiling. “The right thing,” Fitz says. “I’m taking my girlfriend on a date.” They get into the elevator and smooch.

Hooray! Everything’s wonderful! Fitz and Liv are going to be out in the open, they can weather the media storm together, she’s finally standing up for what she wants and so is he. And Jake has a girlfriend, even if it’s not me! BUT WAIT — Mellie has convened the gals, and she’s walking in with a purpose. “I wanted to talk to you,” she says, “about impeaching my husband.” Looks like she made her decision, Cyrus or no Cyrus. Things are really happening now.