‘Scandal’ recap: ‘Olivia Pope still walks this Earth’

Calming would-be suicide bombers, negotiating a hostage crisis, throwing herself into a sniper’s cross hairs, sniffing out CIA coverups and finding out her most trusted employee is a brainwashed killer beholden to her ruthless father: Just another day on the job for Olivia Pope.

It’s a testament to the complete insanity of “Scandal” that “Mrs. Smith Goes to Washington” -- in which a mild-mannered Midwestern mom wanders into her representative’s office on Capital Hill wearing an explosive vest at the exact same moment an intruder barges into the White House -- is probably the most restrained episode we’ve seen so far in Season 3.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this was still a fun-filled hour of television. But compared with Rowan’s fire-breathing in the season opener and the crazy flashbacks of last week, “Mrs. Smith Goes to Washington” feels like a much-needed breather, a highly entertaining placeholder of an episode that keeps us distracted with lots of flash while moving the overarching story line ahead a few meager inches.

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Let’s break it down. Olivia’s client this week is Mary, an unassuming mom determined to find out the truth about her son, Chris, who died under mysterious circumstances in an FBI raid. She wants the truth, and instead of calling up Glenn Greenwald she heads to the office of her congressman (nice to see you getting work, Duck Phillips) with explosives strapped to her chest. Along the way, she puts Pope & Associates on retainer for some strange reason (suicide bombers, as a rule, are not generally concerned about bad press).

Not that any of that matters, because the end result is we get to see Olivia in full-on crisis mode, deftly negotiating with the FBI and Fitz to get Chris’ confidential files released while keeping Mary from blowing up lots of innocent people. Along the way, Olivia eventually finds out the truth, or what Fitz passes off as the truth: Chris was actually a CIA operative who’d infiltrated Al Qaeda, and exposing the truth of his identity would, as Fitz says repeatedly, endanger the 57 other undercover operatives he helped recruit. (This show sure does love numbers, doesn’t it?)

This puts Olivia in a soapy “Sophie’s Choice” situation. Should she tell Mary the (alleged) truth, that her son is a great American hero, or should she lie to protect those 57 CIA agents? It’s a question that ethicists will be left to ponder years from now, and Olivia opts for the greater good by lying to Mary.

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But -- and maybe this show is just turning me into Huck and I’m being totally paranoid -- I don’t buy Fitz’s story. Consider the other crazy security breach that occurs in this episode: A guy on a White House tour goes rogue, demanding to talk to the president about Operation Remington. Cyrus tells the Secret Service to let him go; we learn he’s being paid off by Rowan to keep mum about Remington, and by the end of the episode he’s been murdered by Huck, his death framed to look like a suicide.

If there isn’t some kind of connection between Chris and Dead Trailer Guy, then my name’s Lindsay Dwyer. (Adding fuel to the conspiracy fire is the fact that, as Rosen discovers, nearly everyone involved in the raid that killed Chris has been promoted at the FBI.)

By the end of “Mrs. Smith Goes to Washington” we’ve had lots of fun twists and turns, but we don’t get much in the way of actual information about this season’s biggest questions: What’s the deal with Rowan/Eli? Should Jake be trusted? And what in the heck is Operation Remington about? All we know is that whatever Rowan did to Huck, it worked. The guy can’t help doing Rowan’s dirty work for him.

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Given the hostage crisis, there isn’t a whole lot in the way of Olivia-Fitz-Mellie drama, but what little there is is wonderfully dramatic. Fitz is put in the extremely precarious situation of having to save the woman he loves while also stopping a crazed suicide bomber and protecting the lives of those 57 CIA agents and/or keeping Operation Remington covered up. And who said he’s not a talented politician?

Mellie is mostly sidelined this week, but she still gets to deliver one of her epic, anti-Olivia tirades. “Olivia Pope still walks this Earth,” she says between swigs of homemade hooch. “As long as she’s still alive she’s your flaw, your Achilles’ heel. She’s the string that I will pull to make my puppet husband dance.”

In that case, long live Olivia Pope!



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Twitter: @MeredithBlake