It’s only fitting that Scandal knows how to put on a great Christmas episode: After all, aren’t red (wine) and white (popcorn, coats, Liv’s boyfriends) two of the holiday season’s main colors? Amidst jazzy carols and twinkling lights, Mellie triumphs this week, while Liv finally realizes — and claims — what she’s really wanted all along. And we have another skillful mashup of real world events to carry us through the hour: Daylong filibusters, Planned Parenthood, and threats of government shutdown.
Let’s start with Mellie: Virgnia’s junior senator approaches the three white dudes in charge of the budget bill because she’s noticed that they moved Planned Parenthood’s funding to the “discretionary” column — meaning technically the women’s health organization is still slated for funding, but the government can decide to, er, pull out at any time. The men do their typical jerk thing, saying they don’t need her vote anyway. This doesn’t sit well with the former First Lady, so later on the Senate floor, she steps up to the podium and, without really planning it, starts filibustering. And it’s brilliant: She decides to read from a huge binder of things the government doesn’t put in the discretionary column, like a travel stipend for the “Alabama Watermelon Queen” and “$331,000 to study hangry individuals. Not hungry. Not angry. Hangry.” To the rest of America she’s proving her point (in the Scandal universe, “#IStandWithMellie” apparently becomes the #1 trending topic on Twitter), but not to the tired senators who just want to go home.
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Olivia, bored nearly to tears with her insultingly mindless First Girlfriend duties, watches Mellie on TV screens the whole time, impressed and more than a little jealous. To help her out, she tries to get another female senator to ask a long-winded question, giving Mellie time to use the bathroom, but the senator refuses. Who comes in to save the day? None other than my favorite fictional human being on the planet, Vice President Susan Ross! “I don’t want to be the kind of person who marches in here and throws her weight around,” she says, before knowingly doing just that, and saying to the Senate president, “I am the Vice President. That makes me president of the Senate… which means you’re in my chair.” She asks her “question,” which includes a chipper “Let’s talk about gonorrhea!”
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In the bathroom, Liv gives an exhausted Mellie a pep talk, telling her “You’re the biggest bitch I know. Don’t tell me you can’t do this.” Mellie returns, and that filly busts all the way through to midnight. While she’s been stuck in that room, she’s become a hero to women across the country: Looks like we shouldn’t say goodbye to a President Mellie Grant after all. The best part? “I don’t even know why I’m doing this. I’m a Republican,” she says to Liv. “I just don’t like people telling me what to do.” Hey, whatever motivates you, Mellie!
As Liv flits from White House function to White House function playing the part of the gracious hostess, making small talk with the wives — all of which she’s surprisingly good at — her father is tied to a chair in Huck’s mysterious warehouse. But don’t worry, folks, the viewer discretion warning at the beginning of the episode wasn’t so that Huck could pull Rowan’s teeth out one by one and put them in Christmas ornaments to give to the old B613 guys (is my imagination getting the best of me?). Instead, they just talk: Rowan asks why he’s alive, knowing that Huck would be torturing him and enjoying it by now if there wasn’t something he wanted.
After the niceties get him nowhere, Rowan prods deeper, asking if Huck misses his child, and if it hurts knowing that Javi’s mom would rather her son think he’s a bastard than to tell him who his father really is. Little does Rowan know, mad dog Huck still has bark in him, even if he’s keeping his bite under wraps. “Did you have a TV in prison?” he asks Rowan. “I’m just curious if you heard all the things they were saying about your child.” Once the wound is opened, he salts it. “She hates you so much that it’s worth being unhappy with him [Fitz] just to spite you,” Huck says. “Do you prefer Jake? Which white boy do you approve of being inside your daughter?” WOW, this is almost as bad as when Fitz was telling Rowan about what she tastes like, many moons ago. And you know what? When any of these guys talk about Liv like this, like she’s someone’s property, it’s pretty disgusting.
So let’s cut to two other guys who have tried to lay claim to Liv: Jake and Russell. Remember Russell? Totally thought he was dead. Only in a show like Scandal can you be surprised someone is still alive. Turns out it was Russell who initiated Lazarus One — although I think Jake might be “Lazarus”? (Honestly, I get really foggy with all these B613 missions, so if someone wants to clarify in the comments below, please, please be my guest.) Basically, Russell wants to resurrect B613 and continue its noble mission, the way it was “before Rowan lost his way,” as he says. But Jake isn’t into this — especially since now he knows that it’s Russell who killed his wife, Elise. “That was on you,” Russell says. (Uh… that’s not how murder works? But okay.) “You promised me you would take care of Olivia. Look where she ended up.” Well, Jake shoots him point-blank in the head. And to think, once upon a time, they called each other brothers, since Rowan was the closest thing to a father figure they’d ever had. I won’t go into the sort of implied incest scenario present here since they’ve both slept with their “father’s” daughter, but come on guys. It’s a little weird to talk like that.
But back to our main lady: As I’ve said, she’s been struggling this whole time. It’s almost heartbreaking, at the beginning of the episode, when a woman at dinner asks her for help with a problem and Liv’s eyes just light up. She’s so ready for a challenge, so eager to get back to work. What does the woman want? A recipe for some cookies she ate at the White House once. (Also it turns out they were just your average snickerdoodles, so she’s a super idiot.) Between watching Mellie — finally free, stumbling a bit, and then soaring politically — and seeing herself inhabiting Mellie’s jail cell, Liv is at the end of her rope. I’m not sure if it was scheduled or spurred by the events of the day, but the next scene we see is sure to make television history.
NEXT: Liv’s shocking decision
Liv gets an abortion, on-screen. Not in graphic detail, obviously, but we see her in the chair, we hear the machine, we know what’s going on. This was a huge shocker — of course we didn’t even know she was pregnant! But thinking back, I’m not sure Olivia has ever said she wanted kids. Obviously they had the whole Vermont fantasy, living in a cabin, making jam, being soccer parents… but we never saw Liv gazing dreamily at babies, chatting about becoming a mom someday. And if she didn’t want kids, could you blame her? Look at her parents!!!!
Back at the White House, Liv digs furiously through her closet. I thought she was looking for her white hat until she pulls out Mellie’s jar of emergency moonshine and gasps, “YES. Thank you.” Fitz tries to ask where she was, why she missed a giant dinner (he had to make a huge decision: let the chef bring the courses out without Liv present, or wait longer). She chugs more moonshine and says she tried to make it to dinner but “something came up.” I wondered if she was going to tell him about the abortion — whether on purpose or by accident in a fit of rage — but she didn’t. Fitz gets angry, “DO NOT LIE TO ME!” I don’t like the dude in general, but when he’s angry, he’s terrifying. It always seems like he’s a foot away from using his fist. “It doesn’t matter where you were tonight,” he says. “You weren’t here.”
“I didn’t want to go,” Liv admits. “Why would I, Fitz? So I could sit in the corner with the other housewives and watch you play with the big dogs? Guess what? I am a big dog.” I loved that line! As long as Shonda & Co. don’t make it into a catchphrase and just let it be a perfect, perfect line, I’ll be thrilled. Liv goes even further: Not only does she call Fitz “ineffectual,” but she says he’s treated her like some kind of hostage, and that this all seems like punishment for her letting her father out and for asking Fitz not to kill him. What does she need to do to prove her gratitude, she asks. “Be your housewife? Your girlfriend? Your property?” It is all about female empowerment on this show, and I am here for it! Fitz says he tried to propose, but Liv says, “That was manipulation.” He says she’s worse than Mellie — at least he knew what Mellie was. He continues with the insults, saying he knew where she came from.
Liv sneers back, “I came from a palace compared to the man that raised you… At least my father loved me.” I want to watch this scene again. You should, too — there’s no music, just shouting. Their voices crack, they’re full of passion and rage and sadness: Kerry Washington and Tony Goldwyn really brought their A-game to this midseason finale. And for a scene this big, this important to Scandal, the break-up of the star couple, they really did it justice. Finally Fitz says, “I was trying to save us,” and Liv answers, “There is no us. There is no this.” They needed time to fix their relationship before they were forced into the spotlight, like Liv had initially said. But then again, maybe she only wanted Fitz when he was unavailable. She didn’t have to do all the boring stuff Mellie had to do. “I didn’t have to be everything,” she says.
By the end of it, they’re sitting side by side, drinking moonshine. “We tried,” Fitz says. “We did,” Liv agrees. She basically sashays out of the White House, suitcase-bearing porters trailing behind her, and Abby gets the message to start making calls to the press. This is a Liv who seems confident in her choice. Do you guys think it’s really over? I can’t see a way back from this… and I might bang my head against a wall if Scandal goes back to the will-they-won’t-they thing in the future.
As the small hours of Christmas commence, everyone seems to be where they need to be: Liv is at home, with wine, popcorn, and a new, gray couch, smiling at her totally-decorated tree (who did that?); Huck drops Rowan off at home (in one piece), and Jake ends up meeting up and making up with him now that he knows Rowan isn’t Lazarus; Quinn is with Charlie; Mellie’s with her two remaining kids; New Guy Marcus is with his family because he’s a normal person. The only one who’s alone and not loving it is, of course, Fitz.
Oh, one last thing that’s been too hard for me to even discuss before this: David Rosen gets Liz North a bracelet, “something special for someone special,” and she brushes him off, saying they don’t need presents. “I hope you kept the receipt,” she laughs. Later, perfect angel Susan Ross gives Rosen a fancy bottle of alcohol to put in his eggnog (an inside joke from earlier, because they make inside jokes), and he scrambles around and gives Susan the bracelet. Yeah, this isn’t going to bite him in the ass at all! Because Susan is even better than she should be, she also has a present for Liz, a scarf, because Liz has more “neck real estate” than she does. But when Liz spots the bracelet and “compliments” Susan on her taste, Susan confesses, “David Rosen gave it to me!” I think you could hear my heart crack into two pieces. She doesn’t deserve this from you, Liz, or you, David Rosen! I fear the show’s February return and the look on Susan’s face when she eventually finds out the present wasn’t for her.
On that note: What are your thoughts on the events of tonight? Was it a satisfying midseason finale for you? Are you mourning Liv and Fitz already, or is this breakup a fluke? Will Rowan and Jake continue to pretend they’re related? Will Liv get back with Jake? Where was Cyrus this week?