We get our first real look at the first lady's past, as Mrs. Pope resurfaces

By Katie Atkinson
November 15, 2013 at 04:30 AM EST
Eric McCandless/ABC
S3 E7
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How do you feel about Mellicent “Mellie” Grant? Do you love the first lady’s feisty attitude? Do you hate her icy demeanor? Or are you with the bulk of Scandal fans who love to hate her, week after week? Whatever camp you’re in, the latest episode shed some new light on the woman who’s often painted as a villain on the show. If you thought her anger and ambition only came from being a jilted wife, we now know that Mellie began building up her Aqua Net guard long before Olivia Pope came into her life. The question is: How will tonight’s episode inform how you look at Mellie for the remainder of Scandal‘s run? We’re getting ahead of ourselves, but that’s how big of a bombshell was dropped about a character we thought we had pegged.

The episode begins with Mellie being followed for an in-depth interview with Carla Steele (sorry, James, you didn’t land this one). When Mellie asks the cameras to cut, we rewind through her past decade-plus (15 years, to be exact) and find her and Fitz happily in bed together — something we’ve really never seen on the show. The blissful couple is interrupted by Fitz’s dad hollering from downstairs. He’s got someone to introduce them to: Barry Gibb, er, Cyrus. Can we talk about that shaggy hair and scruffy beard? He clearly hasn’t met James yet.

Cy gives the couple a once-over, and he thinks the tall guy and pretty girl are definitely first-couple material. “What is this?” Fitz asks. “I think it’s our first step to the White House, baby,” Mellie says with a twinkle in her eye.

Back in present day, Quinn is feeling more at home on the range, even landing her first shot on a target. And her good old gun buddy Charlie — who’s taken to calling her Robin, even though Quinn/Lindsay/Baby Huck already has far too many names — is right there beside her. She presses him for info about his latest job, only to find out he’s gotten into the P.I. game. Kind of Pope & Associates territory, no?

Speaking of Pope, Olivia tries to avoid The Phone — you know, the one she’s thrown away before — only to run back into her apartment to answer it anyway. But this isn’t pillow talk. Liv is still angry about that whole Fitz-killling-her-mom-but-refusing-to-talk-about-it thing. She tells Fitz that they’re strangers now and yells into the phone, “I’m surrounded by men who have a body count.” He still won’t talk about it, but he does say he loves Liv. Her response: “So what?” He also urges her to stay away from Jake, and she casually mentions that she is acquainted with Rowan — a.k.a., her dad. Fitz is one step closer to knowing just who Rowan is.

That whole warning didn’t really take, as Liv heads straight to meet Jake at the office to delve deeper into Remington. OPA’s latest client? Olivia’s late (?) mom.

NEXT: Young Cy pitches his presidential plan

Let’s flash back to when Fitz met Cy. First things first: It’s so hard to get past Cyrus’ hair. It’s much easier to look at the wavy-haired and turtlenecked Fitz and makeup-free and flatly coiffed Mellie. But enough about appearances: The long-lost Bee Gee is laying out his plan to make Fitzgerald Grant the next California governor and then president, but Fitz is having none of it. He refuses to run as a war hero. We know how that turns out.

Present-day Cy and Mellie, meanwhile, are browsing for hookers. What a difference 15 years makes! They’re trying to find someone who will catch Daniel Douglas’ eye so they’ll have some dirt on VP Sally Langston. “You’re much better at picking out hookers than you are china patterns,” Cyrus tells the first lady. Cy is off to find Sally to offer her a trip she can’t refuse to Iowa, a.k.a. the first primary state (the primary primary state?). James spots his husband and vents his frustration that he didn’t land the Mellie interview — which might have something to do with how his last interview with a woman went down, right? Cy swears he doesn’t control who interviews the first lady. James responds by perfectly summing up their relationship: “You control everything. Which is precisely why I want to kill you and have sex with you at the same time.”

Back at Pope & Associates, it’s time to solve the case of the missing Maya Pope, and the whole gang is on board. They make progress right away, realizing that all the passengers aren’t accounted for and that the president’s father, Fitzgerald Grant II, headed up the congressional subcommittee that investigated the crash. Dunh-dunh-dunh…

Speaking of FGII, or Jerry, we’re back in the past. (I would say we’re in 1998, since it’s 15 years ago, but we’re not entirely sure of the Scandal timeline. Remember: They’re getting ready for Fitz’s re-election campaign, which, in our election cycle, wouldn’t be until 2016.) Jerry never wanted Fitz to join the Navy, and he references having to “clean up” his son’s black-ops mess, a.k.a. Operation Remington. “I own you,” FGII seethes. “You have a future, thanks to me.”

Liv’s employees are working overtime to figure out Remington, and for the second week in a row, the fixer gets an unsolicited hug, this time from Abby. I hadn’t known Liv’s no-hug rule until Lisa Kudrow’s congresswoman broke it last week, but it seems like people love entering Liv’s personal space without permission these days. Quinn’s full attention might not be on the mission, however: She’s busy stalking Charlie. And when he finds her — because duh, he’s paid to find people — he pushes her against a wall and kisses her. Well, here’s the love story absolutely zero people were asking for.

NEXT: Back into the Mellie time machine

When we return to Mellie, she’s informing Sally Langston that her husband got a little “handsy” with one of her aides — an accusation the VP flat-out refuses to believe. Denial? Then we’re right back with the young Fitz and Mellie. It’s fascinating to see flashbacks of the perfectly sweet wife, but she was no less ambitious. When she thinks they’re missing out on a great campaign manager, 15-years-ago Mellie chases Cyrus down to make sure he’ll make her White House dreams come true. Cy’s flashback bombshell? That he has drama at home with his…WIFE! (OK, he really hadn’t met James yet.) Cyrus introduces Mellie to her new job: Perfect wife. “He is your full-time job,” Cy tells the then-lawyer. And Mellie the political machine is born.

Pope & Associates track down the gate agent for Maya Pope’s flight, and she remembers a very interesting detail about that night: A passenger, Omar Dresden, was escorted off the plane by a federal marshal. The team is instructed to find anyone who might have seen Omar on that night — but Quinn is too busy making a date with the devil.

Back in the alternate universe known as 15 years ago, Mellie is sitting down for a drink with her father-in-law, who’s patting himself on the back for only abusing Fitz emotionally, not physically, like his dad had done to him. Also, “Saint Fitz” holds it against him that he slept around on his mom. Oh, how the tables will turn. Drunk Jerry informs Mellie that her husband shot that flight down, the one that killed hundreds of people, so Mellie has known about Operation Remington for more than a decade. Then things get really ugly: Fitz’s dad rapes Mellie. Of all the plots in all the world, I never would have ever imagined that turn of events. For the whole run of this show, we knew how awful Fitz Sr. was to his son, but we never knew just how bad he was. Does Fitz have any clue?

Flash-forward to the White House, and Mellie is back into the moonshine and chewing Fitz out for skipping their plans. But it’s about much more than that: It’s about what their lives have become. “The least you can do is show up,” she says. “Instead of being like some stranger.” Hmm, where have we heard that word before tonight? We cut back to the past, right after Fitz Sr. has assaulted Mellie. And she doesn’t tell Fitz. No words can describe how heartbreaking and lonely this scene is.

NEXT: Fitz fights for Mellie’s honor

Back in the present, Fitz finally shows up for Mellie, sitting down for their joint interview. Things are immediately rocky for the first lady, as the reporter points out Mellie’s dropping approval ratings in the face of her husband’s infidelity. (Yup, that makes sense.) And Fitz really shows up for her by taking sole blame for the affair and calling out the interviewer for the personal attack. (Man, these reporters have had it tough the past few weeks!)

Let’s check in on Quinn and Charlie’s “first date,” which is actually just a stakeout. Sadly, that’s a turn-on for Baby Huck. The minute she starts telling Charlie about that time she tortured someone with a drill, it’s full make-out session. Just a couple of sociopaths in love. He gives her the small task of injecting a security guard to put him to sleep for a bit — but Charlie gives her something much more powerful and the guard dies in her arms. She flees the scene, not even bothering to disable the cameras. Will Olivia be able to save her from this one?

Mellie, meanwhile, is facing down her father-in-law the morning after he raped her. How and why is she doing this? Because she wants something from him. She wants him to apologize to Fitz and convince him to run for office after all. Scratch what we said earlier: This is where Mellie the political machine is born — from a complete and utter tragedy.

It’s time for the current Grants to meet and greet with their constituents — and time for Mellie and Cy to put their hooker sting into play. It doesn’t stick, but they do notice Daniel Douglas taking a shine to someone else in the room: the recently fired James. Turns out Sally was right about her husband not getting handsy with Mellie’s aide, but she has no less to worry about during her campaign.

After the event, Fitz heads back to the Oval Office to get debriefed on Olivia’s day-to-day. It appears the president hasn’t learned from the Jake incident and is still having Liv followed. Mr. Pope, meanwhile, is visiting an inmate: One Omar Dresden. (Can I just point out: How do Fitz and Cyrus not know Rowan’s last name? It’s right there on the security badge he flashes at the prison!) Jake is off to meet his contact for info about Omar only to discover that he’s been killed — by Quinn. Charlie’s too good at what he does. When he finds Quinn trying to call Huck, Charlie shows her the security footage and says, “Welcome to Wonderland.” Well, I guess she got what she wanted: a direct ticket to B613.

And the Rowan mystery is no more: An intrepid Secret Service officer found a copy of Eli Pope’s old museum badge, and Fitz is finally in the know. When Rowan/Eli reaches inmate Omar Dresden, the prisoner rolls over only to reveal Maya Pope, Olivia’s mom. “Our daughter’s been asking about you,” he tells her. Bonus points for the commenters who called that all along!

One last flashback to finish off this action-packed hour: Mellie announces to a packed room that Fitz is running for governor of California. And then she lets Fitz know that she’s pregnant with their first child. “You know, if it’s a boy, he’s going to make us name him Jerry,” Fitz says to his wife, and Mellie flashes a look of “I’m going to be haunted by this man for the rest of my life.” Just like Tony Goldwyn’s incredible finale last week, Bellamy Young caps a spectacular hour for her spectacularly complicated first lady.

So what do you think, Gladiators? Did tonight episode change your opinion about Mellie at all? Or did it just reinforce your opinion? Is Maya Pope being alive the worst-kept secret in Scandal history? And has the poor woman had to hide out in prison all these decades? Until next week, when Shonda Rhimes hopefully comes through on her promise for more Harrison…

Episode Recaps

Shonda Rhimes’ political drama: Sex! Murder! Olivia’s suits!
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