There’s a different game being played in this Scandal half-season, and the first big sign is Olivia’s wardrobe. For the past few seasons, she has been seen almost exclusively in black and white clothing, all the better to highlight whose apparent side she was on, related to white-hat nonsense. In her first scene this episode, not only is Olivia having dinner with her dad again, but she is in an orange shift. Orange! Kerry Washington looks good in everything, but it’s practically cheerworthy to see her in some vibrant shades, especially as they appear to indicate that she is off the Fitz treadmill for good.

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So this version of Scandal seems really familiar, but slightly tilted. Olivia and her dad are still having dinner together, even after all they’ve been through. Jake and Olivia are having sex, but they don’t talk. Cyrus is in the White House, but he is powerless. And Charlie and Quinn are the picture of domestic bliss. Best of all, Olivia isn’t calling Fitz on his private cell and he won’t take her phone calls. It’s Scandal bizarro world. Even the Shondaland logo is different.

Now that we’re off the torturous Olitz treadmill, thankfully we’re back to the formerly enjoyable case-of-the-week, and this Snowden-esque setup delivers. Especially because it’s fun to see Olivia get everything so wrong for once. The NSA chief’s boyfriend does not turn out to be the leak, but an innocent victim in the way of Jake (and through him, Rowan) taking control of the National Security Adminstration. It’s like B613, but legit! Making Jake the villain is a genius move. He is Eli Pope’s spiritual son (which helps make Olivia’s dalliances with him so twisted), and no stranger to murdering people (R.I.P. James). As long as B613 is dead and buried, I am okay with these two taking the White House path.

Especially since it makes Liv so angry that she teams up with Mellie. As always, Sally Langston is around to loudly clang the episode theme for us, and this week, it’s power. Liv wasn’t happy becoming the de facto First Lady, but at least she ran things from the Oval Office, She reveled in that job, actually, in a way that Abby never could. Now she’s on the sidelines, in an actual good Eli line, “screaming at the referee like some sad, drunk parent at a high school football game.” She doesn’t even have the clout to save her client from getting fired, a blow to all women who may ever want to be head of the NSA. But Liv doesn’t want to get to the Oval through Fitz anymore. So she’ll work to get there through Mellie. Bonus: Driving Fitz crazy in the process.

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Although Fitz is pretty down: “He’s not lonely. He’s alone.” The frequent phone calls to Abby are tedious, and her Rhimes-standard diatribes a bit pointless. Apparently having Jake in a higher position will give him somewhere to talk to there as well.

But this post-breakup episode offers a chance to see Fitz and Olivia’s lives realigning. Olivia’s world has revolved around Jake for so long: And let’s not forget, before the breakup, she was calling all the shots right from the center of that carpet, with Fitz a happily nodding puppet. For her to go back to her life at Olivia Pope And Associates after that, has to be a bit of a blow. Perhaps Olivia is more conscious of how losing control almost lost and gained her everything simultaneously, which is why she’s even more tightly wound now. Why else would she not even give Jake a post-sex swig from her water bottle? Or look at that sex scene: She’s totally in charge. Any pathetic attempts at affection on Jake’s part (like holding her hand on his face) are met with scorn. By admitting to the world that she was the president’s mistress a few months back, Olivia opened herself wide up; now, she’s more bottled up than even before.

Shonda Rhimes often visits this well, but the challenges of women in power play out well against the Scandal landscape. Abby has no life, and her boyfriend is urging her to quit her job, but both she and Olivia know that she could never leave such a position (and it’s highly unlikely that situation would be reversed if she and Leo switched places). Still she is forced into the role of work wife, and there’s little she can do about it until she makes a stand at the end. Diane the NSA director apparently falling for someone who sold her out will make it look like all women have weak hearts. She is cast out by Eli and Jake for being “weak.”

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Sally crows about power, but Scandal deftly points out how much these women are still at a disadvantage. Mellie has shown her badassery throughout, most recently through that Plamned Parenthood filibuster. Now Mellie, without Fitz, may be on the road to the most power of all. With Olivia behind her, there’s a good chance she’ll get there. Well, it’s happened before.

Stray observations

  • Jesus, Joe Morton isn’t onscreen for two seconds before he starts talking about some sort of mountaintop. Still not that happy to see him back. We did an AVQ&A on TV characters who ruin shows for us, and your former Scandal reviewer, Joshua Alston, write a great piece on Olivia’s dad.
  • I also mentioned that I read Shonda Rhimes’ recent memoir, and here’s the thing: She is fiercely loyal to some of the actors in her stable—sometimes, as Joshua points out, to her detriment. So you can hate on Jake all you want, but Shonda Rhimes loves Scott Foley. I mean, really loves him. He’s all over that book. He’s not going anywhere. And neither is Joe Morton, apparently.
  • Nice to see Liv’s new couch.
  • Also, Jake drinks white wine.
  • Some great one-liners this episode, like the meta: “Red, I’m not interested anymore, say less words.”
  • Or: “I wrote it myself.”… “There was a ghostwriter.”
  • The most dramatic moment in the drama-laden winter finale was Olivia’s abortion. I mentioned in my review that it was one of the few times we see a TV character matter-of-factly utilize her right to choose. Ben Philippe wrote a great essay about this topic earlier this week.

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