Note: This recap contains spoilers from ‘Scandal’s season three premiere.
We’ve been waiting for months, but by the time we’re reunited with Olivia Pope she’s just 22 minutes into a really awkward car ride with her father. She looks less like a gladiator and more like a sullen teenager, forced to go home after cheerleading practice, rather than being allowed to go to the diner with her friends.
“Why did you try to have me killed?” Olivia (and all of Twitter) asks. Without flinching, Rowan replies: “I didn’t try to have you killed. I tried to have Jake Ballard killed.”
This episode — the first of “Scandal”s third season — taught us many things. First lesson? Crisis management is a family business. “You’ve gotten yourself into a bit of trouble, Olivia,” Rowan says. “And I’m here to fix it.”
Also: Fitz is a hopeless romantic, who may not be so hopeless. The writers really like Cyrus (because, hello, dialogue). Mellie likes to think when she’s bored. David Rosen is Olivia’s friend! And Abby might have hired a stylist. Because she looks ah-maz-ing.
Rowan has taken it upon himself to procure a private jet , a Swiss bank account and a new identity for his daughter, who has been officially outed as President Grant’s mistress. But not before he gives her a lecture that made me type OUCH several times in my notes.
Rowan questions Olivia’s willingness to believe that Fitz will stand by her, reminding her of the lesson on which she was raised: she has to be “twice as good as them to get half of what they have.”
Olivia gets on the plane, but manages to call (who else?) Cyrus, who begs her not to disappear — just think of what it would do to poor Fitz. Olivia questions his loyalty until he delivers this epically Cyrus line: “I’m a monster, but honey, I’m your monster.”
Somewhere between the jet and the hangar, Olivia seems to have found her gladiator suit. “The White House will destroy you,” Rowan warns. “That’s what Mom used to tell me about you,” she shoots back. Olivia heads to her office, where photographers have descended. Huck and Harrison to the rescue!
Liv is all “It’s being handled,” which to be clear, is not the same as “It’s handled.” The team informs her that clients are jumping ship. Harrison rallies the team, while Olivia tries to reassure everyone in her Rolodex.
Back at the White House, Cyrus and James share a tender moment, which only seems to happen when one of them aids the other’s career. Every marriage is different. Cyrus learns that Olivia’s name could have been released by an inebriated Secret Service agent at a bar where both Secret Service agents and gussied-up Style reporters are known to hang out. (hahahaha). Enter Mellie, who confirms the series of events.
As media reports of the affair grow more detailed, Olivia’s charges mobilize and Cyrus orders up a “kill folder” for Olivia Carolyn Pope, a former party girl with a boarding school pedigree and a penchant for silver foxes.
After another visit from Daddy Dearest, Olivia uses a top-secret code to arrange a private meeting with Fitz and a special guest ... Mellie! After the typical power struggle and a few trademark barbs from the First Lady, the group agrees to tell (part of) the truth — in a press conference and a carefully-curated interview.
Fitz holds Olivia in his arms as she cries (to be fair, she held it together for the first half-hour of the episode).
The plan is in motion. But this is “Scandal” after all, and even the best-laid plans get undermined by someone who wants what they want when they want it.
The plan unravels to a soundtrack of Rick James’s “Superfreak.” We learn that Olivia’s name was leaked by none other than President Fitzgerald Grant!And thanks to some stealth collaboration between Cyrus and the gladiators, a lowly White House employee takes the fall. It’s Jeannine, a communications staffer who once slurred drunkenly that then-candidate Fitz was “so hot!” On video.
As the headlines transform, Harrison gives Olivia a pep talk: “You’re in the clear, Liv. There is nothing wrong with a little self-preservation. It doesn’t mean you don’t wear the white hat.”
Olivia’s going to need her proverbial accessory as she goes to bat for her new client: a White House communications staffer accused of having an affair with the leader of the free world.
Cyrus comes home to find that his go-to assassin, Charlie, is again working with Rowan, who wants to see his daughter’s monster. Rowan shows Cyrus a folder with information on “Operation Remington,” a covert mission that both Jake Ballard and Fitz participated in.
Cyrus stares down at the folder‘s mysterious contents and sets the scene for a satisfying third season: “Oh. My. God.”
Questions to get us through to next week’s episode: What’s in the folder? (Obviously). While we’re at it, what’s a kill folder? Seriously, did Abby hire a stylist? And don’t the gladiators have a conflict-of-interest clause?