Olivia Pope is called on to help out an old friend from law school.

By Kat Ward
Updated October 10, 2014 at 04:14 AM EDT
Eric McCandless/ABC

We’re three episodes in, and it’s unclear where this fourth season of Scandal is going. Fitz’s second term White House is focused on governing, as opposed to soapy affairs and shadowy spycraft. Although this is a good thing for Scandal‘s America (they’re getting comprehensive gun control!), it doesn’t make for compelling television. No one is watching Scandal for its rigorously accurate depiction of the legislative process. Give us clandestine make-outs, and give us death! Looks like we’ll have to depend on our peripheral characters for those lurid thrills. But first, the case of the week, or more truthfully, the case of two weeks, as this one ends in a cliffhanger.

An old law school friend of Olivia’s comes to her to find her runaway daughter. Katherine married into some serious money, but that doesn’t stop her from arguing with her high-achieving teenage daughter. Pretty straightforward, you’d think. But no, you Scandal-watchers, you know better than to think anything is straightforward in this world. And right you are. Turns out Katherine was getting naked and naughty with her daughter’s 17-year-old boyfriend. The daughter is found dead, and even though Olivia eventually comes around to believing Katherine didn’t do it, her law school pal still ends up in cuffs on the evening news. Time for Pope and co. to prove she’s innocent.

Olivia drops by her dad’s house with coffee, ostensibly just to say hi. There’s nothing traditionally healthy about the Pope family’s relationships, but they are weirdly protective of each other. Olivia knows Rowan is a bad dude, but she still accepts an invitation to bring her boyfriend over for a family dinner. Jake, unsurprisingly, is less than thrilled about this. “If you were my girlfriend, I would come and meet your dad,” he tells her. “Even your dad who threw me in a hole and tortured me. But you are not my girlfriend, so no.” On the one hand, Jake needs to stop harping on this boyfriend/booty call distinction, as he’s trending away from sympathetic toward whiny. On the other hand, his willingness to dine with his monster of a former boss perfectly fits the generally screwed up dynamics of the Pope family.

Jake does eventually relent and join the family Pope for pork roast (Rowan’s secret: coffee grounds in the rub). Small talk is made as Papa Pope carves the meat with a distressingly large knife. Until Liv leaves the table to take a phone call. Then Jake delivers his ultimatum: Get out of D.C. or Olivia sees all the incontrovertible proof that her pops killed Harrison and the president’s son. “Trust me, I will be the one standing over you when you die,” Rowan hisses back, while lodging that carving knife neatly between two of Jake’s fingers. We’ll just have to see who yields first (or ends up six feet under).

NEXT: Everyone else wrestles with some moral gray areas.

This is really Abby’s night, though. After kicking off with last week’s heart to heart with the First Lady, the Abby Whelan Straight Talk Express is rolling through the rest of D.C. She and Olivia have been sniping all season, and finally things come to a head. Abby’s questioning about Katherine’s case is shot down by Liv as being an ethical breach. “Ethically? You rigger of elections!” Abby spits out. It is refreshing to have a member of the inner circle call Liv on her hypocrisy. Then Ms. Whelan pulls into the Oval Office to school Fitzgerald Grant on appreciating Scotch and reprimand him for not learning her name until literally this moment. Then Fitz asks her how Liv is. Two steps forward, one step back.

In tertiary plots this week, Mellie becomes obsessed with a sensational news story about a wife accused of pushing her new husband off a cliff. It seems Mellie may be overly identifying with the wife and tells a meeting of government bigwigs, “I think it’s no surprise that most Americans think it is the wife who deserves the blame in this.” While coping with her grief in the past two episodes, she managed to be both crazed and sympathetic, and seemed to move forward. Her fixation on this story doesn’t reveal anything new about Mellie and doesn’t go anywhere within the story. It just peters out, and the First Lady deserves better than that.

Cyrus spends the episode flirting with prostitute (and agent of Lizzie) Michael. He’s charmed by Michael’s claims that he’s turning tricks to pay for B-school (oldest one in the book, Cyrus, c’mon). It doesn’t hurt that Michael is pursuing him and flirting with him. Cyrus is not a stone! But Michael is, if nothing else, a slick talker and Cyrus gives in to his desires, conveniently giving Lizzie all the leverage over him she could ever want.

If the White House is focused on passing legislation, at least David Rosen is dedicated to maintaining the cloak and dagger side of federal government. He goes back into the B6-13 files for some dirt on a judge (drunk driving accident that killed a mother and child) to ensure that the President’s gun control legislation sails past an appeal. He’s the toast of the Oval, but when he finds out that the blackmailed judge shot himself, you can see his conscience stirring. Perhaps he’s not as good at the amoral pursuit of power as he thinks.

Finally, the Huck-Quinn-Charlie romantic muddle continues. After Jake threatens him, Charlie trades info for a chance to talk to Quinn again. Long story short: Charlie misses her. Quinn is trying to convince herself she’s not like Charlie, friendless and alone. Huck reaffirms that he will be there for her. These three all need some serious time apart, preferably with a therapist.