Never thought I’d actually agree with Quinn about anything, but she has a point when she says in this episode, “I hate the new normal.” Olivia’s in the White House and Rowan’s on the lam. Shonda tosses us a bone with a case of the week, and it’s a thinly veiled version of the recent Bill Cosby scandal. Plenty of young girls looked to writer Frank Holland to play mentor, and he responded by drugging them and raping them. Nice touch by tapping another legendary TV dad, Boy Meets World’s William Russ, to play the rapist.

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Shonda Rhimes has her own stable of shows, which she can use to make statements about whatever she wants. So even though Frank Holland helps young girls in other countries, or legitimately helps any number of students (the vast majority of which appear to be female, as he’s known as a “feminist” writer), Rhimes, through Olivia, rightly points out that it doesn’t matter, that his horrific assault of these women negates any benevolent efforts. Shonda being Shonda, she adds a twist: In an episode filled with disturbing moments, there was perhaps none more disturbing than when Holland’s wife snapped her fingers at him to shut him up. For a second I thought maybe she was the rapist, or she watched, or something. I don’t care what she’s saying about 1973, which, honestly, the Women’s Lib movement was in full swing by then, it’s not like it was 1953. Just as with the impressive New York magazine story that gathered all of Cosby’s accusers/victims together, Olivia’s plan to do the same at the reading had a similar, galvanizing effect. There’s strength in numbers.

Unfortunately for Olivia, as she’s almost completely off on her own. Curious how everyone on her side—Jake, Huck, Abby—almost immediately figures out that she’s the one behind her father’s escape, whereas her most-powerful-man-in-the-world lunkhead boyfriend remains blissfully clueless, at least for now. There have been very few secrets on Scandal that have stayed hidden, so why did Olivia think she was going to get away with this one? Last week’s episode was problematic, for this reason above all: Freeing Eli was a completely bonehead move. As we’re almost constantly reminded, he is a mass-murderer. No good can come of his release; even Huck gets that, and he’s batshit crazy. And the Olivia Pope we know doesn’t pull bonehead moves.

(Also, if Huck realizes what happened so quickly, how could Fitz and Cyrus just take the Senate committee’s defeat with such ease? Didn’t it seem awfully convenient that the committee members got exposed just as Eli was released?)

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So Jake is right to call Olivia out on being Eli Rowan’s finest handiwork: She wanted to get out of getting married, and save Fitz’s presidency, even though people were likely to die the second her father was released. Not sure what was creepier, him calling Eli their father or that weird kiss at the end. And what’s in it for Jake to hold up Olivia’s cover in front of the president?

Ar any rate, this coup gets us back to business as usual in the White House, with Olivia running virtually everything, even as she barely looks up from her phone. In another gratifying speech—Olivia really got her white hat handed to her this episode—Cyrus finally calls her out for what she is: The acting president. Fitz must have made his own decisions at some point, right?

Still, this episode is significant because we see Olivia lie right to Fitz’s face (shades of Defiance), when she pretends that she didn’t know her father was out, which we would have gotten even without her “lying by omission” rant at her client. The wordless, knowing glance between Olivia and Abby was great, and Kerry Washington and Darby Stanchfield sold the scene as close friends who didn’t need words to convey what was really going on. Well done.

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At the opposite end of enjoyable, we have Lizzie and Rosen. It’s hard to find a sex scene as gross as that time Huck licked Quinn’s face, but that Rosen/Lizzie scene came close. Well-meaning Susan and her wine coolers waiting outside just made it all the more painful.

Almost as creepy: Holland’s bookreading, with that weird passage about cattle rearing, and “the sweet tang of birth.”

The episode moved along at a quick clip, with things progressing the way they should (the COTW) or else gone horribly awry (Lizzie/Rosen). But there were so many unsettling, unsavory moments, they made for an uncomfortable viewing experience overall. Olivia got justice for her client, as usual, and, as Cyrus points out, is in an optimal position. At the moment. But there are way too many unknowns out there right now (Eli, Mellie) for her to feel secure. This being Scandal, we know this can’t last. There is no doubt that Olivia Pope has the smarts and the savvy to run the whole country, as depicted in this episode’s final scene. Her own life is something else again.

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Stray observations

  • Even more effective than the pop music this episode was the score: Those minor-key whines amped up just as things got twisted, which they often did.
  • Poor Fitz: “Well, I’m buried in work. This country never sleeps.”
  • No Eli this episode, that’s something! But unfortunately, it looks like he returns next week.
  • It was nice to see Sally Langston shocked into momentary silence.
  • This week, we got the bonus buzzwords of both “optics” and “republic.”

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