Over the past two seasons, Mellie Grant has slowly emerged as one of the most fascinating — and undoubtedly the most fun — Scandal characters. She’s a shrewd political player, in the same league as Olivia and Cyrus, and a brilliant woman who gave up her own high-powered career to support her less-talented husband. But how did she become the ice-cold master manipulator she is today? That’s what we learned in “Everything’s Coming Up Mellie,” which spent a great deal of its time on her gut-wrenching origin story — before kicking up speed in the last five minutes with some of the show’s most jarring twists to date.
The episode opens on Mellie giving a reporter a syrupy-sweet tour of the East Wing, babbling on about how she and Fitz are having some of the White House’s paintings restored and making decisions about china patterns in staged interruptions from aides. This is FLOTUS’ “I’m so sorry I publicly accused my cheating husband of being unfaithful” campaign. It’s clear that this is the kind of thing that makes Mellie want to die — even before she, baby Teddy, and the reporter burst into the Oval for a pre-planned bit of faux-spontaneous family togetherness, only to find the office empty.
The interview serves as a framing device for what we might call Fitz’s political origin story, although it sheds far more light on Mellie. It’s the late ’90s in Santa Barbara, and the Grants are not only very much in love, but also having a grand time in bed trying to make a baby. That is, until Jerry interrupts them to introduce Cyrus — with hair! And a beard! And, apparently, a wife! No sooner has he met the couple than he’s fussing over them and gesturing hyperactively at a map of California as he lays out a strategy for Fitz’s gubernatorial run. He and Papa Grant want him to play up his dubious war hero status. As father and son argue privately, we learn what the Gladiators have just dug up in their quest to serve this week’s “client,” Olivia’s mom: Jerry headed the congressional committee that investigated the “plane crash” for which Fitz was responsible. “I covered your ass,” he tells his son. “I made you. I’ll destroy you.”
But before he has a chance to do that, Mellie has her political awakening at the hands of Cyrus, who brushes off her own career ambitions and enlightens her about the life of a political spouse: “He is your full-time job.” From that moment, it’s game on for Mellie Grant. In a scene that’s painful to watch, Jerry drunkenly reveals what Fitz did in Iceland, providing a bit of information that (if it turns out to be true) is even new to us: there was a bomb on the plane. If it had exploded, it would have killed far more people than just the flight’s passengers. Shooting it down and covering up what really happened was the only way for the government to prevent greater loss of life without creating a scandal.
Then Jerry makes a pass at Mellie. When she tries to fight him off, he rapes her.
It’s always difficult for me to accept a rape as character development — it tends to feel like a heavy-handed and unfair explanation for why a woman’s become unhinged, and too often it seems to be TV writers’ way of taking powerful female characters down a peg. It’s to actress Bellamy Young’s and writer Peter Nowalk’s (and also, no doubt, Shonda Rhimes’) credit that it worked in this episode — if not in the rape scene itself, in the aftermath — simultaneously giving us empathy for Mellie, showing us that even Fitz isn’t aware of all she’s sacrificed for him, and transforming her into a woman strong and cold enough to survive anything. Whereas most rape storylines reduce even the most complex characters to exactly the same variety of vulnerability, this one never loses sight of Mellie Grant’s specificity. = By breakfast the next morning, she has realized her new advantage over Jerry, and exercises it by forcing him to treat Fitz kindly, as she knows that’s the only way to make her husband run for governor.
Back in the present, Drunk Mellie makes one of her epic, baroque speeches about all she’s done for Fitz and he suddenly decides that he owes his wife the courtesy of sitting alongside her for that TV interview and vociferously defending her against charges that she’s insane for going public about his infidelity. For the first time, we’re on her side — although it’s kind of unclear why Fitz is, too. It’s as though he’s just watched that Santa Barbara flashback with us.
Meanwhile, in the present and outside the White House, the larger Operation Remington / Olivia’s mom storyline is moving slowly — until the episode’s final few minutes. The Gladiators have learned that the flight was (secretly) delayed while a marshal escorted one passenger off the plane: Omar Dresden. They track down the guy who operated the stairs for the flight… but just by the time Jake shows up to meet him, the building where he’s a security guard is a crime scene, and he’s been murdered. By Quinn.
What? Oh, yes. B613 has finally made its move on her, a gun-range romance with Charlie quickly escalating to her killing a man on his behalf. Of course, that’s not what she thinks she’s doing. She thinks he’s retired from B613 and become a PI. When she plunges a giant syringe into the stair operator / security guard’s hand — albeit with a terrifying, murderous glint in her eye — she believes she’s sedating him to help Charlie carry out a fairly innocuous scheme. Quinn panics once he starts foaming and bleeding at the mouth, and she realizes she’s killed him. That’s when Charlie shows her that he has what she did on video. “Welcome to Wonderland,” he tells her. Whoops!
And that isn’t even the biggest surprise in the episode’s last act. In a series of quick scenes:
- Fitz has pulls “Eli” Pope’s file and figures out that the man he knows as Rowan is Liv’s dad. Honestly, it’s kind of amazing it’s taken him so long to figure out, but then Fitz really has never been as smart as he should be.
- Rowan goes to visit “Omar Dresden” in lockup, and guess what? “He” is really Liv’s mom (Khandi Alexander!). She’s alive! But seriously, WTF has she been doing in a cell for all these years?
- Back in Santa Barbara, Mellie is pregnant with the Grants’ first child. But will the baby be Fitz’s… or (and the thought of this actually makes me gag) his father’s?
“Everything’s Coming Up Mellie” was everything I ever want in an episode of this show: great character development, shocking plot twists, pacing that alternates between rapid-fire action and patient storytelling, parallel plotlines coming together in unexpected ways. Keep it up, Scandal — and, you know, be careful with the rape-as-plot-device territory you’re edging into with this pregnancy stuff.