In past seasons, Shonda Rhimes and her writers have filled each Scandal episode to the brim and then made it sprint, combining raw action with endless plot twists in a way that was guaranteed to break both individual viewers’ brains and Twitter. This year, though, the show has displayed more restraint than I ever thought I’d see from it — with mixed results. While the first few episodes were just plain sluggish, Scandal has recovered significantly in the past several weeks, as it’s set up several season-long arcs. Last night’s installment, “The Last Supper,” was the final one before next week’s “Winter Finale” (but shouldn’t that be “Fall Finale,” since it’s not even Thanksgiving yet?). The first two-thirds of the episode dragged a bit, but it ended on a strong note, largely thanks to a brilliant action sequence that brought several apparently unrelated storylines together.
If there was a theme to “The Last Supper,” it was dramatically reframing relationships viewers thought we understood. After VP Andrew (who’s been so scarce this season that you’d be forgiven for failing to recognize him immediately) narrowly escapes death by car bomb, Mellie realizes that she still has feelings for him — so it only takes a few moments, once he’s back in the White House, for her to pounce on him and strip down to her red bra. It’s gratifying to see Mellie, who’s suffered so much, both in the past and this season, finally get something she wants. So when we learn, quite suddenly, that Andrew is not only in cahoots with RNC snake Elizabeth North, but also engaged in a torrent affair with her, it’s pretty heartbreaking. Now begins the countdown until Mellie finds out the truth. She’s a woman of steel, but it’s hard to imagine her recovering from yet another blow — or ever trusting a man again.
Then there’s Cyrus and Michael. For weeks, we’ve assumed that Michael doesn’t care a whit for Cy, that he’s extorting the cranky, hardened old Chief of Staff for both money and secrets. It doesn’t take Cy long to come to that conclusion, either; as he’s begging Olivia to find out what information Michael has relayed to Liz, Cy calls him a “whore” — repeatedly. (It’s uncomfortable to hear, and easy to imagine that Scandal is making a point about the way we talk about sex workers, particularly the female ones, forcing us to hear the ugliness of it.) When Cy cancels a date and Michael shows up at his doorstep, there’s a horrifyingly cruel sex scene. (I heard some whispers about it being rape on Twitter, but that’s going a bit too far. Although Cy is clearly abusing his power over Michael, he’s not forcing him.) In the end, though, Michael turns out to be (sort of) protecting Cy. Given access to an unlimited trove of government secrets, he’s only feeding Liz the tamest stuff. Amazingly, he likes Cy and believe he is “a good man”!
And then there’s the Fitz-Olivia-Jake love triangle, which has recently expanded to include Liv’s dad and now qualifies as, well, I believe the technical term is, “WTF square.” The episode kicks off in the White House’s secret bunker/conference room (?), where Jake is trying to convince Fitz and Olivia that they can’t drag Rowan into the light with a trial — they have to just kill him, or he’ll get them first. At the very least, the Grant administration’s secrets will become public knowledge. But, against his better judgment, Jake is convinced to declare a truce with Fitz and contribute his B613 files to the investigation (which leads to a few very awkward interactions between Jake and David Rosen, who both have to pretend that the latter didn’t even know the files existed).
Of course, truce or no truce, the preparations to bring down Rowan become a pissing contest between Fitz and Jake. There’s a particularly gross scene where POTUS all but forces Liv to kiss him in the hallway. One of their arguments inspires Liv’s plan to faux-surrender to her father and thereby lure him to the restaurant where her boyfriends will capture him. It’s a moment that’s set up with unusual subtlety: the show seems to want us to believe, for just a minute, that Olivia really is choosing Rowan over Jake and Fitz. That doesn’t quite work, but what we can tell, during her phone call with Papa Pope, is that her frustration with being a prize in the men’s game is real.
It all falls apart at the episode’s titular “last supper.” (The writers must have been delighted with this title, which fits Rowan’s biblical, mythical mode of speechifying so well.) Liv’s father knows — because of course he knows; he’s basically omniscient — that she set him up. He’s made quick work of the agents surrounding the restaurant, and when Rosen opens the boxes of files he’s got, they turn out to be blank. More importantly, though, he has some revelation-bombs to drop: Rowan knows she think his top priority has always been B613, but, in fact, it’s been his daughter all along. “I’ve never put anything before you,” he says. Now, though, he realizes that Liv has fully betrayed him.
There’s some thinly coded language in Rowan’s speech about Olivia stepping into the “bright white light” with Jake, and how people like the Popes will never be part of her boyfriends’ world. “Those people are not your people,” he says. It’s all an acknowledgment of the role race plays, even in the lives of such a powerful black family, and I hope it’s not just a rhetorical flourish — that we’ll see this play out more in the episodes to come.
The bottom line, though, is that Rowan is done with his daughter. Now Olivia Pope is on her own — and her dad implies that she has no idea how much he’s done to help her over the years. Could it be that he really is the one responsible for her success, as Liv blithely wanders Washington believing that her “gut” and her “white hat” are leading her to victory? We’ll find out, but in the meantime, I’m taking Rowan’s insistence on his own good intentions with a grain of salt. We’ve seen enough of him over the past few seasons to know that he’s a sociopath — you simply don’t do the terrifying things he’s done just because you want to make a better life for your daughter.
Finally, let’s spend a moment on one of the most exciting sequences in Scandal history. We see Huck staking out RNC Liz’s secret hotel room — with his son, Javier, and we know that’s a terrible idea from the moment we see the kid there. Then Kubiak walks in; suddenly Huck and Quinn are on the same stakeout, and we get a hint about what’s going on with all those Olivia Pope photos in the locker. And then we get the Andrew reveal. But wait! Here’s Kubiak, breaking the van’s window. Now here’s Huck, impaling Kubiak on the shattered glass. Oh, and look, it’s Javi, observing from a (somewhat) safe distance that his father has just killed someone. Sigh. In just a few minutes, Scandal has shown us the full, weird web of a conspiracy that’s still so complicated, we’re bound to spend the rest of the season untangling it.