Be careful what you wish for: That’s the resounding message of Thursday’s jam-packed “Scandal” episode, “The Fluffer,” in which Olivia conspires to bring down B613, the covert operation responsible for so much of the personal misfortunes that have befallen her team of gladiators. With a little help from Huck, she succeeds, but little does she know that in shutting down the organization, she’s also putting her boyfriend -- and, oh yeah, the leader of the free world -- directly in harm’s way. It just goes to show you: Even Olivia Pope is capable of royally screwing up sometimes.
This wild twist occurs in the closing minutes of an episode that felt like three or four episodes crammed into one. Even for a show with a typically breakneck pace like “Scandal,” there are a dizzying number of developments in this hour, which makes me wonder how much reworking had to be done to fit a season’s worth of narrative into just 18 episodes.
Let’s begin with Mellie and Andrew who, like Olivia, learn that sometimes getting the thing you want can have dire unintended consequences. With the affair out in the open, at least within the White House, Fitz’s first instinct is to boot Andrew from the ticket. But this would be disastrous for his already hurting reelection campaign, so Fitz, in one of his occasional fits of hypocritical marital jealousy, orders Olivia -- ya know, his longtime mistress? -- to put the kibosh on the Mellie-Andrew canoodling.
She obliges, telling Andrew that he has a choice: Continue sleeping with the first lady (she puts it a bit more crudely) or stay on the ticket. As Olivia predicts, he chooses power over passion, sending Mellie into a rage. Storming into the Oval Office, she slaps Fitz across the face, screaming, “You take everything from me.” It’s some grade-A, Sirkian melodrama, but it’s also hard not to feel for Mellie. Married to a man who’s madly in love with someone else -- and does little to hide it -- you can hardly blame her for wanting a little affection. But as we know, hell hath no fury like a Mellie scorned, and I suspect that Fitz’s decision may come back to haunt him. Mellie knows where the bodies (and the votes) are buried.
“The Fluffer” also marks the return of Jeannine Locke, the former White House staffer who was wrongfully framed as Fitz’s mistress in order to cover up his actual affair with Olivia. She’s now published a memoir in which she recounts all kinds of sordid sexual encounters that never happened, even revealing that Fitz is more “baguette” than “breadstick” -- an image that may do the impossible and put me off of carbs forever.
Cyrus also leaks the news that Sally’s teenage daughter had an abortion, leading her to publicly flip-flop on one of her core issues. Meanwhile, Abby and Leo team up to destroy Reston’s reputation with female voters by taping a conversation in which he threatens to smear his imprisoned wife. It works. (As if, in real life, having a wife in prison wouldn’t already be something of a public relations challenge for a presidential candidate. But I digress.)
In other news, Maya is back in town and causing all kinds of trouble. In between shacking up with a mysterious shirtless old flame, she finds the time to crash Olivia and Rowan’s family dinner and to kill Claire, the contact Harrison enlisted to infiltrate her operation. There are too many new characters and subplots and not quite enough explication to be able to really connect the dots, but we get the gist: Maya is seriously bad news.
These numerous subplots are simmering away as Olivia presses on with her seemingly noble goal of shutting down B613 -- a task that, it’s worth noting, she assigns to herself, rather than at the behest of Fitz or another client. As the title would suggest, “The Fluffer” explores the idea that Olivia, for all her glamour and power, is really there to service others. This idea first popped up last week, when Maya dismissed her daughter as “the help,” and in Thursday’s episode it takes on a new, specifically sexual dimension. Yes, Olivia is great at what she does, but to what end? Boosting her boyfriend’s career? It doesn’t help that these two are incapable of having single-work related conversation that doesn’t wind up in a 1) steamy makeout 2) blow-out fight or 3) both. Olivia’s romantic life is inextricable from her professional one.
And things get only more complicated when she seduces Jake, someone she genuinely seems to care for (or at least once did) in order to steal the computer codes she needs to put B613 out of business. Olivia rarely uses her sexuality in such an overt fashion -- she usually relies on more respectable means, like hacking or blackmail -- which is why Huck looks so shocked when he learns how she’s procuring the codes. It may not be her typical M.O., but it works and, might I add, it doesn’t exactly look like Olivia had a terrible time. After approximately 15 seconds on his computer, Huck successfully brings all of B613 to a screeching halt. (A little tip for the gang at B613: Maybe spend less time on murder, and more time securing your server!)
Of course, Jake quickly figures out he was the victim of a honeytrap and, judging by the hand he puts around Olivia’s neck, ain’t too pleased about it. But what Olivia should be worried about is what will happen to Fitz. Will Maya and her merry gang of mercenaries be able to detonate that “Mona Lisa” of a bomb in time? The president’s already escaped one assassination attempt, and his luck may be running out.
In other news:
--I loved Abby’s brief transformation into Olivia, complete with white coat.
--I am less thrilled about what I think is a budding attraction to Leo, Sally’s sleazy campaign advisor.