Even with all the crazy “It’s Handled” brought us last week to start the season, this week really brought everything we know Scandal has in its tank this season. The crisis surrounding Fitz, Olivia, Cyrus, and Jeannine continued with the extra layer added of Mellie getting to Jeannine and convincing her to lie to the press in exchange for a sizable anonymous donation to her bank account. Usually this would be the point in the episode that I would want Harrison to be running point on the live interview instead of taking up space in the corner texting Abby and muttering about how everything is going to shit (of course it is Harrison, of course it is). But in this case I actually preferred Olivia once again figuratively slapping some sense into the Pretty Little Liar at the table, because this is the first episode where we get a big chunk of worthwhile background on Ms. Pope. Any of the other gladiators could have given Jeannine a pep talk filled with Shonda-isms and hyperbole and all of them could have tied it back to themselves in some way but none of the gladiators are as vulnerable as Liv is at this point so it made sense it should be her. Of course Olivia attempts to talk the poor girl out of what she’s about to do as soon as she’s alerted to what’s going on, on the basis that lying once might seem easy but that lie will fester and grow until it is an all consuming piece of your conscious that you can no longer block out. Oh gee, Liv? Wonder how you learned how that feels. Which is what flashbacks are for!
The only thing we knew for sure about Olivia’s pre-career past before this season was that she was a swimmer in high school. Literally, that’s it. Even that tidbit only came as an offhand remark from Fitz in response to Jake’s security protection of Olivia. Shonda and Kerry had both made some comments in regards to the audience learning more about her past this season, so it was nice surprise that the show jumped right into those flashbacks this early in the season. Let us dip a toe in the water last week by getting to see what Eli Pope is like, shove us hard fully clothed into the pool this week with some deep cuts of Liv’s law school days and the arrangement she and her father had in exchange for student loan repayment. The Sunday dinners arrangement was all very Gilmore Girls of Shonda so I of course loved every minute of it. I would very much like a web series of Kelly Bishop and Joe Morton traveling the world working B6:13 missions. Make it happen, ASP and Shonda. The flashbacks themselves were just about as intense as we could have expected, what with each dinner serving as a kind of sustained tension that could break at the drop of a hat. Or should I say pen. Thanks to David Rosen (and his goatee! Ack, that goatee!) and his manners giving Olivia her pen back the whole thing comes apart and both Eli’s cover story and Olivia fall to pieces during a nice night out.
Really, the only things we can say Eli Pope gave Olivia that were positive were her taste in fine wine in fancy stemmed glasses and a penchant for going on a slash and burn war path whenever she thinks is necessary. Which…oh HEY THERE a slash and burn war path coming through just in time for us to enjoy. With most of the major emotional beats quarantined over in the Huck/Eli/Jake/Olivia dramafest, and the only truly strong moment between Olivia and Jeannine being the aforementioned moment in the offices, the rest of the Jeannine fix was pure enjoyment from start to finish. The two parts of the episode that I out and out enjoyed the most were Fitz staring at the coverage of Olivia’s press conference like a proud papa bear seeing his cub expertly gut a fish, and Fitz’s line to Cy “how presidential do my balls look now?”. Thank God Abby’s hair is still am-AH-zing looking, I was worried that last week was a one and done affair as far as her new great style went. Keep rockin’ that mascara girl.
But the crux of all of this craziness and scrambling to prove Jeannine innocent was absolutely the shopping trip Olivia and Quinn took her on to prepare for the interview. It was like Pretty Woman crossed with actual gladiatorial prep and to top it all off, they backed the whole montage with “Burn, Baby, Burn”. I mean, how incredibly perfect is that? I’m surprised they didn’t decide to use that song sooner, or use it during a Mellie takeover but I’m just happy the music producer didn’t think it was too cheesy to use for Olivia Pope and Co. Vince Gilligan waited until the absolute perfect moment to use “Crystal Blue Persuasion” and not that I’m comparing the quality of the two shows (because they’re both amazing in different ways) I think this was the perfect moment to use this song for this show. While half the show is about helping people and getting them out of tough situations, the other half is pretty much just everyone trying to take everyone else down in whatever way possible. What better song to throw in a montage about coming at the white house full bore than this 1978 classic? I’m also choosing to believe that it is no coincidence that Jeannine ended up wearing Mellie’s favorite shade of blue for an interview where she was about to do the First Lady’s bidding. Burn, Baby, Burn indeed! Let’s hope they continue with the great song choices, and the great montages, for the rest of the season.