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'Scandal' recap: Olivia's got some daddy issues

October 04, 2013|By Meredith Blake
  • Kerry Washington and Columbus Short in "Scandal."
Kerry Washington and Columbus Short in "Scandal." (Eric McCandless / ABC )

Before the Season 3 premiere of “Scandal,” you could count the things we knew about Olivia Pope on one hand: she liked wine, popcorn and highly impractical outerwear. And, oh yeah, she has a desperate and unstoppable attraction to the married president of the United States, Fitzgerald Grant, one that makes her do crazy things like steal elections.

Beyond that, however, Olivia was always a bit of an enigma, someone who kept her own secrets deeply hidden in order to preserve her aura of invincibility -- like a female version of Don Draper. But in Thursday’s premiere, “It’s Handled,” that mystique begins to crumble and we learn more about Olivia in about five minutes of screen time than we have in all 29 previous episodes combined. I'm glad Shonda Rhimes and her writers have decided to tell us more about Olivia. After all, every superhero needs an origin story.

The premiere picks up just seconds after the show left off in the spring -- an unusual move for a show that takes huge temporal leaps. Olivia, just outed as Fitz’s mistress, has been swept away into the back of a limousine with her dad, Rowan -- a.k.a. Mysterious Guy We Saw Talking to Jake on Park Benches Last Season. Played with face-melting intensity by Joe Morton, Rowan launches immediately into a blistering tirade.

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“You raised your skirt and opened your knees and gave it away to a man with too much power,” he seethes, spittle flying from his mouth. But Rowan’s not disappointed with Olivia for sleeping with a married man; he’s disappointed in her for not remembering his advice, “You have to be twice as good as them to get half of what they have” -- an indirect, if unmistakable, reference to their race.

Which is why Rowan’s so mad she would settle for the pipe dream of being first lady and not “aim higher,” for something like secretary of State. Throughout the lecture, Olivia stands with her head down, looking abashed.

His solution to the unfolding crisis is to put his daughter on a private plane and send her off to faraway lands with a new identity. “You’re getting on that plane come hell or high water,” he says. “And to be clear, I am the hell and the high water.” Old Man Pope is terrifying.

Olivia bails on the plan, as we knew she would, because otherwise Fitz will think Cyrus had her killed. We’ve all been there, right? You want to flee the country but your best friend begs you to stay so your boyfriend doesn’t think he had you murdered. She returns to the office to find her firm itself in crisis, with clients desperately trying to distance themselves from the scandal. (Oh, the irony!)

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Making matters worse, Cyrus, who assured Olivia, “I’m your monster,” is not living up to his promise. He asks his aides to start a “kill folder” on Olivia who, need I remind you, is the godmother to his daughter. It's pretty low, but it's also very useful, because here’s what we learn: Olivia's mother died when she was 12; her father curated antiquities at the Smithsonian, or at least that’s the cover he used, and went by the name “Eli”; she went to lots of fancy boarding schools and never lived at home after her mother’s death; she has a thing for powerful older men and has dated a “nice lineup of silver foxes.”

“I never knew that about her,” Cyrus says. Neither did we, Cy. The plan is to use the information to smear Olivia as an “ambitious slut,” but thankfully Cy doesn’t pull the trigger. Instead he and the Gladiators team up to frame someone else, young White House staffer Jeanine, using an embarrassing video.

This, however, does not sit well with Olivia. Unbeknownst to everyone else, she’s “pulled the fire alarm” -- activated some kind of one-time-only emergency procedure that allows her to meet with Fitz and Mellie in a super-secret underground bunker equipped with flattering lighting and stylish modern furniture. In the midst of the hasty operation, she changes into her fiercest and most armor-like coat yet, which looks a little like something Sherlock Holmes would have worn if he were a size 0 woman with an unlimited dry cleaning budget.

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The bunker scene is easily the highlight of the episode, mostly because of Bellamy Young, who is always so next-level amazing, like a latter-day Bette Davis or Joan Crawford. Olivia outlines an elaborately detailed plan to come clean about their affair and put the whole issue to bed by the time primary season rolls around. “The truth works,” she says confidently.

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