Olivia's lovers, friends, and enemies--and really, aren't they all the same thing--mobilize to find her.
Credit: Kelsey McNeal/ABC
S4 E11
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Last week, we spent all of Scandal focused on Olivia’s plight. Now we’re getting the other side, as all of Olivia’s many friends and coworkers and adversaries—and aren’t they all just sort of the same?—mobilize to try and get her back.

If anyone needs a catch-up from the midseason break: The VP is a conniving, aspiring-to-the-throne asshole who was sleeping with both Liz North and Mellie, and trying to force the president into war with made-up nation West Angola. Olivia is a hostage of a man hired, probably, by the aforementioned VP (it hasn’t been officially confirmed).

Team Olivia Pope is on the job—Jake, Huck, and Quinn are analyzing Liv’s last proof-of-life video. They’re harassing Liz North and doing their darndest to discover where she’s being held. Liv’s mid-video glass-trick gives them a lead on a face that goes nowhere. In the grand pantheon of Scandal operatives, at this moment, these three are the most effective and useful—which is a refreshing and new situation giving last year’s psychosexual C-plot nonsense.

Huck has gone completely cray. He’s showing up in the bedroom of Liz North’s daughter and using all his psychotic powers of persuasion to get her to relinquish information. We forget, because the series hasn’t always used him well, that Huck on paper is a f—ing terrifying person. Is it surprising to anyone that Huck would flay Liz North in order to get his patron back? It’s more surprising to me that Liz North admits this to Mellie.

So focused on finding Liv, Pope and Associates ignore the initial queries of former Jefferson’s maid Marla Gibbs, who is asking after her missing friend. (Not Liv, but her elderly neighbor who was murdered last episode in order to get Liv out of the building.) Finally, Quinn picks up on the hint and the team goes to the neighbor’s apartment and discovers the ring Liv has left for them, Hansel and Gretel style. This leads to lots of techno-chasing of Liv to no effect.

NEXT: Negotiations for all…

Back in the White House, the frankly less useful end of the Pope-friendly team is treading water. “The things we’ve done,” Mellie says, early in the episode, to her husband. The fact is, the pair of them has never really understood or realized the extent of the things they’ve done. They’ve never embraced what their actions have really meant. The White House, as always, is the slowest to reach understanding of what’s going on. Fitz discovers that his entire staff is spying against him, including his trusted Secret Service confidants. (I would believe this more if our Secret Service in recent times hadn’t been so negligent in their duties.)

When in doubt, Mellie and Fitz retreat to the Truman balcony and generous pours of alcohol. He gets as romantic-seeming as he will ever get in order to tell Mellie the relevant facts about Olivia and Andrew. This leads to only more fantastic Mellie action. Fitz’s problem is that, while he loves Liv, he fails to realize what a player he’s actually married to. Mellie takes this reveal and starts her work—back with Andrew for smooching and baiting. Back with shifting information and using literally all of her talents to secure phones and getting Liz to deliver them. Mellie has understood the transactional nature of politics, even the heightened politics of the Scandal world, better than anyone excepting Olivia.

Meanwhile, while all of this hunting and wheeling and dealing is going on, Liv is negotiating with her captors. She realizes quickly that the man she’s with is only nominally in charge of the operation. She’s smart enough to seduce him with the idea that he could make out a lot better if he went rogue from his handlers and put her on the market himself—the woman who controls the president of the United States, up for auction. This episode goes in hard on its classical underpinning, namely that Liv is the Helen of Troy to Fitz’s Menelaus—he’ll launch a thousand ships to bring her home. This is a parallel that’s always been questionable, mostly because the mythic Helen had zero agency and Olivia Pope has maybe the most self-controlled destiny of any character we’ve ever seen.

So many people, in the back end of this season, are depending on their story fitting a proscribed mythic form—a great man has lost his love, and he will do anything to get her back. Everyone’s betting on and against this being the narrative. And there are hints that this might be the case—Fitz begins action in made-up country West Angola on just this basis. But the mythos has never had an Olivia Pope. The classical canon does not feature women who scheme, bargain, demand, and act on their own prerogative. Strong hints that maybe those who are following the classical form don’t quite know the disruptions ahead of them.

“I’m going to be the next president of the United States,” says VP Andrew Nichols, main perpetrator of classically evil plots. When you’re in the Scandal-verse, you should think twice before saying such hubristic things. He sits behind the Oval Office desk. He drinks Fitz’s drinks. He engages with Mellie with zero questions or safeguards. VP Nichols is cruising for a mythic fall.

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