Scandal recap: 'The State of the Union'
Olivia Pope and company take a hard look at their relationships as the State of the Union approaches.
The second episode of the season kicks off with the White House prepping for the State of the Union address. The denizens of Shonda’s Washington D.C. aren’t too worried about the speech itself, but rather the all-important optics. The First Lady was spotted by the press en déshabillé at her son’s grave and refuses to attend. The President’s specially-invited pro-gun-control guests are suddenly missing in action. Which is where Olivia is asked—well, really, blackmailed—to help get them on board. But the next 43 minutes are more interested in the characters’ many shifting alliances. Last week, we saw where everyone was after Olivia’s long absence; now we’re seeing how they relate to one another. So let’s take a hint from the episode title, and look at the state of some of Scandal‘s unions.
James Elliott and Lisa Elliot
We’ll start with the couple at the center of Olivia’s Problem of the Week, as they also provide us with this episode’s thematic line: No relationship is what it seems. James is the survivor of a Taliban POW camp. Lisa was a teacher at an elementary school teacher where a Newtown-like event occurred, leaving her paralyzed. As far as the press is concerned, they’re a perfect pair, husband and wife crusading for greater gun control laws. In reality, they’re embittered and angry, and can barely be in the same room. Their resolution is easy: a divorce, as negotiated by Olivia Pope, so long as they can get through the State of the Union.
Olivia and Jake
The episode opens with Liv and Jake mid-jog and mid-argument. Since their stay in D.C. appears to be indefinite, Jake has decided to take a stand. By getting a hotel room all his own. “I’m not going to live in your apartment waiting to service you,” he tells Liv. “But I did book a nice hotel suite for booty calls.” Jake, real talk, getting your own space is a good move, but you’re undercutting your strong, independent dude stance by opening your door to Liv for booty calls. Better to ignore her pleas to return to the apartment and sulk in your poorly-lit room, sifting through data that includes Harrison’s autopsy and video of B6-13 assassin Charlie eating dinner. Eventually Liv unbends and accepts that, for once, she will have to go to Jake. And really, what better way for Liv to show him she cares than with a bottle of wine in hand and nothing, but nothing, on under her trench coat.
Olivia and Fitz
And here we are, right on theme. Even though they only shared a few scenes, there’s much more going on beneath the surface with Fitzgerald Grant and Olivia Pope than their very professional interactions implies. Much as last week’s nearly-brushed fingertips suggested, Olivia and Fitz are keeping their feelings for each other on a tight rein. Does Fitz do some lingering staring at Olivia when she appears on TV? Of course. Does Liv unbend when Fitz asks her to take the final look at his State of the Union speech, just minutes before he’s due to give it? Of course. They’re not made of stone!
The unbridled, unstoppable attraction between Fitz and Olivia was the fuel behind Scandal‘s breakneck political intrigue. But narrative can’t live if it’s dialed up to 11 all the time. Putting some distance between our star-crossed lovers is a smart move. Not just because it gives the story a moment to breathe, but also because it means we get to watch them rekindle in a slow burn, from tantalizing almost-touching to—we fervently hope—consuming, undeniable, fated-to-be passion.
NEXT: The strained relations at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Fitz and Mellie
He writes his speech as she lingers at Jerry Jr.’s grave. She doesn’t care that the press have caught her, as Cyrus puts it, “looking crazy.” She has no more f—- to give and hits the nail on the head, noting, “You just want me to play my part, the costar, the beautiful wife who smiles and applauds and looks so proud of you, and doesn’t eat chicken, or wear sweatpants, or hang out on graves.” Mellie speaking truth to power is my favorite Mellie. Playing second fiddle to her husband has been a long-simmering problem in the Grants’ marriage, and now Mellie’s lost enough, been stripped bare enough, that she can call Fitz out on it.
But just when you think Fitzgerald Grant is done, he manages to right the ship. Because Mellie does pull it together and stand by her man. And in his State of the Union speech, Fitz goes off-script (admittedly, after some coaching from Liv) and manages to embrace both his own and Mellie’s grief over the loss of their son, while turning their son’s death into a point in favor of his gun control platform. More powerful, is their final scene. The address finished, Mellie staggers into their private quarters, shedding shoes and pearls as she crumples. Fitz follows and rushes to hold and shelter her on the floor. They’re flawed, they’re definitely not in love, but the Grants are, in many ways, still a team. And when it comes down to the wire, they manage to support each other.
The White House and the Republican Party
Now we’re getting to the real relationship drama. The White House, pushing its new gun control bill, have thoroughly pissed off the GOP. Lizzie squares off again with Cyrus, promising to raise hell, especially since they’ve gone ahead and made Democrat David Rosen the nominee for Attorney General. Her first shot in the intraparty war? Sinking David Rosen’s nomination, with proof that he beat an ex-girlfriend. But this is far from her last play.
Abby and David
Honestly, not much goes on between Abby and David themselves. David’s confirmation hearings for AG are approaching, and he looks like, despite resistance, he might get there. That is, until the sudden reappearance of those allegations of domestic abuse. Evidence, dedicated Scandal watchers might recall, that was cooked up by Harrison in season 2 as a way to end his then-budding romance with Abby. This time around the allegations don’t cause any problems in their relationship, but it does push David to the realization I’ve been waiting for him to make for many an episode. “[Olivia Pope] has no loyalty,” he tells Abby. “She doesn’t sit around wondering whether or not she played the game the right way.” David’s ditching the white hat in favor of a winner’s medal, which in the short term means blackmailing a senator to make sure his confirmation goes smoothly.
NEXT: Nothing is what it seems. Except with Huck and Quinn.
Huck and Quinn
Don’t let their matching flannel shirts deceive you, all is not well between the other two members of Pope and Associates. After Quinn brought Huck to his long-lost family at the end of last season, tensions between the coworkers (turned rival assassins, turned creepy face-licking lovers) have been strained. It all comes to a head while they’re babysitting the Elliotts, sniping at each other for not minding their own business, pulling the other’s teeth out. You know, the usual problems that plague normal, healthy relationships.
Cyrus and the Memory of James
A heart-to-heart with Mellie on the balcony reveals a fact which shouldn’t really surprise anyone: Cyrus is still deeply grieving the loss of his husband, James (executed last season by one Jake Ballard). “I’m now broken. I’m not me. I’m now forever changed. I’m undone,” he tells Mellie. But apparently Cyrus is a babe-magnet because a classic tall, dark, and handsome engages in some light flirting with him at a bar. Now, my cynic-senses were tingling, because, really? Has this man seen Cyrus’s current hairdo? What’s his angle? Regardless, the memory of James still hangs heavy over Cyrus, and he rebuffs his suitor.
After Fitz’s rousing speech, Cyrus returns to the bar and spies Handsome Stranger across the room, and this time he’s ready to take the plunge. Well, sort of. The conniving, world-conquering Chief of Staff finds himself stumblingly explaining to his gentleman friend that he doesn’t really do the random pick-up thing. Which is when it comes out that Handsome Stranger is in fact a sex worker. (And he has a name, he’d like to remind us. It’s Michael.)
Nobody is what they may appear to be, right? Which is doubly the case here, as Michael is then revealed to be working for Lizzie.