‘Scandal’ Season 3 Episode 12 Recap: “We Do Not Touch the First Ladies”

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“I did this for me.” “I am a person.” “I am not a hen, and my house is not yours.” After a surprisingly low-key midseason premiere, this week’s Scandal had emotions — not to mention voice volumes — running high from the very first scene, a screaming fight between Olivia and Fitz. They’re arguing about Liv casting Jake in the role of Decoy Boyfriend, while the new leader of B613, arguably the most powerful man in the world, waits uncomfortably outside the door.

It’s a refreshing moment for a variety of reasons — I mean, what fan of this show doesn’t enjoy seeing Fitz ripped into? — but what made it truly exciting, for me, was watching Olivia take her power back. If you think about it, for most of Scandal‘s three seasons, our heroine has been a brilliant, powerful woman who’s been thrown off her game. Her forbidden romances and screwed-up family have occupied her attention and torn her up inside; her trusty “gut” has failed her over and over again. Even though, in this scene, she’s talking specifically about the choice to have Jake by her side during the campaign, her invective doubles as an announcement that she’s ready to put herself first again.

Of course, in the world of Olivia Pope, this means throwing herself into the next big crisis. The White House learns that a reporter is chasing an Oxycontin scandal dating back to Fitz and Andrew’s time together in California. It looks like the mystery is solved when Andrew confesses to receiving the Oxy delivery and prepares to be dropped from the campaign.

But that’s not the story the California flashbacks are telling. The first teases an affair between Mellie and the former lieutenant governor (and echoes the previous scene between Liv and the POTUS), she and Fitz fight about how distant she’s been, as Andrew stands just outside the door. Later, we learn that the pills were Mellie’s; her rape at the hands of her father-in-law, and subsequent pregnancy, drove her to a suicide attempt. It was Andrew who saved her, and who clearly has been in love with her ever since. Back in 2000, she resisted his advances; in the present, faced with Fitz’s infidelity and increasingly cruel indifference towards her, she isn’t so loyal. When Mellie kisses Andrew — in a room full of disapproving-first-lady paintings, no less! — it’s one of the greatest cheesy-brilliant scenes in Scandal‘s history. (Or maybe I’m just excited to see the FLOTUS finally get some.)

The Oxycontin story is, of course, just a device to delve into Mellie and Andrew’s past, and it fades away a bit vaguely once the Gladiators track down the doctor who blabbed about it. But it isn’t the episode’s only journalist/secret source subplot. James, aka “Publius,” is making significant headway in his quest to take down his husband. He hits a snag, though, when it’s time for him to meet the reporter he’s been feeding information to in person. As the White House press secretary, he can’t do it himself — so poor David Rosen agrees to take his place. Obviously, it turns out to be a setup, courtesy of Cyrus, and Charlie sacks David before he makes it to the meeting. It’s not clear where this is going next, although the seemingly gratuitous scene in which Abby tells David she loves him has me assuming the worst. No touching emotional moment goes unpunished on this show.

“We Do Not Touch the First Ladies” — best episode name yet? — also finds Olivia taking her dad to dinner, in a veiled attempt to get him off Fitz’s case. She’s worried about him, she says, now that he’s lost all that power. But Papa Pope is no dummy, and he calls her on her manipulation. Liv wastes no time ending the meal… only to find Quinn spying on her from a car outside. From there she goes into full-on maternal mode, begging the exiled Gladiator to “come home.” It won’t be that easy, though. Reminding Liv that Huck licked her face like a piece of meat he was about to devour, Quinn cuts off the conversation by pulling a gun. “Get out or I’ll shoot you.”

Back at the Pope & Associates ranch, Huck has been bringing Liv coffee all day, even though she doesn’t drink it. (I’d recommend a nice bottle of red, but apparently he’s doing it for symbolic reasons. Buying coffee is a nice thing human beings do for other human beings, Huck has gathered!) He doesn’t especially want to apologize; he just wants Liv to stop being mad at him. Huck, you see, is “a very loyal monster,” and he reminds his boss, “You hold the leash. You went too far… Monsters eat people.”

I have a theory about what’s being set up here, although I could be completely wrong. Huck’s story seems to have run its course. Viewers, for the most part, have been sick of the character since last season. And he’ll never change, so Quinn can never return to the Gladiators while he’s still around. For now, she appears to have talked her way back into B613. But I’m thinking, perhaps even before the season is out, Huck is going to die so Quinn can come back into the fold.

For now, though, Harrison is the Gladiator Olivia should really be worried about. He’s still sharing a bed with Adnan, and now we know they’ve done worse things together than insider trading — like something called “Clearwater,” which Liv apparently knows nothing about. She flashes a suitcase of cash and instructs him to call in a donation… and then we see her in a sparkly dress at Fitz’s donor dinner, thanking Cyrus for letting her back into the US. (Also in attendance: Hollis Doyle, who’s resurfaced and is attempting to play Fitz and Sally against each other.) It’s impossible to tell where all of this is heading until the very last moments of the episode, when we see Adnan hanging out with none other than Liv’s mom. She’s ba-ack! This is an excellent twist, one that Scandal has clearly been building up to for a while, and one I hadn’t even begun to foresee. The question is, how much does Harrison know — and is he prepared to betray Olivia now that he’s shacking up with Adnan again?

Before we go, let’s jump back to Liv and Jake, whose relationship is a kind of mirror image to Liv and Fitz. Now that he’s been presented with the B613 Suitcase of Secrets (note to Shonda: that was ridiculous), Jake has started to feel the weight of the world on his shoulders. And he’s sick of being pushed around, being made to play the boyfriend of the woman he actually loves. “Stock your fridge!” he demands, when he returns home one night (only to find, I’m assuming, an endless supply of wine and popcorn). I will always pick Jake over Fitz for Liv, but now that he’s sounding more and more like Rowan/Eli every time we see him, I’m starting to worry. With the big reveal that Fitz’s trusty Secret Service guy is on B613’s payroll and happy to provide video of Olivia Pope in the Oval Office, telling the president she doesn’t know if she has feelings for Jake, this love triangle is bound to heat up. Again.