Olivia Pope returns to find DC radically altered and her gladiators scattered.

By Kat Ward
Updated September 26, 2014 at 05:13 AM EDT
Eric McCandless/ABC


S4 E1
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Where in the world is Olivia Pope?

That was the question viewers were left with last spring, as we watched Ms. Pope fly off to stand in the sun with Jake Ballard, ignoring calls from the White House. The answer, it turns out, is 100 miles off Zanzibar on a quiet tropical island that she claims is not even on a map. She’s traded “Olivia Pope” for “Julia Baker” and political intrigue for lying on a tropical beach and reading Gone Girl (subtle).

But her idyllic island life is just not to be. The same boat that brings her another bottle of her favorite wine (whether she’s Olivia or Julia, in DC or off the grid, she’s going to make sure she’s got a good red) also brings a mysterious letter. Its contents: an article about the discovery of Harrison’s body. And before you can say ‘gladiator,’ Olivia’s back at an eerily quiet Pope and Associates office, ready to face the life she left behind.

Unsurprisingly, the former Associates are all varying degrees of furious with their Pope. Quinn, our mystery letter sender, seems least irate; she spent a lot of time tracking the global wine market, betting on Liv’s oenophile tendencies to give her away, and Harrison’s death to bring her back. Huck is Randy now, working at an off-brand genius bar, fixing computer bugs and warning customers about their adulterous wives. There’s no sign yet of where things went after he came face-to-face last season with his long-estranged wife. Abby has moved into Olivia’s old role, working as press secretary for second-term president Fitzgerald Grant with an administration that is, well, a bit unstable.

Things are looking equally grim at the White House. Fitz has gone rogue—”Fitz 2.0″ as the media dubs him—firing cabinet members willy-nilly and championing such liberal feel-good policies as equal pay legislation. Following the death of their son, Mellie has gone full dressing-gown diva, slugging back anything with an ABV greater than zero. This leaves poor Cyrus Beene with the job of keeping a leash on the First Family, while also pacifying an increasingly-agitated Republican party.

And so we get our first—too brief!—glimpse of Portia de Rossi as the head of the RNC. “Lizzie Bear,” as Cyrus calls her, got on her broomstick and flew up from Texas to chide the White House for failing to support the party and threaten Cyrus over rumors of an aisle-crossing appointment of a Democrat to Attorney General. De Rossi is channeling a politicized version of the hyperconfident CEO she played on Better Off Ted—only this time she’s paired her skirt suits with a wicked, slicked-back blond helmet. That is some Power Hair. If De Rossi’s character continues to be as sharp and competent as this episode promises, she has the potential to be a truly satisfying new nemesis for the White House.

On the even further fringe, we have David Rosen fretting over Jake’s last bequest: a load of frankly terrifying files detailing the actions of B613. Coincidentally, Cyrus offers him a distraction, teasing the possibility of Rosen as the president’s nominee for Attorney General. Which for David just fuels his paranoid fretting that Cyrus is on to him. Abby attempts to snap him out of it with some real talk: If he wants to do more than just color-code B613 files, he should “get [himself] some power and use it.” Rowan Pope, meanwhile, has reacquired his power but has yet to use it. During a tense dinner with his daughter, he shows he’s truly got a brass pair, demanding she ask if he killed Harrison, and then baldly lying when she does question him. (Liv, to her credit, seems to have finally realized her BS detector is off where her father is concerned.)

NEXT: A gladiators’ farewell

Though unseen this episode, as Columbus Short exited the show last season, Harrison does get his proper farewell, a quiet funeral attended by those who loved him. The four remaining members of Olivia Pope and Associates may be angry with one another, but not so much that they would abandon a friend. The gladiator gets to lie in state, though in a closed casket. His friends, his family cast rose petals and say goodbye. And the surviving Associates’ relationships, if not fully mended, at least begin to heal. But even as “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” soars on the soundtrack, Jake spies Rowan Pope lurking in the distance.

The episode winds down with a heart-to-heart between POTUS and FLOTUS. Fitz and Mellie meet on a White House porch, broaching the subject of Olivia’s return, hinting that there was a botched presidential suicide attempt in the unseen months, and finally alighting on Mellie’s refusal to play the good wife just because Liv’s back in town. After years of keeping it together, through rape by her father-in-law, her husband’s adultery, her son’s death, the sheer stress of being wife and mother in a national spotlight, she’s stopped giving a damn about what anyone thinks. And man, she has earned that right.

There is also a classic Pope and Associates fixer plot interwoven among all this character catch-up. A senator whose vote is key for the Equal Pay bill is gravely injured by a fellow female senator who claims it was an accident that occurred while fleeing his unwanted sexual advances. The plot, with its requisite twists and the discussions of its moral weight, is tied up neatly—it’s effectively solved by Olivia in a five-minute phone call. Really, this thread is here as a flimsy premise to keep Olivia in DC. But let’s be honest, that’s not as thin a plot device as it could be, because the Olivia Pope we know would only need the flimsiest of excuses to return to her old life. As much as Julia Baker might have been content with her boy-toy and her slow-paced island life, Olivia Pope needs to “stand in the light,” as she says. And she’s hellbent on dragging everyone into it with her.

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