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'Scandal' recap: 'The devil came in'

ElectionsPoliticsScandal (tv program)Courts and the JudiciaryU.S. Department of DefenseColumbus ShortABC

Well, I was wrong.

Last week, I said that “YOLO” was an episode that was setting us up for the fireworks yet to come in the “winter finale” of “Scandal.” But on Thursday night, the jaw-dropping twists I predicted failed to materialize in “A Door Marked Exit.” Instead, we learned that Olivia shares her mother’s taste in outerwear and got yelling -- lots and lots of yelling.

Of course, this being “Scandal,” the yelling -- particularly the opening shoutfest between Sally and her doomed “closeted hillbilly” of a husband Daniel -- was expertly written and performed, at once riveting, hysterical, hilarious and poignant. But still, as far as cliffhangers go, on this or any other show, a personnel change at a government agency does not exactly qualify as a doozie.

While there’s plenty that’s great in “A Door Marked Exit,” the episode also illustrates the built-in problem of this show’s breakneck narrative pacing and constant upping of the stakes. When the vice president’s chief of staff murders a meddling journalist in the first season, the president kills a Supreme Court justice by Season 2, and the veep offs her closeted husband barely halfway through the third season, well -- where else is there to go, really?

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What this episode failed to deliver in exciting plot developments it made up for (or at least tried to) with volume. The episode starts off powerfully, by flashing back to Sally’s fatal argument with Daniel. She slings an entire Old Testament’s worth of fire and brimstone at her husband, excoriating him for “unleashing a snake in our garden” and partaking of the “poison fruit,” by which she means having sex with James. The jittery cinematography and scrambled editing add to the unhinged quality of their fight.

Daniel responds not with biblical fury, but with bitter honesty and some good old-fashioned misogyny. She suggests that “Shrill Sally” knew all along about his attraction to men, and that she only married him because she needed a husband who would tolerate her aspirations and make her more appealing to the family values set. Then, in a final insult, he tells Sally she’ll never be president because he’s got the one thing she can’t buy: a set of male genitalia, to put it politely.

It’s this last insult against her gender that sends conservative cultural warrior Sally Langston into a fit of murderous rage that ends with Daniel dead in a pool of blood. The crazy brilliance of this show is that now I really want Sally to run and win, not only to put Fitz, an obviously terrible politician, out of office, but also to really stick it to her dead husband.

Sadly, however, after calling up Cyrus for help and throwing herself on Daniel’s body in feigned grief in order to ward off a nosy military doctor, Sally reconsiders running for president. She’s also shockingly loose-lipped about her crime, and by the end of the hour at least six people, none of them known for being trustworthy, know the truth.

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Not-so-crazy prediction: Daniel’s death is going to come back to haunt Sally in the very near future. For now, let's pause to consider that all three candidates for president (Reston, Sally, Fitz) are secret murderers.

Also gripping in a bonkers way are James and Cyrus, who start out on icy terms but eventually find yet another Machiavellian and insanely unethical way to patch up their relationship. James, ever the journalist, senses that Daniel’s death was foul play and goes to David with his suspicions, but David, still bitter over Defiance and the months he spent in professional exile teaching dimwitted, penis-doodling high schoolers, declines to pursue the case.

That is until a mysterious NSA worker (timely!) wanders into David Rosen’s office with a recording of Sally’s “the devil came in” phone call to Cyrus. (So make that at least eight people who know what Sally did!) Meanwhile, Cyrus gives a great speech to James about how he's still the same guy he's always been, even if the "666" on his forehead wasn't always visible, and James agrees to stay put as long as he can be the new White House press secretary. Warms the heart, doesn't it?

Elsewhere in the nation’s capitol, Fitz takes Rowan into custody at the Pentagon to interrogate him about Maya. Classy guy that he is, Fitz tries to needle Rowan by saying truly inappropriate things about Olivia’s bedroom habits. It’s not only super gross, it’s also an ineffective tactic. Rowan’s too savvy to fall for Fitz’s very blunt attempt to goad him and instead launches into a tirade the likes of which we haven’t seen since his “you spread your legs” sermon from the season premiere. (Joe Morton is a really excellent rager, isn’t he?) The gist of his rant? That Fitz is a spoiled little rich kid who’s using Olivia as a way to ruin his presidency and get back at his dad. It’s a fascinating and, I have to admit, pretty convincing bit of armchair psychoanalysis.

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But Olivia, armed with the newly discovered knowledge that her mother was some kind of ruthless international mercenary, soon arrives at the Pentagon to try, once again, to extract the truth from her father. In a scene that reminded me of something from “Lassie” (Lassie: “Woof, woof!” Timmy: “What!? Old Man Prescott fell down the well?”), Rowan sits there in complete silence as Olivia figures out that Maya lied about a bomb in order to get him to order the plane shot down. Our heroine is smart, but clairvoyant? I don’t know about that.

And despite her skills as a fixer, not even Olivia is capable of stopping her mom from going on the lam once again. Maya’s plane to Hong Kong somehow winds up on the ground in Mongolia, its crew dead, and she makes her way back to D.C. The last we see of Maya she’s standing in front of the White House clad in a chic white coat, carrying a cellphone that she promptly chucks into the garbage. Hmmm …. where have I seen that before? The implication, of course, is that Olivia takes after her mother in ways she might not even understand. It’s a nice character moment, but it doesn’t exactly leave me dying to find out what else the Pope women have in common. (How does Maya feel about popcorn? I must know!)

Meanwhile, Papa Pope’s position at B-613 is left uncertain when he returns to Wonderland to find Jake seated at his desk. This leaves many questions, none of which are that exciting. Did Fitz appoint Jake? Isn’t B-613 outside the president’s control? If he didn’t install Jake then who did?

But the most problematic aspect of the episode is the disconcerting amount of time spent following the never-ending saga of Huck, Quinn and her creepy assassin boyfriend Charlie. This means that, once again, that brewing subplot with Harrison has yet to come to fruition and Columbus Short remains criminally underused. He does, at least, get a hilarious line when he is stuck in a room with Abby and David as they share a graphic conversation about their sex life. “I’m right here,” he says. If only Shonda Rhimes would take notice! Here’s looking ahead to 2014.

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Sorry, gladiators: ABC reduces 'Scandal' season order to 18 episodes

Twitter: @MeredithBlake

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ElectionsPoliticsScandal (tv program)Courts and the JudiciaryU.S. Department of DefenseColumbus ShortABC
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