Olivia Pope comes face to face with her kidnappers in the midseason premiere.
Welcome back, Scandal fans! It’s been a long, long break since the last episode aired, when our heroine, in the midst of a joyful dance party of self-empowerment, was kidnapped from her own home, leaving nothing but a spilled goblet of wine and a boyfriend whose hopes for piano-sex were dashed.
We pick up back in the moments before Ms. Pope’s kidnapping, refreshing for anyone who had forgotten the dancing, the gaiety, the imminent sexy times with Jake Ballard. However, where in the last episode we followed a gleeful (and then shocked) Jake through the apartment, this time we stay with Olivia. We see the masked and hoodied man who spirits her away, mere milliseconds before Jake returns. We see her restrained, duct-taped, and kept captive as Jake rushes about.
Mr. Ballard chases what he believes to be the kidnapping getaway vehicle out into the street, but ends up with only a license plate. While on the phone with the remnants of Pope and Associates, he does a quick scan for surveillance equipment. The lack thereof convinces him this isn’t Rowan’s doing. Little does he know all the surveilling is being done outside the apartment. In fact, from the apartment across the hall. Our kidnappers have colonized the home of Liv’s sweet old lady neighbor as their base of operations.
They watch Jake’s flustered attempts to catch them, and wait quietly, tensely, until he’s left the building to really get a move on. And their move is abrupt and shocking—they promptly murder the old woman whose apartment they colonized and use her as a decoy to get Olivia out of the building, hidden in her body bag. You’d think this would be the thing that causes Olivia Pope to crack. She’s been through many high stress situations, the focus of a lot of attention, and the target of a lot of enemy volleys—but not many, to my memory, have been as viscerally, physically dangerous to her as her current predicament.
Of course, cracking is the last thing on her mind. While in the apartment, Liv discreetly worked a ring off her finger and hid it under the neighbor’s rug. And then, upon release from her close quarters with a corpse, tells her smarmy kidnapper that, “I only negotiate with people who have the power to say yes or no,” before noting that their ringleader has gone. They proceed to knock her out with your classic giant hypodermic needle to the neck.
She wakes up in your standard barren cell. A muezzin call sounds from what we presume is outside. A series of Debbie-Downer statements sound from her whiny cellmate. Poor Ian McClellan is a kidnapped journalist who just wants to get home to his daughter and feels bad about the fate of his former cellmate, Bradley (taken out of the cell, screamed, shot).
I know that circumstances can make for strange friends, but Liv and Poor Ian get close very fast. He tells her about his dead wife, his daughter, his long-gestating novel. She lets him scan her back for tracking devices. Poor Ian reasonably asks, “Who do you hope put a tracking device in you other than your father?” Liv’s unspoken answer could be “Any of the men who claim to love me!” Which, really, should be a sign that your relationships are maybe not that healthy. I can’t bring myself to buy their apparent closeness, but apparently it’s enough for Liv to tell Ian that the president will hunt her down. Personally I think that Olivia’s particular faith in her importance is more than a little overblown. Sure, the president loves you, but he’s one man. How much can his love outweigh the needs and feelings of the country he leads? Rather, WHEN has his love outweighed anything in his political life?
NEXT: Breaking (not so) free…
Liv makes a poorly-planned escape attempt through the bathroom window, MacGyvering her underwire into a lock pick. Unsurprisingly, she’s caught in the act. Olivia is, as always, convinced that she is untouchable. And she is, largely. She can be malnourished and isolated, but these men are not doing lasting damage to her. They taunt her with claims that there are things scarier than death, but this only manifests itself not as physical abuse or sexual violence, but in the unseen execution of her cellmate.
She retreats into a dream, as anyone might under such stress. Dream Jake rescues her! Dream Fitz joins her in a steamy shower! She is living in their dream Vermont home, worrying abut nothing more than her afternoon of making boysenberry jam, and Fitz’s inability to throw a strike. It wouldn’t be a dream if there weren’t a creep free-associative moment, and so Dream Tom the Secret Service Agent appears to remind her that there are ominous undercurrents to all this. And Dream Abby, as always, is the voice of reason, telling Liv to get her head on straight and realize she’s got to save herself (even if that means leaving her frankly very cute puppy behind). Some not very subtle dream symbolism provides the clue that will spark her escape.
This entire sequence seems a way to shoehorn more characters in to this episode, never mind a Liv-Fitz shower scene. This is Kerry Washington’s episode—we know she’s a stellar actress, and as Olivia Pope she’s carried this show through both it’s rough formative episodes and it’s bonkers overstuffed ones. Washington is supertalented at radiating lip-quivering, Bambi vulnerability and steely-determination, often at the same time. And she does solid work with what she’s given in expressing both Liv’s confidence in her eventual salvation and deprivation as a prisoner. The interlude with our bonus Scandal cast just seems unnecessary.
Finally, we get to the climactic action for this week. On yet another bathroom trip the dream hint manifests itself as a loose fitting on the sink plumbing. Liv pulls out her other handy-dandy underwire shiv (thank god breasts come in pairs) to loosen it and procure a weapon. Then it’s Olivia Pope with the lead pipe in the terrorist cell hallway, clobbering the asshole guard. She pulls keys and a gun from him and dashes toward the door she’s sure represents freedom. Only to be stopped by the smarmy kidnapper who’s so confident she won’t shoot him. “Nothing to be ashamed of. That’s a man’s toy you got there,” he tells her. Of course she shoots him. (Hell, I’d shoot him after that bit of condescending jackassery.)
Of course, freedom isn’t actually freedom. Instead of running out into the sunlit streets of an African/Middle-Eastern metropolitan area, she finds herself in a warehouse. Her prison was created for her with soundtracks and projections. Poor Ian is alive and actually Evil Ian. He was using this imprisonment scenario to get information from her. Namely, the information that the president of the USA will go on a rampage until he finds her. To this I can only think, Liv, you’re DC’s prime fixer. You should learn to know when to show your cards and when to hold ’em. A lot of voiceovers sound, hitting hard on obvious themes—”I’m free.” “Are we even people?” etc. A bit of a heavy-handed flourish on the moment. Liv looks shell-shocked by the revelation that she’s been used, and obediently follows Evil Ian back into their prison. Is this the first step into breaking down Olivia Pope? Are they going to Patty Hearst her? We’ll have to wait to next week, when, if the tease is anything to go by, the parallels to ISIS-like activities are even more aggressively drawn.