Mellie wanted Olivia Pope. She got Olivia Pope.

By Jessica Derschowitz
February 19, 2016 at 05:55 AM EST
Eric McCandless/ABC
S5 E11
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With all due respect to Taylor Swift and her crew, this week’s Scandal set a new bar for friendship goals — it was so refreshing to see Mellie and Olivia on the same team, working toward the same goal, sharing the same jar of moonshine, without a certain president making these two smart, driven women into adversaries. More of this, please, Shondaland Powers That Be!

The two of them are back at OPA, focusing on Mellie’s book, and Olivia has some ideas for how to make it better — starting with cutting chapter 2, which Mellie objects to because it’s where Fitz gets shot and she relates to the American people through emotion and grief. But Olivia tells her the people don’t care about her talking points: They want to see the real Mellie, baring the deepest parts of her soul. So, per Olivia and her Editor Hat, chapter 2 should go… and be replaced with one about why Mellie stayed with Fitz even after she discovered he was having an affair. What made her turn a blind eye? Why did she stay? Was it because of love? Ambition? That chapter is missing, Olivia says, in pure fixer mode (as opposed to I’m-the-third-point-in-this-love-triangle mode), and that is what the American people want to read.

Mellie’s caught off guard, but is also impressed. “You really can compartmentalize like nobody’s business,” she says.

“You asked for Olivia Pope; you got Olivia Pope,” Liv replies.

Mellie doesn’t want the book to answer why she stayed, but Olivia points out that if the book doesn’t address it, she’ll still be asked that question at every media appearance and book tour stop because it’s what the people want to know.

The former first lady-turned-senator tries to dodge the subject, but Olivia sees through it: “You don’t know, do you? You don’t know why you stayed.”

“Do you know why you left?” Mellie counters.

“I don’t need to answer that one,” Olivia responds. “I’m not the one writing a book. I’m not the one running for president. You are.”

Mellie and Olivia spent this whole exchange facing each other from across a conference room table, and it feels like each one of them has met her match. “You don’t know either, do you?” she asks Olivia.  

While Liv and Mellie are working toward the book, and therefore her bid for president, Fitz is getting ready to wind his final term down. This includes sitting with a supposedly hard-hitting journalist named Lillian Forrester (Annabeth Gish) who wants to write a lengthy profile on him despite Cyrus’ objections about how the story will make the president look.

Fitz and Lillian meet briefly as she and Cyrus are going over ground rules and talking points and their demeanor toward one another is immediately flirtatious, even as she’s talking about how she wants to write a “damn good article,” in her words, about the man in the Oval and whether he thinks he’s succeeded or failed.

She gets the assignment, and we get a scene that made my head explode. Lillian gets one-on-one time with Fitz in the Oval Office, her tape recorder running, conducting what would be a coveted and important interview with a sitting president. But before they can even get through her first question (a general query about if he thinks the country is better off now than when he first walked into that office seven years ago), she interrupts him and turns off her recorder.

She tells him, “I am a respected journalist. I have a Pulitzer. I spent a week with Putin and yet I cannot focus — I have an enormous crush on you.” YUP. That actually just happened. (Aside: I suspend disbelief for a lot of things on TV, but no reporter of this supposed caliber would ever act so unprofessional. End of aside.)

Fitz’s face goes through approximately seven different stages of whhhhhat?? before he decides, hey, let’s nix the interview since admitting to having the hots for your interview subject is a clear conflict of interest, but since you do, let’s have dinner together. Sure, why not?

NEXT: How do you get a VP to run for president? By going on a date with David Rosen apparently.

Meanwhile, Susan Ross gets a visit from Elizabeth North, who drops some poll paperwork on her desk showing that the VP could make a serious bid for the presidency. One problem: Susan Ross has no interest in the presidency, even when Liz warns her she’ll regret it for the rest of her life if she doesn’t explore the option.

So she takes another route: David Rosen. She needs Susan to run because she doesn’t want being the VP’s chief of staff to be her legacy, and she wants her shot at the Oval. So she wants David to manipulate her into doing it. “That Muppet is in love with you! Use it. … Give her what she wants,” Liz tells him, or else he won’t be getting anything from her (anything = sex) anytime soon.

So he shows up at Susan’s office and asks her on a date. She lets out a giddy “WHERE??” before collecting herself and promptly telling David she’s already done all the date ideas he suggests — heading to Mount Vernon to see the sunset? Check. Picnic by the Tidal Basin? Done it. Top of the Washington Monument? That too. Finally, he asks her the question I always want to hear from romantic prospects: “What are your feelings on French Fries?” Yup, a trip to Gettysburger is in order, and they get Union Rings with those Freedom Fries. (Whichever writers get to make up the names for the Gettysburger menu items, I salute you.)

They grab a booth, and it looks like they’re having a really nice time … and then he tells her that she’d make an amazing president, a notion she dismisses. She knows why she was chosen to be VP, she tells him — because Mellie Grant wanted to face someone nonthreatening, unpowerful, and unelectable. She wanted a bug she could crush, and Susan won’t put herself or her daughter through the agony of a campaign she won’t win.

David kisses her. “You’re not a bug. You’re a warrior. You could win this, I really mean that.” How much of this he really means and how much is because he’s doing Liz’s bidding is up for debate, but either way it works  — just as he’s telling Liz North he’s out, that Susan Ross is a “political unicorn” who is smart and cares about the American people and he refuses to manipulate her anymore, she tells him that political unicorn fired the paperwork. “Come on, Rosen,” she says, before kissing him. “Let’s make a president together.”

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Olivia and Mellie are still at work on the “Why Mellie Stayed” portion of her book. She tries a narrative on for size — that she thought Fitz and Olivia were just a phase, and her marriage could survive a phase — but Olivia points out that it’s trite, and also not true. She tells her to dig deeper, and Mellie pushes back and says she shouldn’t have to explain herself, to Olivia of all people.

“You never had what we had,” Mellie tells her. She and Fitz had 23 years of marriage — a real relationship, not just illicit meetings in hotel rooms and White House closets and secret homes in Vermont. “As far as actual, real relationships go, you were just a blip on his radar. A plaything he used to pass his time until trash day rolled around and you got boxed up and shipped out,” she seethes, packing up her stuff and walking out the door.

Mellie heads to a bar, where she runs into Cyrus and they talk about their ties to Olivia and Fitz. “You can divorce them, but you can’t get rid of them … we’re married to them for the rest of our lives,” she says. But Cyrus doesn’t feel sorry for her — she’s the most recognizable name in politics, he tells her, a woman when the country is ready for a female president and that her filibuster was the “feminist moment of the decade.” You can see the campaign wheels are spinning in his head, but Mellie cuts him off and says she already has someone in mind to run her campaign.

NEXT: You can probably guess who that someone is…

And next we see her, she’s showing up at Olivia’s door with moonshine in tow and the real reason why she stayed: because it was working. Fitz + Olivia + Mellie worked. She blamed herself for the affair at first, because she didn’t have her own sense of self outside of her role as Fitz’s wife and the mother of their kids. But, eventually, she turned a corner — and with Fitz’s eyes on Olivia, Mellie had time to breathe, and think, and plan, and she figured that Fitz would one day make her president because he owed her. So, she stayed.

An honest answer, and also an unprintable one, which they both acknowledge. Mellie is sitting on Olivia’s couch, moonshine in hand, and I can’t help but think these two would have been great friends, or at least tremendous political allies, if Fitz hadn’t poisoned that well by making them two-thirds of a thrupple. But maybe now, without him in the middle, they can be. Kerry Washington and Bellamy Young are fantastic in this scene, sitting on the floor passing a bottle of moonshine back and forth.

“I was your husband’s mistress; I was in the wrong,” Olivia admits.

“Truth is, I was glad you were there,” Mellie responds. “You were a good mistress. Probably a great one.”

“Well, I am an overachiever — once I put my mind to something I commit,” Olivia says. They both laugh. Mellie goes for more alcohol and this exchange happens:

Olivia: I was happy you were around, too. When I was with Fitz, I was happy you were around, too. With you around I didn’t have to … [she takes a breath] … I had an out. You were my out, Mellie. You kept him unavailable.

Mellie: Okay…

Olivia: And so, I left for the same reason you stayed. Because I was scared.

Mellie: [More breathless this time] Okay…

Olivia: That’s what you write. You write that you were scared, you write that you never could have imagined standing up in front of the entire Senate for as long as you did, filibustering the hell out of that bill, protecting every woman’s constitutional right to make her own decision about her own body because you never thought you’d be able to do any of that on your own. You write that you didn’t need Fitz, you didn’t need some man to give you the power, you had the power the whole time, it just took you a little longer to realize. That is what you write.

And write they do. The next morning (at least, that’s what it looks like), they’re still together and that portion of the book is finished. But, Olivia warns, the book won’t do any good if it comes out in a couple months — other people will be announcing their candidacies before then, so it has to come out now. And who needs bookstores for that? Suddenly, conveniently, pages from the “explosive, deeply personable” memoir leak online, including segments about the strength Mellie found within her to stand on her own during that filibuster. She’s firmly a player in the race now, but Susan Ross is making media rounds, too, about exploring a presidential run — it’s just like dating, she reasons, and she just wants to see if America will call her back.

Other asides:

  • Cyrus is looking to build Fitz 2.0. He leaves the White House, telling the president he has to go to his cousin’s funeral. But his goodbye looks to be more permanent — he actually went to a town hall meeting where the very charismatic governor of Pennsylvania gives a stirring speech to his constituents.
  • Huck is still giving Marcus the cold shoulder at OPA, but Marcus might have made some inroads by bonding with his fellow Gladiator over watching his son’s soccer game (though creepily, because — in typical Huck fashion — he’s watching because he hacked into nearby traffic cameras).
  • In between all the Mellie bonding and book writing, Olivia is still sleeping with Jake — though not speaking with him, since they both undressed and walked to her bed without saying a single word to each other. After, she tells him this isn’t happening again, but he disagrees: “Yes, it is.”  
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