‘Scandal’ Season 4 Episode 5 Recap: “The Key”

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Scandal thrives on interweaving political intrigue with personal relationships and struggles, though for the first few episodes of Season 4, its attempts to unite the two came across as awkward and forced. But, among other encouraging developments, last week’s final moments contained a political bombshell with the power to bring closure to the show’s most persistent interpersonal storyline: the Fitz-Olivia-Jake love triangle.

Under interrogation by none other than Rowan over his role in Little Jerry’s death, Tom maintained that he was just carrying out Jake’s order. So, this week, we find Jake at the Pentagon, refusing to eat, drink, or confess to killing the President’s son. When Cyrus suggests that it might take “a less constitutional form of encouragement” to get a confession out of the B613 veteran, Fitz insists they stay within the boundaries of the law.

But, over two days later, after we’ve learned that Jake’s method of withstanding interrogation involves mentally flying himself back to the island with Liv, an impatient Fitz arrives. They’re singing Otis Redding’s “The Dock of the Bay” together, Fitz convinces Jake to eat a sandwich… and then POTUS goes in hard on his old friend. Jake, of course, realizes that Fitz’s betrayal of him has more to do with Olivia than with any rational belief that Jake killed his son. And then he tries to use that, pulling out the “white hat” talk and insisting to Fitz that Liv loves them both because they’re good men, deep down.

Fitz storms off, but, in a “twist” whose predictability I didn’t even mind, returns in the last moments of “The Key” to pummel Jake with his own bare hands. “You’re being played,” Jake keeps telling him, all the while reminding Fitz that this is all really about Olivia Pope. Because the President is, was, and always will be an idiot, he isn’t hearing any of it.

Meanwhile, at OPA, two things are occupying Liv’s mind: First, there’s Jake’s disappearance, which she originally chalks up to his frustration with her, and wonders whether she’s becoming that irritating woman who’s always whining about “my boyfriend.” In an awkward moment of father-daughter bonding under exceedingly false pretenses, Rowan and Liv sip wine together as he playfully dispenses such wise clichés as, “Let the young lion roam free.” Later, after she realizes that Jake’s last known location was the White House but Fitz refuses to tell her anything, Cy pays Liv a late-night visit to inform her that her boyfriend (or is that her “other boyfriend”?) ordered both Jerry’s and Harrison’s killings. Smelling a rat, she storms in to Papa Pope, who’s prepared with another set of lies: Jake orchestrated all of it so Liv would have to jet off to paradise with him. I’m not sure I find it so believable that she accepts this, but when she tearfully relays the information to Abby later in the episode, it sure seems that Liv has bought into it.

The second thing Liv is up against this week is the surprisingly long-running saga of her friend Catherine, who’s been wrongly accused of murdering her daughter, Caitlin. In “The Key,” Liv and Quinn — who observantly calls out her boss for wasting time by accompanying her peon on a stakeout — witness Catherine’s husband Jeremy’s security guy, Dan Kubiak, killing Caitlin’s friend Faith. Although Quinn eventually figures out that Faith swallowed an important key (seriously, Shonda, is this season your secret Buffy tribute?) and quite graphically cuts it out of her dead body, the mystery of what’s actually going on here isn’t solved this week, either. I’m doubtful this will end up relating much to the larger season-long arc — which now seems set as a power struggle between Jake and Rowan, with Fitz as a pawn and Olivia in constant crisis over who to trust among these three morally bankrupt men who love her — but it’s enough of a fun, fast-paced thriller that I don’t mind going along for the ride.

Elsewhere this week:

  • David, poor schlub that he is, drunk-dials Abby at the White House and eventually confesses his role in the judge’s suicide. We have to endure cringe-worthy lines like, “Those [B613] files made me, David Rosen, a winner.” Oh, David Rosen. Don’t you know that no winner has ever referred to himself as “a winner”? In any case, it’s his question about why everyone is trying to be Olivia Pope that brings Abby to her old boss and ex-friend’s door. “You ruined David Rosen,” says Abby, but then hears what Liv thinks Jake did and enfolds her in a hug. Perfectly executed reconciliation.
  • Huck, we find out, is spying on his family. He told his wife the truth about B613 and his life since leaving it, but she thinks he’s delusional. Still, she agrees to let him see his son… only to bait-and-switch him with a shrink. It’s heartbreaking for Huck, since he feels he did the right thing by coming clean about his life. I don’t blame his wife for backing away, but it’s a sad enough story to reignite my empathy for a character I really thought I was done with by the end of Season 3.
  • Drunk and smelly as ever, Mellie falls apart when Fitz disappears to interrogate Jake and isn’t around for their daily cemetery date. When she confronts him — of course, she thinks he’s been hooking up with Liv — he comes clean that he’s been going after Jerry’s killer. This, remember, is Mellie’s first inkling that her son was murdered, and her reaction is bizarre! She says it helps her to know that Jerry’s death wasn’t random. “He died so we could stay in the White House four more years,” she tells Fitz. He’s as disgusted by this as he is by Mellie’s physical decline, so he packs her off with her bag of chips. At the end of the episode — drum roll, please — Mellie finally takes a damn shower.

“The Key” wasn’t a brilliant episode like last week’s, perhaps, but it did confirm that Scandal can be just as thrilling a show four seasons in as it was after only two. I have a feeling we’ll finally see Liv exert some of her own agency in the Jake-Fitz-Rowan showdown next week; #TGIT can’t come around again quickly enough.