‘Scandal’ Season 4 Episode 7 Recap: “Baby Made a Mess”

If you recognize the origin of last night’s Scandal episode title, there’s a good probability that reading it makes you cringe. “Baby Made a Mess,” you see, refers to a leaked video that captures Senator McDonnell of Virginia dressed as an adult baby and, rather unfortunately, soiling himself. It’s the kind of clip that unceremoniously ends a political career, and McDonnell (side note: change just one letter of the fictional senator’s last name and you’ve got newly reelected Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell) resigns immediately. Thankfully for those of us who get nauseated thinking about it, his particular shame only gets a few minutes of screen time. But what it represents — powerful men throwing self-destructive tantrums and giving in to selfish, immature urges while competent women step in to take control — becomes the theme of the week.

Olivia is on the phone with Fitz, who’s been even stupider and more unbearable than usual lately, in the episode’s opening moments. We learn that he’s been calling her every night. He misses her. He is quite clearly thirsty. For her part, Liv just wants to know whether Jake is being fed in supermax. Since this makes her a captive audience, she spends plenty of time listening to Fitz’s self-serving fantasies (the man’s phone-sex game is weak: “I’m going to male-gaze you 15 different ways, and then… [hangs up]”). Finally, he’s turned on enough to reveal that her other boyfriend is getting 2700 calories and an hour of exercise every day.

But not before Liv has talked her way into supermax to visit a different prisoner: Tom, B613’s inside man in the White House, who carried out Rowan’s order to infect Jerry with killer meningitis. Here’s another man obsessed with Olivia Pope’s powers of attraction — he calls her “Helen of Troy” (a metaphor that quickly, in the hands of Scandal‘s writers, becomes impressively overwrought) and wonders what is so special about her, to captivate three of the world’s most powerful men. Also, Tom tells her, “You think you have a father? You have Command.”

It’s another case of a man letting his appetites make him vulnerable, and though Liv doesn’t immediately get him to admit that Rowan gave the order, not Jake, Tom comes off nutty and obsessive enough that she doesn’t mind making him collateral damage. After a heated encounter with Papa Pope — who goes ahead and lets himself into her apartment while he’s waiting for her and then says, “You never, ever choose one of them over me again,” a comment that brings all the Freudian subtext of their relationship screaming to the surface — she decides to play rough. When Liv has Tom beaten within an inch of his life by a guard, it’s one of the darkest things we’ve ever seen her do. It works, though: finally, he confesses that Rowan was responsible for Jerry’s death.

Elsewhere in contemptible, libidinous male behavior, Abby is shocked to find that the Grant administration’s pick to replace McDonnell is her abuser ex-husband, Chip Putney. We haven’t gotten nearly enough of her back story over the past few seasons, so it’s illuminating (and upsetting) to watch her shut down immediately after coming face-to-face with Chip. There’s a lovely seen where Abby is cowering under her desk, having thrown up and ruined her dress, and Liv shows up to rescue her. There’s also a terrifying scene where Chip approaches Abby in a darkened parking garage babbling about how their relationship was passionate or complicated or something, and she has to pull a gun to get him away from her.

Despite her determination to clear Jake’s name, Olivia Pope doesn’t even hesitate to do everything she can to make sure Chip doesn’t end up in Washington. This plan — to make over Chip’s only competition, a frumpy and un-telegenic law professor named Susan Ross, into a winning candidate — doesn’t go exactly as expected. Yes, Liv figures out how to make Susan a viral phenomenon (make the cute daughter the star of a campaign ad, not her galumphing mom). But then Leo, now Chip’s campaign manager, gets a piece of information that will surely ruin Ross’ chance with Republicans — she and the cute daughter’s dead father were never actually married. In the end, after he finds out that Chip abused Abby, it’s Leo who puts the kibosh on the Putney campaign… although, still in keeping with the episode’s theme, that’s probably just because he has a crush on her. For his efforts, he is rewarded with a kiss.

In the final moments of “Baby Made a Mess,” Jake — perhaps not quite a free man yet — is let into a White House war room/bunker, where Liv and Fitz are waiting for him. We’ll find out what happens next, but until then, I’ll be haunted by something Abby asks her former boss when Olivia is urging her to go public about Chip: She wants to know what happens to women after they tell their stories — women like Anita Hill and Monica Lewinsky. It’s not a pretty picture, and clearly it has a lot to do with why Abby — and Liv, and Mellie — are all making effective yet troubling choices to operate in the shadows. They’re resorting to far more antiquated methods women have used to exert power, and the message is much darker and more ambivalent about feminism and its victories than we usually see from Scandal.

Also this week:

  • Huck’s son, clearly a computer/spy prodigy, tracks him down at the OPA offices. They should probably do a better job securing their network, honestly.
  • After last week’s conversation with Abby, Cyrus purposely gives Michael false information and waits to see whether it leaks.
  • It does, but via an unexpected source: Mellie, who’s hot to seize power after her encounter with another former FLOTUS, and starts talking foreign policy on TV.
  • This business with the dead teenage girls and the file full of Olivia Pope surveillance photos continues. This week, Quinn confronts Jeremy Winslow about them and he responds by shooting himself in the head while she watches. I hate this storyline, and at this point I’m guessing it won’t come to the fore until the second half of the season.