Well, that’s more like it. After last week’s Scandal laid some intriguing groundwork while still failing to thrill me, I pretty much demanded that the show start heating up — and guess what? It did. “Icarus” opened with a flashback in which an adorably geeky 12-year-old Olivia Pope says good-bye to her mother (played by the wonderful Khandi Alexander, from Treme) for what she doesn’t realize will be the last time.
For the most part, this is an episode about the ongoing Operation Remington arc — but for the first time, the plot is all about the human drama, rather than Jake and Huck typing code and firing numbers at each other over the phone. (In fact, I can’t be the only one who’s just generally relieved that this week was light on Huck scenes.) They’ve shared their findings with Liv, and since she’s too afraid to confront her father about whether he’s behind her mother’s death, she stalks off to ask the president of the United States of America whether he performed a secret mission that involved shooting down that plane.
Of course, the White House crew is shocked when it turns out Olivia isn’t there to accept their job offer. Once she has Fitz alone — a moment Mellie seems really perversely excited about — she goes hard on Remington, but he stonewalls her. “This is your boyfriend Jake talking,” he sniffs, insisting that Remington “does not exist” as far as she’s concerned. That’s when Liv tells him in no uncertain terms that she can’t be his campaign manager.
Back at Pope HQ, it’s time to pretend that she’s picking Josie over Fitz for political reasons: first woman president! Wearing the white hat! Definitely nothing to do with the fact that the incumbent might have killed her mother 20 years ago! Well, whatever — I wanted to see Liv go head to head with Fitz in the political arena, and so far it’s everything I hoped it would be.
And then it’s time for a major Josie Marcus overhaul. Her campaign needs money, and Liv convinces her to start courting big business for donations. It’s in these awkward meetings that Lisa Kudrow finally has room to do something interesting with the role. Here’s hoping she sticks around for much of the season.
But it’s not all gentle mentorship for Marcus. Olivia insists that at some point the candidate is going to have to stop being nice and start to show her teeth; it’s the only way the American people will see her as tough. This, apparently, defies Josie’s morals far more than selling out to the sugar lobby, and she refuses. Which is when a campaign ad appears that bears much resemblance to Hillary Clinton’s awful “3 a.m. ringing phone” spot from the 2008 election. The subtle misogyny on display in the clip puts Josie in touch with her rage — to the extent that by the time she’s in a high-profile TV interview with James (who I guess is the only journalist in DC, because why else would she grant her one interview to the husband of Fitz’s chief of staff?) she’s ready to pontificate about sexism in politics. (We later find out that the ad is a fake, created by the Gladiators to produce precisely this response from the congresswoman.)
Her thorough deconstruction of a system that likes to profile female politicians in their homes and cover up prejudice with shots at a candidate’s “lack of experience” (another reference to the coded language used against the ’08 Obama campaign) is some of the most brilliant dialogue I’ve seen on Scandal. The only problem is that, call me pessimistic, but I can’t imagine such a fierce feminist statement from a presidential candidate being received as well as Marcus’ speech. Unfortunately, I think that in real life the combination of the adoption scandal and what would surely be characterized as a “rant” would sink her. Then again, I have to admit that this is the kind of unrealistic moment I enjoy most on the show, when #realtalk about sexism, racism, and the failures of the American political system actually works in the characters’ favor.
Meanwhile, as Olivia gets more and more depressed about Fitz’s possible involvement in her mom’s death, she gets trashed at home with a bottle of wine and drunk-dials Papa Pope. In a great moment of inebriated vulnerability, she drawls, “I have so many questions to ask you, but I’m afraid if I do you’ll kill my friends.” (Silly Olivia: he’s going to kill your friends no matter what you ask him! Don’t you know that by now?) Rowan says he’ll answer just one question. When she asks whether he gave the order to kill her mother, he says no. And then when she tries to get in a question about Fitz, he won’t answer it.
Speaking of Fitz, he’s less likable than ever in this episode (and I didn’t particularly love him to begin with!). Towards the end of the hour, he calls Jake into his office after a bit of spy vs. spy with the old lover he asked to dig up the cockpit recording from Olivia’s mom’s plane and orders him to stop investigating Remington. “You’re on your own now,” Fitz says. Which I guess means that the next time Jake goes to meet a B613 pal who’s hiding a gun in her purse, he’s actually going to get shot.
Obviously, since we’re talking about Fitz, this is more about his jealousy over Jake’s relationship with Olivia than it is about national security or his reelection campaign. As he does at the end of so many Scandal episodes, the president shows up at her doorstep and begs her to dump Josie and work for him. “We could try to be us again,” he says. “There is nothing you could do that I wouldn’t forgive,” he says. He can’t figure out why she’s so obsessed with this Remington business! And then she drops the bomb that her mother was on the plane.
That’s where we leave the lovebirds this week, but before we go, let’s check in on some subplots. First of all, we’ve got Deranged Quinn spending all her free time at the gun range — when Charlie shows up, under orders from Rowan, apparently to recruit her for B613. And then there’s Sally, who’s working with Leo to manipulate Fitz and the radical right into facilitating her plans to run as an independent. It should be interesting to see what kind of intrigue Mellie gets into, playing on Sally’s husband’s “wandering eye.”
Perhaps my favorite development in “Icarus,” though, is that we’re finally getting a Harrison storyline! Adnan Salif, the insider trader who he used to work for and whose reentry into the US would spell big trouble for him, is applying for a visa. Cy tells Harrison this in an effort to get Olivia away from the Josie Marcus campaign. But Harrison calls his bluff, assuming Cy wouldn’t risk having his name attached to a visa request for Salif. Well, he’s wrong about that. Although we don’t know where this is going yet, I for one am thrilled that this excellent episode provided Scandal with its first major entry point to Harrison’s past. More weeks like this, please, Shonda!