Oh, Scandal. I’ve missed you. These past few days, I’ve been dreaming of Olivia and her gladiators marching around Washington; restoring Twitter access to social media interns and sending B613 to handle Russia. Now more than ever, the sexy, twisted, dark political world of Scandal––where a woman literally beat a man to death with his own wheelchair––seems almost preferable to our actual reality. Luckily, “Survival Of The Fittest” wastes no time reminding us that we’re probably much better off here than in an alternate universe where two men quietly hand off the presidency after the president-elect is assassinated.

At the start of the episode it almost seemed like Scandal would flip the script of our actual election and hand the Oval Office to two powerful women. While the premiere starting with an actual cabin exploding is very Scandal, Olivia running shit is Scandal in its’ best comfort zone. Having Mellie win makes sense. It would maintain the status quo of the show––what would Scandal be if our heroes didn’t have White House access? But, that reality is quickly stomped on when the election results come in––Mellie lost. Even though California is apparently a swing state in the magical world of Scandal, Mellie fails to turn San Berdino County. Until the election results come in, it feels good to see Olivia, Mellie and Abby in charge, so it’s equally painful to see their defeat. In a moving concession speech, Bellamy Young reminds us why we fell in love with Mellie’s fried chicken-eating, moonshine-drinking ass in the first place. She nails the trance-like speech with a perfect mix of heartbreak and bitterness.

Olivia’s speech to Mellie and their subsequent bonding session is almost a cathartic moment. Mellie and Olivia’s relationship last season rarely made sense to me since they spent so much time hating each other, but it seems like a genuine friendship has formed out of something that started out of necessity. But, we don’t really get to see Olivia genuinely comfort Mellie because only moments later THE PRESIDENT-ELECT IS SHOT. Yes, after an explosion and a lost election, Scandal jumps straight to a presidential assassination. With so much going on, Mellie pretty much fades into the background even though it seems like “Survival Of The Fittest” should be her moment to shine. After seeing her get her groove back, it feels disheartening to see her curl up under the arm of the man who made her life hell. She resented his right to oxygen, almost had the presidency in her hands and now he holds her fate in his.

But, before Scandal burned through plot points lesser shows might’ve taken seasons to build, it almost seemed like it would dedicate itself to a sort of reversed-party parody of our actual election. With the exciting, fringe-inspiring Vargas in charge and the “old establishment” Mellie out of power because she just seemed like more of the same. For a brief moment, things seemed exciting, like the show had truly found a way to reset. Would we finally get to explore some new territory that wasn’t just tied up in B613 or Cyrus conspiracies? No. Not at all. Instead, two powerful white men who’ve rigged an election and murdered A SUPREME COURT JUDGE hand America off to each other in a private hospital room. So, even though Fitz knows how evil Cyrus truly is. Even though he kicked Cyrus out of his own administration; he chooses to hand him the presidency because…he can’t entirely prove that he didn’t murder his running mate. The status quo that the show so desperately needs to uproot is maintained and the two men we’ve seen in control remain in control.

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But, for Scandal to work, we just have to accept that characters will occasionally have amnesia. Apparently, Fitz and Olivia can no longer remember what Cyrus is capable of doing, even though they’ve literally rigged elections and murdered people with him. So, it makes sense that Olivia would suspect Papa Pope (and what would Scandal be without a Papa Pope lecture?). But, it seems unlikely that he would’ve had a direct role in the assassination––Papa Pope would’ve thought it was too sloppy to leave the final choice up to the electoral college. I think he would’ve just handed Mellie the win by, you know, rigging another election, like he did before. But a public assassination during a major speech? That doesn’t feel like B613’s style at all. That’s why it feels so dumb when Olivia is shocked by Papa Pope’s pretty obvious claim that Cyrus had Vargas killed.

Because, well, Cyrus Beene is Cyrus Motherfuckin’ Beene. He faked an entire marriage. He’s had people killed. He’s had no qualms working with B613 when it benefits him. Oh, also this video most definitely shows the body language of a man who knows gunshots are headed towards him. The only thing that would make him look more guilty is if he were mouthing “I’m gonna back up” on camera:

So, even though it’s clear Cyrus is acting in the hospital just like he did on his fake wedding day, Fitz and Olivia fall for it. Well, that is until her gang of gladiators find a last minute clue that quickly works explain the over-the-top explosion that opened the episode. With four minutes left in the episode, they introduce Jennifer Field and her manually-deleted, mysterious voicemail. Soon after that, they introduce her smoldering severed hand. While we don’t know what Fields knew, her death hints that it was probably the truth. Would it have made sense to build at least some intrigue around the woman they were attempting to find? Maybe, but this is Scandal and we have about 20 more plots to burn through so just try to keep up.

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Predictably, the episode ends with Olivia threatening to bring Cyrus down. Why this episode thought it could trick viewers into believing Cyrus was innocent for even a moment is bizarre, but Scandal tends to work best if you just go along for the ride and let the whims of its characters wash over you.

Stray Observations

  • Hey! I’m Ashley! I’m really excited to cover Scandal this season.
  • “Obviously there has been voter tampering in San Berdino County” - I thought this suspicion was justified. Why wouldn’t three people who previously rigged a presidential election suspect the person who also rigged an election of rigging an election?
  • Of course, it is possible that Cyrus didn’t do it. This is Scandal. My bet is that it goes deeper than Olivia thinks. Most likely Jake and Papa Pope realized Cyrus would be an easier puppet and gave Cyrus or someone the idea. But, Vargas did have an angry brother out there.
  • Jake disappears before Mellie conceeds, which is suspicious, but he mysteriously turns up in the mission control room after the assassination. His absence is noted.
  • I’m all here for Jake’s drunk wife. Scandal needs at least one resident drunk wife per episode.
  • Abby takes charge at the hospital, but she really needs to work on her Pope Presence because the monologue she delivers to that security agent really just made her look insecure in her new power. We get it, Abby, you’re in charge. Now go fix something.
  • I wrote “Charlie and Quinn are gross” two times in my notes. I truly thought he was going to pull that ring off of the severed hand and give it to her when he proposed.
  • I really just wanted to give Olivia a cup of tea after that “Cyrus Beene is the devil” speech because I felt that on ol’ girl’s vocal chords.
  • “How could you let that man out play you?” - I felt like the writers were getting their frustrations with Clinton out right there.
  • Huck voted for Vargas. Huck keeps it real. Mellie would’ve been a horrible president.
  • The only thing I hate about this show is Fitz. Why? Well, after all the election rigging and campaigning, Fitz is told he pretty much gets to handpick the next president so he makes this face:

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