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You’re probably familiar with the Bechdel test, the three rules for a work of fiction that has 1) at least two women 2) who have a scene wherein just the two talk to each other 3) about something other than the men in their lives. This test likely fares better on TV, where there are non-romance female-focused shows like Mom and Orange Is The New Black, than it does at the movies. But it does really well on Scandal, where women aren’t just not talking about the men in their lives: They’re talking about running the whole damn world. Even when Mellie and Olivia discuss Fitz in this episode, it’s to move past him so that they can get to the work at hand: Taking over the White House.

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This episode abandons any kind of riveting case-of-the-week escapades for variety of electoral soapiness. Nevertheless, the focus of “The Candidate” is Mellie and Olivia, drinking First Lady moonshine and discussing their status as what I’ve recently learned thanks to Dan Savage is a “throuple.” This barefoot, sitting-on-the-floor conversation reveals that the triangle of Mellie, Fitz, and Olivia worked for all sides. They all stayed in it because they all got something out of it. After all, once Mellie left, it didn’t take long for Olivia and Fitz to crumble. And let’s face it, of the three of them, Fitz is the one who is currently at a loss, embracing his lame-duck status.

This triangle is unfortunately about a million times better than the one cooking up for David, Liz, and Susan. Instead of using actual powers of persuasion and argument, Liz embarrassingly gets what she wants with David by taunting him by withholding sexual favors. Even though the David Rosen we know is not dumb enough to fall for it, here we are. He has the fortitude after his forced date with Susan to stand up to Liz and refuse, so then why does he completely fail when Liz starts eating his face? Especially since David and Susan on their own are, in fact, really sweet, like when he protests when she puts herself down (and why isn’t Gettysburger real? Someone needs to get right on that and make some Freedom Fries). A presidential race with two female candidates is more interesting as it removes one of the factors that sets Mellie apart (imagine if there was a second female in our real race right now). But Susan wincing into the camera hoping America will call her? She doesn’t stand a chance.

This is only kind of a triangle, but let’s go with a theme: Fitz, Cyrus, and “hard-hitting journalist” Lillian Forrester, even though Fitz’s flirting is, as my esteemed colleague Emily L. Stephens pointed out on Twitter, vomit-inducing. And the woman he’s “flirting” with thinks the name “Putin” is some kind of advanced pillow talk. Cyrus knows that there’s still time for the administration to accomplish what they first set out to accomplish, and leave office with in a blaze of glory. Fitz, worthless husk that he is, would rather date the reporter who throws her Pulitzer in your face within nanoseconds of meeting you. Thank God Cyrus goes out and finds a new candidate, which is the most animated we’ve seen him in months. That’s the thing about being the hitmaker: He can go out and do what he did with Fitz all over again.

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The only sex scene this episode (I refuse to consider anything that Liz and David do remotely sexual, because that would imply that it wasn’t just out-and-out disgusting) is filmed like a horror movie, with no affection to speak of. Liv and Jake are still having sex, even though they appear to be enjoying it about as much as getting their taxes done. No, the real love story here is Mellie and Olivia: “You were a good mistress, probably a great one.” “Well, I am an overachiever.” Both Kerry Washington and Bellamy Young have the (unusual) ability to make Scandal’s somewhat-stilted dialogue sing like a goddamned opera (Annabeth Gish, not so much), so it is a joy to see the two of them react off of each other, in Olivia’s office and in her living room. Olivia drunkenly and tearfully praising Mellie’s awesome filibuster is the beauty of this show in a nutshell. It is powerful women helping each other become more powerful. It is Olivia helping Mellie, even after all they’ve been through, and raising her up. She’s tear-filled because she’s proud of Mellie for that filibuster and, as we saw when she watched it onscreen, is remorseful because it wasn’t her up there. But if she gets Mellie in the White House, she will have that kind of power again. To be fair, it’s not unlike the reason why Liz is pushing Susan into the race, because she will follow her on the road to the Oval Office. But this great after-hours Olivia and Mellie scene showed that Olivia’s not just doing it for the job. Underneath all those years of animosity and any number of slung insults and scheming (mostly on Mellie’s part, granted), there is absolute, not even grudging, respect. And a whole lot of Bechdelness.

Mellie and Olivia: A

David and Susan and Liz: C-

Cyrus and Fitz: B

Stray observations

  • Love Mellie immediately knowing that Cyrus was campaigning for a job.
  • “Do you know the meaning of ‘off the record’?”
  • Well, who doesn’t want to write a damn good article?
  • I appreciate how Susan can’t stop talking about her daughter, because I do that all the time, even though I honestly try not to.
  • Did we really need that montage flashback at the end to see that Cyrus has left the White House? Seemed pretty clear. The episode starts with his saying goodbye to Fitz, after all.
  • Hey, Huck and Marcus might be getting along now, or something. Quinn only got about one line, as did Jake. And no Joe Morton in sight!
  • Olivia and Mellie dress nicer for lounging than I do for work.
  • Please Scandal, don’t make “warrior” the new “gladiator.”

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