Every halfway decent TV show that is built on multiple storylines and suspense has at least one episode per season when everything comes together. “Flesh and Blood,” the penultimate installment of Scandal Season 3, was that episode. Not only did it bring together everything from the terrorist plot to the election to young Jerry Grant’s paternity, but it even briefly managed to get most of the show’s major players into the same room, for a scene that kicked off a whiplash-inducing hour of nonstop action.
Last week’s episode closed with Olivia, Papa Pope, and the Gladiators shutting down B-613, and Jake busting in to inform to woman that he loves that, by putting his agency out of commission, she’s just doomed the man she loves. “Flesh and Blood” opens soon after that revelation, adding Fitz and Cyrus to the mix, with a reminder that they can’t go public about Maya Pope’s plot without exposing the President’s instrumental role in securing her a private plane to leave the country. That’s when Rowan/Eli (who I’ll just call Eli now that he’s a civilian and that’s what everyone seems to be calling him these days) shows up, hungry to destroy Maya’s longtime lover and co-conspirator Dominic Bell, who he claims is the only man Olivia’s mother ever loved. Finally, Quinn and Charlie appear to represent B-613 and further aggravate the most horrifying love triangle ever seen on primetime TV (more on that later, unfortunately).
Of course, Jake and Eli go together like vinegar and baking soda, and Jake pushes it far enough that Eli forces Liv to decide which of them she wants to stay. “You’re free,” she tells Jake after she’s picked her father. But he warns her that Eli is going to betray her: Dad is “just a part he’s playing,” Jake says.
To the Grant campaign’s great frustration, the fact that Maya and Dominic are running around with a bomb means that Fitz will have to spend the last several days before the election locked down in the White House. Even worse, the news has broken that Senator Hightower — an ally of Fitz’s — has died. It would help the campaign greatly if Fitz could attend the funeral and deliver the eulogy, but Olivia understands how dangerous her mother is and won’t let him out. In a weak attempt to appease the President, she brings the campaign to him, setting up interviews in the White House as Mellie drunkenly wanders around the place, ripping into Fitz whenever she sees an opening.
Speaking of Mellie, the secret of Jerry’s paternity — and her rape at the hands of Fitz’s late father — also briefly threatens to come to light, when creepy Leo appears at the boy’s boarding school to bribe his girlfriend. In exchange for sleeping with him and passing on the used condom for DNA testing purposes, Sally’s campaign manager promises to get her into Harvard (and also maybe Yale, she’s a real go-getter). Thankfully, Papa Pope and the Gladiators put the kibosh on this plan, fixing it so the paternity test shows that Fitz is his son’s real father — but not before Liv cringe-inducingly confronts Mellie about the test, assuming that Andrew fathered one of her kids. “You’d have to be an idiot to be this reckless — and you not an idiot!” says Liv. This spurs another drunk-Mellie meltdown and the demand that Olivia Pope do what she does best: fix it.
Personally, I thought this scene was heading towards Mellie confiding in Liv about what happened with Big Jerry Grant all those years ago. It would have forced Fitz’s girlfriend to find some compassion for his wife, and the secret would have bound them together. Of course, this could well crop up again in the season finale. I’m hoping it does, because for too long we’ve seen Mellie’s ordeal cheapened and played as yet another scandal. Before Season 3 wraps up, she deserves a resolution that makes her suffering more than just a convenient plot development.
For now, though, it’s back to saving Mellie’s stupid husband’s life. After that exhilarating moment that brought practically the whole cast into the same room, they’ve broken into small groups with missions:
- Quinn is like a girl in a truly awful teen comedy, choosing between two equally demented boyfriends. Huck somehow manages to put the task at hand ahead of this middle-school tug of war, and brings a bound and gagged Dominic into the OPA office.
- Exiled from the inner circle, Jake appears at David’s and demands to use his new facial recognition software to track Maya’s whereabouts.
- Eli forces Dominic to call up Maya, playing Russian roulette with him while she listens, claims not to care if he lives or dies, and divulges no information. It ends with a gunshot, and Liv flips out because “wet work” is not supposed to happen in her office.
But that’s not all Liv is flipping out about. Not really. When Jake calls to demand that she admit to feeling something during their night together — the one after which she stole his phone and wiped B-613 out of existence. She tells him about what she’s just seen her parents do, Eli killing Dominic and Maya not blinking an eye, despite what Olivia knows has been a decades-long affair. “I don’t think she can love anyone,” Liv says of her mother. Jake protests that she isn’t the same person as her parents. But when she tells him, “I love him [that’s Fitz] and I felt something with you last night, and it feels like a betrayal,” it’s clear she’s terrified of her own flexible loyalties. Last week’s question was, what does Olivia Pope want? We still don’t have much of an answer, but now we know she can’t get it until she untangles her fear of love from her fear of becoming just as lonely and mercenary and miserable as her parents.
Before she does that (preferably through years of therapy), though, she’s got to save the life of the man she just admitted to Jake that she loves. Stupidly, after seeing his poll numbers decline, Fitz forces Cy to let him go to Defiance, Ohio — the town that believes it won him the previous election, but that was actually the site where his campaign fixed the results to secure him the victory. Fitz is obsessed with winning fair and square this time around, and refuses to take seriously the possibility that there could be a bomb waiting in Defiance to kill him and hundreds of others. Eli knows that the only way to stop Maya from blowing up the place is for Olivia to join the campaign there — and so she goes, sitting nervously next to Mellie.
What they discover, too late and through a very confusing exchange between Adnan and Harrison — whose tangential involvement in what initially appeared to be his own storyline is really frustrating me; I thought we’d finally get to know the most mysterious Gladiator! — as well as Jake and David’s covert research, is that the bomb was never intended for Defiance. The terrorists killed Hightower and made it look like a natural death because they wanted to make sure Fitz would have a funeral to attend.
What this means is that Maya isn’t in Ohio, either. She easily slips past Quinn and Huck — who are finally, heaven help us, getting it on in the parking garage, on the hood of a car — and makes it into OPA HQ, where Eli is waiting. When Liv returns sometime later, her father is on the floor, shot and bleeding.
And finally, because there haven’t been enough twists so far in this episode, Cyrus finds out about the funeral bomb plot. But instead of trying to stop it, he simply stalls Fitz and allows Sally to go to what may well be her death. That, clearly, is where next week’s season finale will open. Till then, I’ll be wondering whether this is all going to end as badly as it sounds — and if even someone as cold as Cy will be able to forgive himself for endangering the lives of hundreds of mourners, all because of his hatred for Sally Langston and need to win yet another election.