‘Scandal’ Season 3 Finale Recap: “The Price of Free and Fair Elections”

If you were playing any kind of Scandal drinking game last night, you have my sympathy this morning. The devilishly addictive political thriller wrapped its shortened third season with “The Price of Free and Fair Elections,” a finale that packed at least one shocking twist into every act, before raining down about a dozen of them in the last ten minutes. Murder, betrayal, confessions, lies, gross sex, an out-of-left-field family reunion, an election, an explosion, an escape — the episode really had it all. Its script, written by Scandal mastermind Shonda Rhimes (with the help of Mark Wilding), crammed so much action into a single hour of television that it basically qualifies as poetry.

We begin right where we left off last week, with Cyrus stalling Fitz because he knows Maya Pope has planted a bomb at Senator Hightower’s funeral — and instead of reporting it, he’s decided to risk hundreds of lives in hopes that Sally Langston will get blown to smithereens, locking in Fitz’s second term. Thankfully, Jake busts into the Oval with the news that he also knows about the bomb. The funeral is evacuated at the last second. Sally makes it out unscathed, but Leo makes her return to the site of the explosion to “be Jesus.” It’s a brilliant strategic move; while Fitz gives a boilerplate press conference about the bombing, TV news networks put him in split-screen with his VP and opponent. And then, despite Olivia’s shrieking at her media contacts, it’s just Sally.

Set aside your disbelief that any news station would preempt a presidential statement about a terrorist attack for anything, and the subtext is clear: Sally Langston has won the election. Liv and Cy tell Fitz as much, and it seems impossible for his tiny brain to process. But Mellie gets it right away, of course: “I want a refund,” she says. On Olivia Pope, she means.

Meanwhile, in the hospital, Papa Pope has survived. He and Liv share an idyllic moment. “Olivia, I do love you,” Eli says. In fact, he loves her so much that he wants what she wants: for stupid Fitz to win his stupid election.

Elsewhere in the Pope-osphere, David Rosen still wants to ruin Cyrus (who has now earned the nickname “Voldemort”) — which you can’t really blame him for, because threatening the lives of so many people just because he wants to win an election might just be the most horrifying thing he’s ever done. And if the death of his husband didn’t teach Cy that you can’t mess around with people’s lives, nothing will. This time, though, Jake won’t help David. He’s free of the government’s control for the first time in his adult life, and now he’s ready to be a regular dude. “I killed three people right in front of you. I’m not a good guy,” Jake says. Yet the fact that he’s ready to put his high-powered life behind him suggests that he really is.

Also: Adnan still has Harrison at gunpoint. But he makes her a deal: “Save my life, and I’ll save yours.” Suddenly, he’s back in the office with Abby… walking in on Huck and Quinn fucking next to the pool of blood from Eli’s stabbing. At this point, I to assume that Rhimes and co. have figured out how much viewers hate this couple — and every couple involving Quinn, really — and are just screwing around with us. In any case, Charlie shows up soon enough with a box that he says will destroy their relationship. Sure enough, it contains information on Huck’s wife and kids. Shockingly — not even in a good way, but in a way that makes her character totally inconsistent — Quinn takes Huck to them. He only gets angry at her, though, and later cries to Liv about how his family is better off without him.

Back in the White House, Fitz has remembered that he really doesn’t want to be president as much as he wants to make jam in Vermont with Olivia. And now, he says, they can do that! “I am going to marry you,” he tells her. “We are going to have babies.” But because Liv is either having a crisis of conscience or can’t stop sabotaging herself, she reveals to Fitz that Big Jerry raped Mellie all those years ago. Cut to Fitz pulling a Fitz-in-crisis face, before going to mend fences with his wife. What’s lovely about this sequence is that Mellie’s ordeal is finally treated with the dignity it deserves. There’s even a moment of feminist solidarity when Liv insists to Fitz that she believes Mellie. Still, it doesn’t work for me that the revelation immediately mends the Grants’ marriage, leaving Olivia to endure a very long, sad minute of phone silence before gracefully stepping aside.

Then the plot really kicks into high gear. Maya shows up in the hospital! “I did this for you,” she tells Liv. She just wanted Fitz to die so her daughter could be free of him!

Oh, and just as the President is delivering his final, futile campaign speech… his teenage son, Jerry, starts bleeding out of his nose and collapses. By the next scene, he’s dead of meningitis. Cy and Liv, chatting glumly in the hospital, realize what this means: now it’s Fitz whose tragedy will win the election.

Of course, since nothing happens by accident on Scandal, an investigation reveals that Jerry’s meningitis wasn’t the kind you might pick up in a boarding-school dorm — it was the kind that’s kept under lock and key in a government facility. And guess who’s been connected with the theft of the strain that killed him? That’s right: Maya Pope. Fitz and Eli hobble towards each other in the hospital hallway to talk about it, and they come to a fatherly understanding: Eli will deliver Maya’s head on a platter. We don’t find out what Papa Pope gets out of this arrangement just yet.

Fitz doesn’t blame Liv for what her mother’s done, but she’s sick over it, and decides that she’s been “the thing that needs to be fixed” all along. “The plane and the new life — does that offer still stand?” she asks her dad. Well, of course it does. So Liv ignores the Gladiators’ protests and, at the last minute, decides to take Jake along with her to “stand in the light,” despite her confession that she’s still in love with Fitz.

But, obviously, everything changes in the last few minutes of Season 3:

  • Newly reinstated as B-613 command — yes, that was the deal with stupid Fitz — Eli catches Maya. He says she’s dead, but Scandal viewers know that no one’s ever really gone until we’ve seen them bleed out.
  • David receives a roomful of boxes marked B-613 from Jake. Looks like he’s got some digging to do.
  • Huck goes home.
  • Having found out from Eli that Maya supposedly poisoned Adnan, Harrison confronts Papa Pope with the realization that he’s the one who murdered her and little Jerry. “He took my child, so I took his,” Eli coolly explains. But any hope Harrison might have of bringing Eli down dies when his loyal B-613 henchmen show up and throw Harrison in the hole — with, yes, Maya Pope. Wonder what they’ll get up to down there.
  • Fitz wins the election, retreats to the Oval, and breaks down. Mellie comes to comfort him, but to no avail. Then she tries to phone Liv… who sees a call coming in from the White House just as she and Jake are preparing for takeoff. For once in her life, Olivia Pope ignores Fitzgerald Grant’s distress. Savor this moment, because I’m sure she’ll be back in his stupid arms soon enough.

It was a tight, beautifully plotted, thrilling finale. We find out that, as much as she (and we) might have hoped for Eli to be at least a somewhat good guy, both of Liv’s parents are irredeemable sociopaths. And with Harrison in the hole, Huck reunited with his family, and Olivia Pope on her way out of the country, OPA is sure to be in shambles come September — even if poor Abby is annoyingly willing to go “over a cliff” for it.

But the finale also highlighted a major problem that Scandal has run into this season, which is sure to be exacerbated as the show continues: in order for the storylines to remain so exciting, the characters can’t grow or change. Sure, Olivia is escaping with Jake, but there will be no Scandal Season 4 if she isn’t up to her neck in beltway muck by the end of its premiere. Fitz and Mellie have reached some kind of reconciliation, but her unsuccessful appeal to Liv isn’t a great sign, and the show relies on that love triangle. Cyrus is making increasingly penitent speeches, but his conscience apparently isn’t bothering him enough to actually stop him from doing evil things. Scandal thrives on this web of high-powered people who can’t extricate themselves from high drama, and that promises to leave them in arrested development. And yet, frustrating as all this can be, I’m sure I’ll keep watching. See you next season, Gladiators.