‘Scandal’ Season 3 Episode 11 Recap: “Ride, Sally, Ride”

If you hadn’t already marked your calendar for February 27, you surely would have found out on Twitter: Scandal is back! After an excruciating two-and-a-half-month hiatus and a midseason finale featuring a holy-rolling murder cover-up, a tête-à-tête in which Rowan/Eli reduced POTUS to a mere “boy,” and the revelation that Olivia’s terrorist mom never left DC, Shonda Rhimes and co. gave us a slower than expected start to the second half of Season 3.

“Ride, Sally, Ride” finds us knee-deep in Fitz’s reelection campaign. In an entirely unsurprising reversal of roles, Mellie is clearly in charge, while campaign manager Olivia is… in the Oval Office, sucking face with the president. So it’s the first lady we find scurrying through the West Wing, exclaiming over the news that terrifying VP / murderous Jesus freak Sally Langston is running against Fitz, after all. Since Cyrus helped her get rid of poor Daniel’s body, the White House can’t exactly hold its knowledge of the murder over her head — mutually assured destruction and all that.

The news forces Liv out of puppy-love mode, but the moment she sets out a strategy for attacking Sally as a quitter, there’s Sally on TV, announcing that she’ll challenge Fitz in the primary… without stepping down as VP. Hey, it’s not something you’d be likely to actually see in Washington ca. 2014, but it’s no less believable than the maneuvering we’ve all been celebrating on House of Cards — and it’s sure to make for good television.

We soon find out that Fitz is kind of a drunk (or at least a problem drinker) these days, and he slurringly demands they make Andrew Nichols — his former lieutenant governor from California — his running mate. He refuses to heed his advisors’ protests that tapping a straight, white man will do nothing for his popularity, which is no surprise because how often do straight, white men listen to gay guys and women when they raise objections like that?

In any case, charisma and strong responses to her hard-hitting questions aside, there’s something bothering Liv about Andrew. “My gut tells me he’s wrong,” she tells Fitz. But all her objections dissolve into an attempt at resignation, now that Leo has revived the rumors of their affair — which means it’s time for Fitz to slam the Oval Office door and once again take her in his arms. One episode into the second half of Season 3, and their whiplash romance is already irritating me (again!). The only upside to the rekindled relationship is that it’s gotten Olivia back to the top of Mellie’s shit list; their tense, staged lunch of wide smiles, nasty whispers, and Mellie’s menu of eligible bachelors was the clear highlight of “Ride, Sally, Ride.”

Fitz’s whiskey-scented kisses don’t get him entirely off the hook, though. Liv has found out via Cyrus that the president replaced her father with Jake at B613 — where the man America desperately wants Olivia Pope to dump Fitz for is already transforming the super-secret assassin team into some kind of cheery desk job. “Cut Quinn loose, Charlie!” “Got it, boss!” Etc. Later in the episode, before he becomes her “decoy” boyfriend, Jake protests to Liv that he can “do better” at the job than Rowan/Eli. But considering the nature of the work, it’s difficult to imagine B613 changing that much. In a philosophical moment, Olivia observes to Jake that the downside of public service is that “you’re so busy being a patriot, you forget to be a person” — a sad truth that gets at the loneliness at the core of just about every Scandal character’s life.

The one person who isn’t in a great mood about all of it is Papa Pope himself. He looks a bit cowed when Liv finds him in front of a very symbolic statue, and she begins a lip-quivering speech about “how you let me hate you instead of telling me who [my mother] really was.” He is, of course, having none of it. He reverts back to his “I’m a curator at the Smithsonian” schtick, before losing patience with Liv’s presumption that she knows what happened with B613 and her mother. The conversation devolves into a classic Rowan/Eli tirade, in which he declares Fitz a mortal enemy. And, uh-oh, “the greatest weapon I can use against him calls me ‘Dad.'”

Why would Fitz invite the wrath of his ladyfriend’s ferocious father? Because, of course, he doesn’t trust him and wants the leader of B613 to be a person he can trust with his ever-growing mountain of horrifying secrets. By the end of the episode, we see Rowan/Eli approaching Leo — who, for perhaps the first time in three seasons of Scandal, is starting to look like a better strategist than Olivia and her Gladiators.

Speaking of the Gladiators, how about last night’s subplots? Cut loose from B613 and unwelcome at Pope & Associates, Quinn’s trusting Charlie to set her up as an, um, freelancer? Their first two-man job comes from Cyrus, who hires them to abduct a child in the service of covering up Daniel’s cause of death. They may have been able to throw the Gladiators off Sally’s scent, but with James and David teaming up — and James assuming the hilarious pseudonym “Publius” — to take Cy down, it’s only a matter of time before the real story comes to light.

Oh, and speaking of that murder? We may need to start pitting Rowan/Eli against Sally in a weekly “bonkers speech” competition. This week, we learned that the presidential hopeful still believes that changing her position on abortion is the worst sin she’s committed. Because, you see, she didn’t kill Daniel — “the devil used my hand as a vessel of murder.” So, yeah, what we have here is perhaps the one person in all of the US who would make an even scarier president than Fitzgerald Grant.

Last but not least, we’ve finally got our Harrison subplot — and it’s an unexpectedly sexy one! After months of teasing the return of his insider-trading partner, Adnan Salif, to the US, we finally meet this mystery man… and she turns out to be a woman who Harrison can’t keep his hands off! I would have liked to see more of this story unfold last night, amid an hour of TV that was quieter if not altogether less satisfying than what we’ve come to expect from Scandal, but we’ve got seven more episodes before the season’s out. We’re bound to find out more about Adnan, not to mention Olivia’s mom, very soon.