Scandal is getting dark — and not just in the usual way. We’ve seen murders and rapes and stolen elections and terrorist plots, and surely we’ll see more of those things before the season is out. But, as the title “No Sun on the Horizon” suggests, last night’s episode moved Olivia Pope into darker, more desperate psychological and emotional territory than ever before.
Their conversations last week hinted that Jake is starting to take his new role as B613 Command seriously, and — as we could have expected — sounding more than a little bit like Liv’s dad. (If Fitz didn’t at least subconsciously know this would be the result of installing Jake in the position, I’d be surprised.) This week began with a creepily green-lit shot of him telling an unseen listener things like, “I don’t really have a family anymore” and “There’s no on there to miss you.” So, he’s gone off the deep end, in the way that only a man who’s getting used to the idea that he’s secretly more powerful than the President of the United States can.
Speaking of nuts, Sally Langston is sounding crazier than ever this week, babbling things like “Judgment is upon you” when Leo shows up with her reverend, who he hopes will talk her out of her guilt. Instead, she comes away convinced that she must confess to killing Daniel Douglas during the upcoming presidential debate. In her current state, Sally’s bound to sound like a raving loony no matter what she says, but if she comes clean about the murder, she’ll inevitably take Cyrus and Mellie — and, by association, Fitz — down with her.
The White House does not deal well with this news! Liv has just found out about it after a Publius-powered meeting with David, although she’s confused at why Cyrus didn’t come to her first. When she confronts him, he tells her they have to delay the debate (as though a few extra days is going to fix whatever’s broken in Sally Langston. Come on). And this is where Olivia Pope begins to have a bit of a breakdown, laughing and shaking and crying a little bit at the same time. “They’re all murderers,” she realizes — meaning, all three of the presidential candidates.
And then Olivia takes a (very temporary) stand: “I want to walk into the light and feel the sun on my face, Cyrus. You’re on your own.” Here we have the birth of yet another hammer-you-on-the-head-with-it Scandal metaphor, but also a sign that the constant, major moral compromises her job requires are taking a huge mental toll on Liv.
It’s all still clearly on her mind when she comes over to Jake’s later for fake-boyfriend time. “I want to pretend for just one night to be a normal person,” she tells him, and Jake goes into a schtick about working at the sham paper company Acme Ltd., of which he has just made baby-B613 employee (no, not “agent” yet) the receptionist.
Eventually they find themselves dropping the facades, and Jake is full of #realtalk angst: “It all falls on me… I’m through the looking glass.” He gives her one of those outs that Fitz, too, is so fond of: “We could run, you just have to say the word.” Then Olivia says, “Take advantage of me, Jake.” And you know what I wonder? Why we have to sit through cringe-worthy five-minute Fitzlivia sex scenes, and then when she hooks up with Jake, we only see a split-second of it?
Meanwhile, there is plenty of behind-the-scenes pre-debate drama going on. Cyrus realizes that no matter what happens, Sally is a loose cannon, and orders Jake to kill her. But now that he’s Alice (or is he the Queen of Hearts?), he dismisses the situation as a “petty White House squabble” and refuses. So then Cyrus takes another, driving home to Jake that this is very important for his precious Republic. People will lose faith in the government if they realize that the Vice President killed her husband and the White House covered it up!
In other looking-glass news, Liv brings Fitz through before the debate and begs him to throw it. Yup, she’s come back over to his side already; we knew she would, but it doesn’t make this any less disappointing. By the time Jake comes around, saying, “I’d like for us to stop being these people,” she’s made up her mind. There will be no standing in the sun for Olivia Pope — and as much as I’d like to see her skip town with Jake, I have to admit that there would probably be no Scandal left if she actually went through with it.
This is all perfectly timed for Quinn’s purposes — she’s been trying to turn Jake against Liv from behind her Acme Ltd. desk. So when he realizes the woman he (clearly, heartbreakingly) loves isn’t on his side, he pulls Quinn off desk duty and sends her to the Gladiators’ office during the debate to gather intel on Daniel Douglas’ murder.
So, the debate: At first, Fitz seems totally unwilling to throw it. He is, in fact, giving stronger answers than you’d imagine possible for a guy like Fitz. (I guess Mellie has trained him well.) But then Sally veers from “insane wingnut” mode into “insane wingnut who’s about to either confess to killing her husband or have a seizure.” With a sniper perched amid the lights — apparently Cy got through to Jake, after all — Fitz saves the day with an on-purpose Freudian slip (“I’m proud of my personal failings”!). It seems that Sally takes this as a sign from God, and is back in the debate with a vengeance. Perhaps her days of wandering in the desert are over.
The episode hits its emotional high point soon after, when Fitz has yet another of his meltdowns about how immoral his team has been. He thought they were running a clean reelection campaign! But this time, Liv isn’t letting him off the hook. They do it all for him, she says, which is so obvious that only Fitz would need it explained to him. “There is no clean, just like there is no Vermont.” Personally, though, I am starting wonder: Why is there no Vermont? Why is there no standing in the light? For all her crises of conscience, Olivia would seem to be the person with the power to put these escape plans into action. If it were up to Fitz, they’d be making jam together in New England’s fanciest log cabin; if it were up to Jake, she’d be on a plane with him to South America or something. Both of these men have more official power than Liv, but they’d also both give it up to live a quiet life with her. This means two things, I think: Olivia Pope is truly the most powerful human being in the world, and just about all of her problems are of her own making.
Let’s not reflect on all of this for too long, though — because we’ve got to save room for that LAST! 30! SECONDS! twist ABC spent a whole week teasing. First of all, Cyrus finally finds James’ bug and realizes he’s Publius. Perhaps because everyone’s conscience has been hurting lately — and perhaps because he knows this is the best way to manipulate his husband — Cy doesn’t yell at or, like, kill James. Instead, he says things like, “You were right to do this” and “I’m in your hands” and “I’m so very sorry… I love you.”
So, when James shows for a secret meeting with David, he’s decided he can’t go through with destroying his evil husband who loves him very much. But then it doesn’t matter because it’s all a setup, and there’s Jake (he still does the dirty work himself?) with a gun. And that, folks, is the end of the episode. We’ll apparently find out who he shoots next week. My money’s on David, just because we’ve seen so many lovey-dovey scenes between him and Abby recently, and she could use a decent, pathos-driven subplot. Of course, all’s fair in serial TV and war, so it could turn out to be no one. Or he just seriously injures someone. Or someone comes up and shoots Jake in the back of the head just as he’s firing the gun. Or just about anything else.