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'Scandal' recap: Oh, Mellie!

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C’mon, we all knew that was coming, didn’t we?

 

In a twist about as surprising as the news that Andy Kaufman is, in fact, still dead, it turns out that Mama Pope is still alive, if not exactly well. In the closing seconds of Thursday’s “Scandal,” Rowan pays a visit to his spouse-prisoner, who’s living in some kind of dank underground cell -- just one of the many bunkers in this most paranoid of shows.

 

It’s predictably unpredictable in that way that “Scandal” is, a development that caps off an episode in which Olivia’s unfolding back story takes a backseat to Mellie. One of the things I’m enjoying about this season is the show’s turn away from the problematic Fitz-Olivia affair to focus on filling in the back story of its characters. Most notably, we’ve seen Olivia develop from a one-dimensional superhero clad in white to a woman whose emotional invulnerability, a symptom of her wildly unhealthy relationship with her father, may be her greatest weakness.

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And in “Everything’s Coming Up Mellie,” we get a glimpse not just into the first lady’s Sirkian life story, but also learn even more about Cyrus, Fitz and even Sally’s quite possibly closeted hubby, Daniel Douglas. The present-day events on “Scandal” are already crazy, but it’s nice to know that things were perhaps even more nuts in the past.

 

The episode opens as Mellie is giving a televised White House tour a la Jackie Kennedy (“It’s not fair, it’s America,” says Cyrus by way of explanation, once again delivering the line of the episode.)  Then it flashes way, way back to the early days of the Grant marriage, when they were still a happily married, hot-for-each-other couple untainted by the nasty business of politics -- though not for long.

 

It’s 1998, though judging from Mellie’s Kate Jackson bob, it seems more like 1978 and the future first lady, who is perhaps in her late 20s, is already a partner at a law firm. Her husband, on the other hand, is a relative nobody with a well-known last name, a military record and his eyes on the governor’s mansion.  His powerful father, Jerry -- a nightmarish version of Joseph Kennedy --  has enlisted strategist Cyrus Beene to help turn Fitz  into a viable candidate. Cyrus and Jerry want Fitz to emphasize his service in the Navy, but he’s reluctant to do so, probably because of that time he was asked to shoot down a civilian airplane carrying 300 people. Can’t really blame the guy, can you?

 

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The bickering continues between father and son, and, in some kind of horrifying attempt to mark his domain, Jerry blindsides Mellie first by telling her about Operation Remington, and then by raping her as Fitz dozes upstairs. Just chew on that for a second, will you? Mellie finds out that her husband is responsible for killing hundreds of civilians who may or may not have died anyway thanks to a dirty bomb, then a minute later is sexually assaulted by her own father-in-law. That’s some traumatizing stuff right there.

 

“Scandal” rarely misses an opportunity to remind us of the perils faced by women in (or near) politics, and Mellie seems to have the most harrowing tale so far: A bright, talented woman who seems to have more political talent than her milquetoast husband, she gives up everything for her his career -- including her own right to justice.

 

Worst of all, her unborn child -- who will grow up to become one of the nameless, faceless Grant kids who are always off at boarding school or something -- is most likely not Fitz’s, but Jerry’s. Mellie tells Fitz nothing of the attack, but it’s clear the trauma has only made her more determined to see him succeed. It’s a fascinating, if deeply depressing, view of female ambition as a side effect of victimization.

 

Setting aside the very awful circumstances under which Baby Grant was conceived, and poor Mellie’s plight, there is something exhilarating about “Scandal’s” willingness to embrace every soap opera cliche under the sun. The count this week includes Dead Person Who Actually Turns Out To Be Alive, Baby With Secret Paternity. It’s further evidence that there is absolutely nothing wrong with a little sudsy melodrama, when executed properly.

 

Back in the present day, Mellie is proving herself once again to be the real political star in her marriage, working the press and scheming with Cyrus to bring down Sally’s cheating husband, Daniel. They try to frame him by hiring a prostitute to chat him up at a party event in Iowa, but he doesn’t bite -- that’s because he’s more interested in James. It’s a delightfully wicked little twist that colors the conversation Sally has with Daniel earlier in the episode in which, speaking entirely in code, she orders him in no uncertain terms to keep it in his pants. Obviously Sally is aware of his orientation, which leads me to wonder whether she isn’t hiding something as well.

 

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Over at Pope & Associates, Olivia comes clean to her employees in a confession that, in any other episode, might have seemed more noteworthy. She tells them not only about Rowan and Maya, their “client” of the week, but also about Fitz’s possible role in shooting down Flight 522. The team investigates the accident and quickly learns there was a man, named Omar Dresden, who was removed from the flight by a federal marshal while it was delayed on the tarmac.

 

Jake tracks down a former airport employee who brought the stairs to the plane that night, but he’s a minute too late: Quinn, blinded by her feelings for Charlie and/or her latent bloodlust, has already killed a security guard who, we’re led to believe, is the stairs guy but is more likely some poor sap in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Whatever the case may be, it looks like “Omar Dresden” is just a cover for Maya Pope. How she got from the plane to that underground lair, and just what she's been doing for the past 20 or so years, is a mystery to me, but I sure am excited to get to the bottom of it. "Scandal," you had me at "our daughter's been asking about you."

 

Stray thoughts:

--What do we make of Olivia and that black coat?

--In flashback, we learned that Cyrus used to be married. The plot thickens!

--So Quinn falls for Charlie’s ploy and accidentally indoctrinates herself into B-613. I’ve been wary of the Quinn-as-budding-psychopath storyline but I’m surprisingly happy with this result.

--Somehow I didn’t piece it together until Thursday that Fitz didn’t know Rowan was Olivia’s dad. Sometimes there are just too many moving parts to keep track of on this show.

ALSO:

'Scandal' recap: Olivia confronts Fitz about Operation Remington

'Scandal's' Kerry Washington: Is she a sellout for hosting 'SNL'?

Kerry Washington to host 'Saturday Night Live' Nov. 2

Twitter: @MeredithBlake

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Media IndustryScandal (tv program)Kerry WashingtonThe Good Wife (tv program)Saturday Night Live (tv program)
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