The Gladiators handle a Secret Service scandal, and Olivia and Fitz come face-to-face

By Jessica Derschowitz
March 11, 2016 at 02:59 PM EST
Nicole Wilder/ABC
S5 E13
  • TV Show

Life imitating art, am I right? As the presidential race keeps heating up off screen, it’s also becoming a bigger and bigger part of the drama on Scandal.

Key to everyone’s planning at the moment is the president — whom Fitz should or shouldn’t endorse. Although Olivia doesn’t “officially” work for Mellie or her campaign, she tells her the thing she needs most right now is for her ex-husband to stay neutral — if he lays low and doesn’t endorse Susan Ross, she’ll have access to the same donors and party leadership attention the VP has. Susan, meanwhile, doesn’t think she even wants Fitz’s endorsement…

…because the president of the United States of America is acting like a grade-A horny teenager, bringing woman after woman up to the White House private residence. Abby has the routine down pat: cell phones get confiscated, NDAs get signed, and afterward each lucky lady leaves through the service elevator. You know, standard protocol. 

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Abby also called OPA in on a new case this week, involving Secret Service agents and a party that got “a little out of hand.” How out of hand are we talking? “Out of hand” means the agents threw a party in a hotel room, hired two prostitutes, and now one of them is dead. At first, it seems like a tragic accident: the woman, Megan, was high on drugs and fell through a glass coffee table, a story the other woman, Erin, confirms. Naturally, the Secret Service boss wants this to stay, well, secret. Quinn sends the agents to a bar where she’ll ensure the waitress will give them an alibi for the night and sends Erin home because “you were never here.” Team OPA will wipe her phone, get Huck to eliminate any surveillance tapes or other evidence that will show the agents and the women together, pay off any other potential witnesses, and clean the room so it will look like this woman checked into the room and overdosed alone. Marcus doesn’t love this plan, but as Quinn puts it, “Sometimes you get to save the day; sometimes you do this.”

When Olivia isn’t handling the Secret Service’s scandals, she’s spying on Jake by hiding out in her car as he canoodles with his human rights lawyer/Rhodes scholar/debutante girlfriend, Vanessa Moss. (Abby: “Does she rescue puppies and orphans in her spare time?” Olivia: “Probably.”) Abby points out that spying and doing a deep background check on this woman isn’t that healthy, but Olivia is convinced Jake is up to something.

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And as Quinn and Huck are debating Liv’s Jake surveillance at OPA (she thinks Olivia misses the White House while Huck just thinks Jake is being shady), Marcus walks in with a wrinkle in this week’s case — when he went to wipe the data on poor Megan’s cell phone, someone had beaten him to it. Quinn tells him they’re fixers, not detectives, but he wants to get to the bottom of who did it. He finds the autopsy report, which concluded the blunt force trauma to her head happened before the drugs were in her system (a.k.a. she was murdered). He brings this to Olivia, but she goes the loyal fixer route vs. the white hat one: What’s important, she tells him, is that their clients trust them to solve their problems and not investigate them behind their backs.

Cyrus, meanwhile, still has his political eyes on Gov. Vargas of Pennsylvania and really wants this guy to run for president. So much that everything he does in this episode — from orchestrating a “chance” run-in with Sally Langston at a D.C. lunch spot to getting him some extra face time with Fitz in the Oval to discuss his beloved education bill — is all aimed at getting this guy to throw his hat in the presidential horse race. Vargas meets with Fitz, who has his own education bill he’s championing and basically acts like a jerk to the governor. This prompts Vargas to agree to Cyrus’ suggestion he give an interview on The Liberty Report, where even Sally herself says he sounds downright presidential and would be crazy not to use his new national recognition to test those political waters. But Vargas declines and says he has no intentions of running for higher office, and Cyrus instructs Tom to find out why.

Tom’s intel reveals this poor man has a young daughter battling cancer, which becomes another tool Cyrus uses to manipulate him. He spins a whole sob story about his brother, Oliver, who was paralyzed at 17 after being hit by a drunk driver but wouldn’t let Cyrus give up on going to Harvard to stay home and help care for him because he believed his brother was destined for great things. Of course, this is all made up — as Cyrus admits later, he’s an only child — but it gets the job done. Vargas ends his portion of the episode by telling Cyrus he wants him to run his Democratic presidential campaign. 

NEXT: Olivia gets a visit from Jake and face time with Fitz 

Also on the presidential campaign front, David Rosen is still hooking up with both Susan Ross and Elizabeth North, which makes him look like a big ol’ dirtbag when Susan says she doesn’t want Fitz’s endorsement because she doesn’t want to be linked to him if and when the world finds out about the women sneaking in and out of the White House. “Once a cheater, always a cheater, right?” she asks. Gee, I wonder why Rosen won’t make eye contact with her right now. Maybe it’s because after he’s in bed with her, he’s taking off his pants for Lizzie as she’s scheming to book Susan on The Liberty Report to defend the president and his education bill. Susan doesn’t want to but reluctantly agrees after David sides with Lizzie on the issue.

Mellie comes to the White House with baby Teddy in tow (who’s not such a baby anymore — but man, when was the last time we saw this kid?) to drop him off for some father-son time, apparently a little earlier than expected. But she didn’t pick a good time to try and talk politics with Fitz because someone calls his name from the next room and it’s a blonde wearing a White House bathrobe. Busted. She tells him to put their son down, plasters a smile on her face for the kid and gives him a hug. “Screw as many whores as you want,” she tells him through gritted teeth. “But you sure as hell better keep them away from my children.”

She vents about Fitz’s “extracurricular activities” to Olivia. This is his thing now, Mellie says, nodding to his agents on the street and having women sent to the White House residence, and the American people don’t find out because the Secret Service covers it up. The second she says “Secret Service” and “cover-up,” you can see the wheels in Olivia’s head start turning. She about-faces on the hotel case and tells the Gladiators to try and find more evidence it wasn’t an accident. They do, of course — the other woman who was in the room comes clean after they tell her if any of those agents had called for help after Megan fell, she might have survived.

As one of Fitz’s bedroom conquests (another reporter, seriously? Journalistic ethics, people!) mentions offhand that she’s heard Olivia Pope is secretly running Mellie’s presidential campaign, Olivia gets a bedroom visitor of her own. She wakes up to Jake standing at the foot of her bed — he knows she’s been following him because you can’t track the head of the NSA without him being aware of it — and tells him she wants no part of whatever he and her father are planning. Jake, unfazed, goes for the jugular: “What do you think of her?” he asks, referring to Vanessa. “She’s perfect. But she’s not you.” His hands move under the sheets, and he tells Olivia he needs her. Just as things start getting really steamy, she tells him to stop and demands to know what he’s up to. He stares over her in her bed and just says, “Goodbye, then.”

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After that nighttime encounter, Liv tells Abby about the Secret Service cover-up and asks her to bring it to David Rosen, but Abby reminds her that creating new problems for clients isn’t how OPA operates. Olivia pauses and redirects. Abby hired her, not the Secret Service, so she’s the client. So, what does she want to do?

Which brings us to the Oval Office and the first time Olivia and Fitz have come face-to-face since she left him in the midseason finale. “It’s good to see you,” he tells her. “You too,” she replies. It’s civil but feels awkward and forced. They laugh, and he tries again with a simple “hi,” which seems to feel better for both of them. They sit as she fills him in on what happened with the Secret Service and how Abby hadn’t told him about it because she’s been busy handling his “transgressions.”

“Is that what you and Mellie are calling them?” he retorts, asking if she’s working for his ex-wife. She tells him it’s none of his business. “And what’s going on in my bedroom is yours?” he replies.

Olivia tries to turn the conversation back to the Secret Service, but he stops her, saying she doesn’t get to tell him what to do anymore. They stare at each other, the room dead silent, and it feels excruciating. She gets up to leave, but before she goes she utters the phrase that titles this week’s episode: “The fish rots from the head.” Meaning Fitz sets the example that everyone else is following — the Secret Service, the country he leads, his son — and he hasn’t exactly been setting the best one. Has he become his father, she asks? “I don’t care what you do in your spare time; I really don’t,” Liv adds. “But you better think, and you better ask yourself, is this really who you want to be?” She walks out, shuts the door, and leaves him there.

And maybe her words stuck with him because the next woman to ride the elevator to the residence is Susan Ross. He was impressed with her Liberty Report interview but wants to know why she torpedoed Vargas’ education bill on national television when she’s actually in favor of it. She tells him she doesn’t know why — she was trying to appeal to the base and toe the party line, even if it felt wrong to do it. Fitz says that feeling is a good thing and tells her to never lie to the American people again. He offers her his endorsement and says he’s going to work to be the kind of president she would want endorsing her (i.e., not a horndog). And he goes public with the Secret Service scandal, firing the men involved and having Rosen bring charges against them in Megan’s death. Even Huck is pleased.

But, in classic Scandal fashion, we end with a final twist: Olivia shows up at her father’s house for Sunday dinner, but Papa Pope already has some company — Jake and Vanessa, who just popped some champagne because…they’re getting married. Cheers!

Episode Recaps

Shonda Rhimes’ political drama: Sex! Murder! Olivia’s suits!
  • TV Show
  • 7
  • TV-14
  • 04/05/12
  • In Season
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