‘Scandal’ Season 4 Episode 11 Recap: “Where’s the Black Lady?”

It’s an elderly friend of Olivia Pope’s murdered neighbor who actually utters the words that comprise the title of this week’s episode — “Where’s the Black Lady?” — but from the White House to our heroine’s own office, it’s the question on everyone’s lips. We could have guessed from last week’s stunning “Run” that Liv’s kidnappers had some sort of agenda related to West Angola; the big surprise in this episode was how many of the people surrounding Fitzgerald Grant are in on it, and how isolated and powerless he truly is.

We already knew what Olivia is up against, both physically and mentally. But “Where Is the Black Lady?” finally fills us in on how big the conspiracy is, and what’s behind it, even if the episode is a bit of a letdown after last week’s hour-long adrenaline rush. VP Andrew isn’t just involved in the kidnapping — he’s the ringleader, and he’s not shy about saying things like, “It would be a shame if Ms. Pope was beheaded,” to the POTUS. He and his henchmen offer Fitz a choice: declare war on West Angola or Olivia Pope dies. Oh, and he shouldn’t look to the Secret Service or even his own aides for help, because Team Andrew has infiltrated every layer of the administration, and anyone could be a spy. In other words, this is a coup.

It turns out that the West Angola war is what the Republican Party wants, which explains Lizzie Bear’s involvement, although even she’s in the dark about the kidnapping until after it happens. Although it’s all apparently part of the GOP’s grand plan to get its conservative groove back amid Fitz’s disastrously liberal second term, with its gun control and its education reform, Andrew is particularly committed because he’s got his eye on the Oval. Well, and because he hates Fitz. And also probably because Shonda Rhimes only made the president a Republican for the purposes of writing precisely this kind of party-wide conspiracy. Talk about playing a long game…

Meanwhile, with all his presidential powers neutralized, Fitz charges Jake with finding Olivia. As the White House suddenly declares war (and Cyrus and Abby struggle to figure out what the hell is going on) — evidently in large part because Mellie has given her husband the go-ahead to make Tom’s increasingly hysterical Helen of Troy metaphor a reality — Jake, Huck, and Quinn go to work. They follow lead after lead — even picking up on the water-glass reflection Liv cleverly embedded in her ransom video — but each one is a dead end. Huck takes a very Huck approach, repeatedly sneaking into Lizzie’s house and threatening her and her daughter with bodily harm if she doesn’t tell him where Liv is. Too bad she doesn’t know, and has to incur some wince-inducing back damage before she’s ready to plot.

It’s a great moment when Lizzie and Mellie team up, as Mellie distracts Andrew with her feminine charms while Lizzie pilfers his cellphones. Especially considering that this is all in the service of finding the woman Fitz truly loves, it’s a kind of touching — and, in a rare choice for Scandal, understated — moment of women’s solidarity. Of course, though Mellie seems to have come around to Fitz’s side in the end, despite some great bluffs on the show’s part, I’m not entirely convinced she’s done with Andrew forever. Perhaps she doesn’t have any more illusions about him, but she also hasn’t done a full 180 on Lizzie, Fitz, and especially Olivia overnight. Though she isn’t necessarily looking for another eight years in the White House, she’s no martyr. In the end, Mellie is going to do what’s best for Mellie.

Lizzie’s break-in finally gives OPA what they need to track Ian (whose name is actually Martin, I think, although it was mentioned during one of those dizzyingly fast-talking moments, so who even knows). As anyone who saw last week’s episode could have guessed, he never even took Liv out of the country — his lair turns out to be in nowhere more exotic that Harrisburg, PA.

Ever resourceful, Jake circumvents the still-impotent White House and convinces David Rosen to send the DEA in on a raid. “I’m saving Olivia Pope,” says Rosen, sounding simultaneously drunk with power, disgusted with himself, and utterly terrified. (I do hope that one day we’ll get to explore his conflicted feelings about Liv in more detail.) And because Jake is Jake and this DEA raid is just a ruse to begin with, he goes along, spots a piece of Liv’s clothing in an abandoned cell, and realizes she’s gone.

And there’s some irony. If Olivia hadn’t just manipulated Ian/Martin into going rogue and selling her on the open market — politically and socially relevant metaphors to come next week, I’m positive — she could have had a rescue-by-Jake straight out of last week’s dream sequence. When we leave her, Liv is umpteen thousand feet off the ground in a private jet, where Ian/Martin is sipping champagne and phoning the president to see how much he’ll pay for his girlfriend. But something tells me Fitz isn’t going to be the highest bidder… (Oh, and the preview for next week features Mama Maya, so it’s probably best that we all brace ourselves.)