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'Scandal' recap: One big, happy family... right?

TelevisionEntertainmentScandal (tv program)Mackenzie AstinDownton Abbey (tv program)

We already know Fitz is a pretty lousy politician, and in Thursday’s “Scandal,” we discover he’s also not exactly the world’s greatest dad either. Last week, "Scandal" explored the dark side of democracy, and this week, it's all about the twisted ties that bind family members to each other. 

Now, I know this may come as a shock to you, given how often the Grant children are mentioned on this show, but it turns out that the president is not actually that invested in his offspring. But with a campaign to win, he summons his two teenagers -- who are named Jerry and Karen, because apparently they were born in 1965 -- back from boarding school to sit for a televised family interview. Fitz even requires a briefing from Mellie on his own children, as if he were an alien suddenly asked to pretend to be an earthling father: Jerry is the male child who likes lacrosse, Karen is the female child who recently appeared in her school production of “Our Town.” Warms the heart, doesn’t it?

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Only problem is, the thin facade of domestic tranquility crumbles just minutes before the interview -- conducted by a journalist played by Mackenzie Astin, the object of many a tween fantasy circa 1987. First, it turns out that Jerry has been secretly operating an anti-Fitz website (shades of Caroline Giuliani?) and ordering lots of Reston merchandise online. But shutting down a website is small potatoes compared with the tempest that ensues when Karen walks in on Mellie “on her knees with Uncle Andrew” -- oh my! -- and Fitz, discovering the news, promptly punches his running mate in the face.

He follows that up by verbally flogging Mellie for her infidelity. All of which would be grossly hypocritical, except for the fact that after the birth of Jerry -- who, as you may recall, might actually be Fitz’s brother, not his son -- Mellie stopped having sex with Fitz. As she told him, having a baby changed her, and she was no longer a sexual woman. Of course, the truth is after being raped by her father-in-law, she no longer felt comfortable being physically intimate with Fitz. While I’m happy that Mellie is finally getting some, I have very mixed feelings about the whole rape story line, which is alarmingly similar to the one this past season on “Downton Abbey.” There’s something a bit retrograde about excusing Fitz’s rampant infidelity because Mellie is "frigid," especially when we know the truth. I suppose the show deserves credit for showing us the sad truth behind her frostiness, but there’s also something troubling about the logic here -- that rape somehow leads to character flaws, or can at least help “explain” them.  

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In any case, the Grant family crisis is so acute that, for a minute there, it looks like a problem too massive even for Olivia Pope. It doesn’t help that, in a surprise phone call, evil mommy Maya contemptuously dismisses Olivia’s work, telling her, “You’re nothing but the help.” It is, by design, a dig loaded with racial overtones, one reminiscent of Rowan’s “twice as good” speech from the Season 3 premiere. As much as Mama and Papa Pope hate each other, they share one thing in common: They sure like to play the race card with their daughter. And it also seems to work. Olivia, usually so unflappable, gets rattled any time it’s suggested her behavior is somehow an affront to her fellow African Americans. “Scandal” is color-blind 99% of the time, but when the show does explicitly bring up race, it does so quite effectively.

Frustrated as much by the idea that she’s a high-class version of a maid -- or perhaps a West Wing Uncle Tom -- as by the Grant family melodrama, Olivia walks with just minutes to go before air time. It’s Cyrus who convinces her to turn back and fix the situation, telling her that yes, they are both paid to clean up the messes made by more powerful people, but their work matters. James died for a reason, just like all of Olivia’s maneuvering has a purpose.

So, just in the nick of time, Olivia struts back into the White House and tells Fitz he needs to suck it up, tell his family he’s sorry, and make the interview happen. Why? Because she can’t afford to fail at her job a this point. “It is all I have left,” she says. So Fitz agrees to apologize to his family for his infidelity and many other blunders, in order to salvage his mistress’ career: Irony duly noted.

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Family fun night ends with a call from Rowan, who reveals to Olivia that federal money is filtered to B613 not through one department, but all of them. Earlier in the episode, he'd refused to do so, and explains hsi change of heart by saying, "Families stick together." Of course, we know the truth -- that he wants to help Olivia dismantle the organization, not because she's his daughter, but in order to destroy Jake. It's a perfectly cynical way to end a perfectly cynical episode. 

In other news:

--Just when I think the Huck-Quinn-Charlie subplot can’t get any worse, it does. This week, Quinn gets her revenge on her tormentor by licking his face, then thrusting her tongue in his mouth and promptly walking away. This heave-inducing scene is accompanied by a speech in which Quinn describes, at length, how Huck licked her cheek and stuck his tongue in her mouth. Honestly, I have no idea why Shonda Rhimes & Co. a feel the need to subject us to this, except maybe to understand more acutely the concept of torture.

--I also feel increasing dread over the obvious creep triangle being set up between Quinn, Huck and Charlie. Right now Quinn thinks Huck is the bad guy, but then Charlie moves in to her apartment to “protect” her from him. No points for guessing where this might lead!

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--In happier news, the Harrison subplot is finally gaining momentum. He helps Adnan get immunity in exchange for turning Maya in, but instead she drugs Harrison and steals a flash drive full of information about the president’s Secret Service protocol. Could another assassination attempt be in the works?

--Was I the only who laughed out loud when the third Grant child, little baby what’s-his-name, was pulled out of whatever far-flung corner of the White House he lives in just seconds before the interview? I had completely forgotten about his existence, and apparently so had Fitz and Mellie.

--Notice how Jake, now that he's B613 boss, is even starting to speak like Rowan with. Lots. Of. Dramatic. Pauses. 

ALSO: 

'Scandal' recap: A man for Mellie

'Scandal' recap: The hand of god strikes 

'Scandal' recap: Time to make the bacon

Twitter: @MeredithBlake

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TelevisionEntertainmentScandal (tv program)Mackenzie AstinDownton Abbey (tv program)
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