What does Olivia Pope want? Three seasons in, that’s become the central question of Scandal, the protagonist’s internal conflict surpassing even the most suspenseful storylines about the White House, B-613, terrorism, the election, and even the love triangle and family ties that place Liv at the epicenter of each drama. And it’s a question that’s becoming increasingly hard to answer as talk of white hats and black hats has blurred into a whole lot of moral gray area, and our heroine has received and refused countless opportunities to give it all up and start living “in the light” like a normal human being.
Last night’s episode, “The Fluffer” — named for the particularly unpleasant role Olivia accuses Fitz of pushing her into during what is becoming their weekly blowout argument — finds Liv confronted once again with the fallout from her inability to resist the intrigue of a high-powered career. This time, she and the Gladiators are in the midst of pulling off their most ambitious scheme yet: taking down B-613. After she secures a promise from her father that he won’t harm Fitz, they team up to sabotage the organization that he built but can’t stand to see in the hands of someone he respects as little as Jake. Rowan explains to Olivia that B-613 launched a cyber attack decades ago that allowed it to siphon off tiny amounts of money from practically every line in the federal budget, ensuring the agency’s independence from the government.
Huck is convinced that any attempt to work with Rowan, who ruined his life, is a mistake, and believes his suspicions are confirmed when he taps into what is supposedly B-613’s secret account and finds it empty. When Olivia confronts her father, he figures out that only one person could have moved the money: Jake. So Huck crafts a device that can be plugged into Jake’s phone to instantly bring down not just the bank account but absolutely everything at B-613. (Poor as my understanding of technology is, it is hard for me to imagine how such a piece of hardware might work. And yet, I don’t mind suspending my disbelief on this point.)
Of course, the only person who stands a chance at being alone with Jake for long enough to snatch the phone is Olivia. On the heels of a ridiculous fight, also conducted via cell as Jake stands outside her front door — and says things like, “I wish you’d just stood in the sun with me” and “I asked you to save me, and you said no” — she shows up in his apartment at night. Now that she’s successfully set a sex trap, I think Olivia Pope qualifies as a real spy. The ensuing scene between her and Jake must have pleased their shippers (for my part, though he’s clearly headed down a bad road, I still like Jake better than Fitz), but the over-the-top cinematography quickly pushed it from hot to terrifying. Be sparing with that strobe effect, TV directors!
Meanwhile, at the White House, things are looking bad for the Grant reelection campaign. The Mellie-and-Andrew thing is still happening, and Fitz is throwing a temper tantrum to get Andrew off the ticket. Jeannine Locke shows up again, with a tell-all book and a press conference and the revelation that the President is “a baguette” (gross). And Liv, who unsuccessfully sends Abby to take her place at the White House while she meets with dad and fumes about Fitz, is quickly losing her grip on the campaign. Desperate, and against her advice and conscience, Cyrus leaks the story about Sally’s daughter’s abortion — and Sally quickly spins it to her advantage.
Everything starts to come up Olivia again when she demands to know what Fitz needs — not what he wants. She lays an epic ultimatum on Andrew: if he picks Mellie over Fitz, she will get him off the ticket and utterly destroy his reputation in the process, which will have the effect of ensuring that Mellie won’t even want him anymore. “Given the choice between power and love, men like you will always choose power,” she tells him. Liv must consciously be thinking about Fitz (and maybe Jake, too), but they’ve each offered her so many outs — so many Vermonts and so many offers to stand in the light — that she’s really describing no one so much as herself. It works, of course: Andrew unceremoniously breaks it off with Mellie, who flies into a rage, bursts into the Oval Office, slaps Fitz, and screams at him, “You take everything from me!” That one win for Team Gladiator; the other comes when Abby and Leo team up to take down Reston, enlightening his incarcerated wife about the real facts of the case that landed her in prison.
Sadly, all that is negligible compared to the giant, horrifying mistake that ends the show. We’ve slowly been learning what Maya Pope/Marie Wallace is really up to, as she frolics with her terrorist lover and orders around Adnan and Harrison’s other, um, contact, Claire. (Who else snorted with laughter when Claire told him, “I’m leaning in”?) As Liv eats dinner in a restaurant with Rowan, Mama Pope pops in to complete the family meal, bearing a warning to her daughter to find a different line of work. That’s when Harrison calls with the news that Claire has been killed.
After a major moment of doubt, which Abby pulls Liv out of by conjuring the wisdom of one Olivia Pope (“You don’t get to run”), the Gladiators gather ’round Huck as he pulls the plug on B-613. What they don’t know, as they toast their victory and Liv makes a comment about how good it feels to be on the side of all things good and pure, is that Marie and her associates have just gotten their hands on a bomb. A major bomb. Jake has deployed to Quinn and Charlie to take care of the situation… but Huck cuts the power to B-613 (again, the technological side of this seems shoddy to me) just as they’re waiting for orders to strike. So Mama Pope, Adnan, and the terrorists disappear. Jake, meanwhile, shows up at Olivia’s office and slams her against the wall. “You just killed the President,” he says. The automatic response from the part of me that hates Fitz? “We can only hope.” Whatever’s in store, we’ve only got two episodes left in the season. While I’m sure this particular storyline will be resolved before the summer hiatus, it seems unlikely we’ll end up with much more insight into Olivia Pope’s endgame. In all honesty, she seems to have as little insight about it as we do.