President Grant makes an attempt to rescue the Kashfari hostages; Olivia takes the side of a Supreme Court nominee's mistress

By Lindsey Bahr
Updated March 22, 2013 at 04:00 AM EDT
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Randy Holmes/ABC

Scandal

S2 E16
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  • TV Show
network
  • ABC
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Ladies and gentlemen, we have a morality clause breach. Stay calm. Don’t make any sudden movements. Pour yourself a big glass of $300 wine (or just drink it out of the bottle, we don’t judge). And for goodness sakes, just tell Olivia Pope everything from the outset, ok?

Scandal, it has been too long, and we’re glad to have you back – especially when it’s an emotional and tension-filled episode that manages to keep you on the edge of your seat with a pit in your stomach. We’ll even forgive you for making the entire 44 minutes pretty chaste.

“Top of the Hour” is about betrayal in all of its forms. Between husbands and wives. Between lovers. Between colleagues. And between friends. In brief, Olivia takes a case for an different type of party, and ends up doing that thing where she gives advice to someone else, but is really talking to herself. Fitz forges forward with his campaign to get the captives back to the US safely. Abby and Harrison have a sort of come to Jesus moment about their friendship. And Quinn and Huck team up to continue their own separate investigation of the suspicious CIA Director, which kind of makes me wish that they could exist in a drama and torture free universe where they could just be quirky buddy cops with smoldering sexual tension…but that defeats the point of Scandal, doesn’t it?

Anyway, let’s dig in.

The scandal of the week wasn’t your run of the mill Olivia Pope assignment. News broke that Fitz’s Supreme Court nominee Murray Randall had an affair with a married woman (Sarah Stanner, played by the lovely Lisa Edelstein) while he was her Harvard law school professor. In the Scandal-verse that we know and love, Cyrus would have called Olivia immediately and had her defuse the situation for their guy. She’d have gotten the case under control somehow — paid the woman off, found holes in the story, painted her to be a seductress, and just generally would have figured out a way to reestablish the morality of the nominee. But Shonda Rhimes surprised me here. The woman got to Olivia first, and suddenly, she was the client of a relative nobody. A CEO, sure, but for Olivia, SCOTUS usually trumps C-Suite. This is awesome for a number of reasons. First, she is actively working against the administration’s (read: Fitz’s) Supreme Court nominee. Second, she’s taking the side of the woman in the affair, who was not just diminished to mistress status. She’s made into a full character with a high-powered career, and a family. And third, the situation becomes less about the Supreme Court nominee and the national scandal, and more about the effects that such a media circus can have on a family, and on a marriage.

We meet the Stanner family on what seems like a typical evening (in the insanely beautiful kitchen of my dreams), with work, healthy bickering, and anticipation of a pizza delivery. When the pre-teen daughter goes to answer the door expecting pizza, she’s greeted by dozens of microphones and flashing lights and crazy-eyed reporters asking if she knew about her mom’s affair. “DAAAAAAAAADDDDDD” is the correct response.

Also, side note: Reporters can’t catch a break on this show, can they? The only good one in the bunch got murdered. And I’m not counting Perd Hapley. He’s just there for exposition.

NEXT: “On the count of three, we’ll all get naked together”

Sarah’s brilliant lawyer advices her to call Olivia, who arrives promptly, staging her entrance to the house at the top of the hour, when the cameras start rolling and the reporters start talking, so that no one will notice her, Harrison, and Abby when they beeline to the Stanner residence.

The poor Stanner family is put through the ringer. It takes a couple of rounds to get the full story, which doesn’t help matters. At first it’s an ancient affair. Then it’s discovered that it’s more recent. And finally, the paternity of their eldest child is called into question. All the predictable phases are here. First the husband stands by his wife, then he can’t take it anymore, and finally he comes to the conclusion that he will stick up for his family regardless of the truth. The kids don’t have it easy either – especially the pre-teen who answered the door and who understands enough to be upset when she sees reports on the news about how her mother is a harlot and a skank.

After receiving a heartbreakingly emotional call from Fitz, Olivia uses the situation to make another revelation about herself. When she tells Sarah “betrayal always has a price,” and “you did what you thought was best at the time,” she’s really talking about herself, and Defiance.

Though this was all great, the most interesting part to me, was Sarah’s company’s attempt to fire her under the “Morality Clause” and how Harrison and Abby use the hypocrisy of Washington to make the all-male board back off. Essentially, in Scandal‘s world (and let’s face it probably pretty often in real life too) Washington is all scandals all the time — affairs, closed-door deals — you name it, it’s probably happening. And even though affairs seem to be a dime a dozen, when they go public, they’re treated as the most shocking and egregious of moral failures. And for the most part, it’s all a bunch of BS posturing. So when this board of directors decides to invoke their company’s “Morality Clause,” Abby and Harrison hedge their bets that someone on that board has a secret that would violate the clause too. And all they have to do is threaten the group that they’re going to expose dirt on all of them. Of course, Abby and Harrison didn’t have any dirt. They just understand that humans aren’t perfect — even when beholden to a Morality Clause — and that someone would break.

Now, the Albatross situation is getting tricky. Huck found his way into Wendy’s flash drive to discover that “Albatross,” (aka CIA Director Osbourne) leaked the names to the terrorists. Olivia, who continues her cute/creepy flirtation with Captain Jake Ballard, decides to give up the files thinking that it may help the intelligence department to get to the bottom of the Kashfari hostage situation. She tells Jake that he can’t bring it to the CIA, and that she can’t bring it to the White House.

After he figures out that the information is pretty explosive, he meets her outside of the Emmett house to try to find out where she got it and whether or not it’s legit intelligence. Annnnd a paparazzo sneaks through a gate and snaps a photo of them. We know why this would be a big deal for Jake – the President could find out that they’re in contact with one another. But what doesn’t seem to make much sense is how cavalier Olivia is about the whole thing. “Oh it happens all the time,” she says to a senior intelligence officer about the guy who just snapped a photo of them discussing the files that he is holding in his hand in a suspicious, blank manilla envelope. And whhhhhy would Jake bring the files to meet with Olivia? Why wouldn’t they meet in some shady parking lot or alley like most people do when they’re discussing illegally-obtained military intelligence. This isn’t his first rodeo!

NEXT: A beating and a rescue…

President Fitzgerald Grant is all business in this episode – much to the dismay of Mellie. His first hostage rescue attempt failed and he’s made it his personal mission to get them back alive and safely. Fitz was publicly embarrassed with the first failure and Mellie’s subsequent conference call with the families, and he needs to regain control of the situation. He’s so consumed with the hostages that he barely even has time to think about the Supreme Court nominations – arguably one of the most important responsibilities of a President. SCOTUS openings don’t happen for every President and Fitz has had at least two. I mean, this one was because he killed Verna, but still. An opening is an opening. It seemed like he just used the whole situation to further exert his power over Cyrus. Also, was anyone surprised that Sally Langston didn’t stop by to claim this spot for her ultra conservative judge?

Jake gives Fitz the files directly. He’s assembled a team and is just waiting for the Presidential “go” on the operation. Fitz decides to proceed, only telling Cyrus about it as the helicopters approached the compound, making sure to twist the knife a little bit, adding that the wave of public support will hide the Judge Randall fiasco. Ouch.

The operation works. And it plays out in a really great cut, interspersing footage from the Presidential “we did it!” address to the nation, the raid itself, and Captain Ballard beating the paparazzo to a pulp to get the file from his camera containing the incriminating photo of him and Olivia.

Meanwhile, Quinn and Huck are continuing their stakeout of CIA Director Osbourne. They’re trying to find out where he’s exchanging money, and Huck’s trying to teach Quinn how to go undercover. I am obviously a big fan of these two teaming up, but I just hope they meet somewhere in the middle and that Quinn doesn’t turn into a disturbed, jaded secret agent. Eventually, Quinn figures out that Osbourne’s doing it at the dry cleaners, and through her charm and quick thinking, manages to get the evidence they need. Only thing is…the dry cleaner is in on it. And he sends the CIA Director a crystal clear shot of poor Quinn from his security camera. Guys, I don’t know if I can handle something bad happening to her, but…things don’t look good for her. At all.

So, what did you all think? What is Osbourne’s angle? Any ideas? He didn’t really have the best poker face in that situation room. And how are you all feeling about the continuing Jake and Olivia flirtation? Are you all nervous for Quinn too? Finally, what do you think of that phone call between Olivia and Fitz? Is he on the road to forgiving her? Talk to us!

Episode Recaps

Scandal

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