KERRY WASHINGTON

Kerry Washington in a scene from ABC's "Scandal." (Richard Cartwright / ABC / October 28, 2013)

On Thursday night, “Scandal” once again proved itself to be the most predictably unpredictable show on television. In a last-minute twist, as Maya is fleeing the country in a military plane procured by none other than the president, Olivia figures out that her mother is the real monster in the Pope family, a possible terrorist imprisoned by Rowan in a bid to protect his daughter. Who could have possibly predicted that? (Answer: every last one of us.)

And here’s how we all knew Maya couldn’t be trusted: At the safe house, with Olivia in a state of stunned silence, Abby is the first to express skepticism about “Dead Mama Pope.” “Where have you been all this time?” she asks, a very sensible question indeed.

In response, Maya rattles off an explanation that’s flimsier than a straw house. “I married a man and found out he was a monster,” she says, claiming she “saw some files” and was on her way to blow the whistle in London when Rowan caught her, framed her and threw her into prison. Not to mention, Maya never even specifies what it is she saw in those files, or what kind of “monster” Rowan supposedly is, or why she had to go to London to report him. I’m no lawyer, but if you ask me this does not exactly add up to an open-and-shut case.

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But then I can’t really blame Olivia for letting her guard down, either. For most of the episode, she keeps her distance from Maya, at least physically, remaining standoffish from Mama Pope, a.k.a. Omar Dresden, a.k.a. Marie Wallace, while pouring all her energy and resources into spiriting her away to safety in Hong Kong. I guess that’s how Olivia shows her love: not with hugs and tears but by going into crisis-management mode.

We’re also privy to multiple flashbacks in which a young Olivia absentmindedly says goodbye to her mother. She’s too engrossed in “Bridge to Terabithia” and her bowl of Froot Loops to get too worked up about her Maya’s impending trip to London. Her “whatever, Mom” attitude lends their farewell an added touch of poignancy, as does the liberal use of Michael Jackson’s “Ben,” the most moving song ever written about a boy’s friendship with a killer rat, on the soundtrack. At first, this seemed like a hilariously incongruous choice, but it actually makes more sense the more I think about it: Olivia, like the lonely protagonist of the 1972 film “Ben,” forms a dangerous attachment to a monster, only in this case it's her mother, not a homicidal rodent.

This vulnerability leads Olivia to call in her biggest favor yet with Fitz, who despite her half-hearted objections, arranges for a private plane to take Maya to safety in Hong Kong. Should the plane actually make it off the runway, this is obviously going to be a problem for the president. Voters do not look favorably on candidates who arrange for their mistress’ terrorist mommies to flee the country on military planes.

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There’s a whole lot of drama elsewhere in “YOLO,” too, an episode that, like “Scandal” as a whole, is all about ruthless women. There’s Quinn who, following her unwitting murder of a security guard and enrollment in B-613, is subject to “Marathon Man”-style punishment from Huck. After losing a couple of teeth, she works out a deal with Huck -- one that, it seems, involves going to Wonderland and injecting Papa Pope with a deadly syringe.

We also have Sally, who, in a wonderfully implausible turn of events, agrees to pretend she’s pro-choice in order to run as an independent candidate. She blindsides Fitz with the news, which puts even greater pressure on Cyrus to out Daniel. When confronted with photographic evidence of her husband’s tryst with James, she plays it cool, giving the impression she knows about his closeted lifestyle. But clearly, given the fact that Daniel winds up very dead in a pool of blood at Sally’s feet, she’s not OK with it. (In related news, Nate Silver is now predicting with 99% certainty that Fitz will be re-elected.)

Things are nearly as dire on the homefront for Cyrus. James, wise to his husband’s scheme, gushes about what a “fascinating” man Daniel is and drops lots of none-too-subtle innuendos about threesomes and “quick and dirty.” Cyrus finally snaps, and a fiery argument ensues. “I think we should make a game plan for what kind of rent boy you want me to be,” says James, wondering why Cyrus would “pimp out” his own husband. Their argument is “Scandal” at its best, both intensely soapy and thoroughly heartbreaking.

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The whole episode is bonkers, of course, but in a way that’s completely standard for “Scandal,” a show that requires us to use a sliding scale when it comes to assessing narrative insanity. What would be considered utterly ludicrous on any other show is the norm on “Scandal,” which is precisely what makes it so enjoyable. Such is the case with “YOLO,” by any rational measure a highly dramatic hour of television that is really more about setting us up for the sure-to-be-epic craziness of next week’s “winter finale.” (I insist on using quotation marks around that made-up concept.) I can’t wait.

Stray thoughts:

--Olivia just happens to have a friend who works in customs in Hong Kong. I wish I could hire her to travel with me. You know she probably never has to wait in security or check a bag and that she always gets upgraded to first class.

--If Maya really is so monstrous, why didn’t Rowan just kill her? Obviously the answer is that that would be less dramatic, but the guy has no qualms about murdering people. Why bother imprisoning someone for two decades when you can just execute them with impunity?

--A woman shows up looking for Harrison at the office, telling him that Adnan Salif is back in town. Expect this to blow up next week.

--I love that James, who never seemed too concerned about journalistic ethics, suddenly develops some scruples when Daniel asks to see a copy of his story before it goes to print.

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Twitter: @MeredithBlake