Welcome back! This break felt long, and all of the drama of this episode seemed heightened and out of sync, like we were watching an SNL parody of the show. It’s a rocky re-entry, but there were some standout moments, like the reveal of Adnan Salif, and all of the ways they’re trying to work around Kerry Washington’s pregnancy, my favorite being another woman’s hairdo.
After all of the wrist-chewing, teeth-pulling excitement of the last few episodes, I’m a little surprised that this episode was so subdued. I never quite got that oh, shit feeling that makes me want to scream to my neighbor, “Are you watching this?!” and I think the show might be growing a little weary of its own formula. Wasn’t it weird that James so readily and casually revealed that he was Publius? Like, they’re not even going to drag that out a little? Publius could have been some rogue, Phantom of the Opera–ish small-town reporter who came to Washington to get revenge on Sally for ruining a church bake-off or forcing her to have a baby she didn’t want years ago. I was actually sort of hoping it would be one of the Grant children. The subversive Sherlockian text messaging hinted at a bigger drama that didn’t quite pay off.
I love that Sally is officially running for president, but she’s holding on as the VP. It’s a baller move that Fitz didn’t see coming, and a beautiful reminder that she’s one of the only women in his life he has zero control over. Are they setting Sally up for a breakdown, though? She confessed to Bergen that she was possessed by the devil when she murdered her husband with all the emotion of a person ordering a sandwich at a deli, so I’m pretty sure they’re setting her up for a psychotic break.
With Sally hanging on like a ginger barnacle, Fitz chooses Andrew Nichols, his old lieutenant governor, as his new running mate, and everyone is freaked out because he seems too normal. When Liv interrogates him about his penchant for dating models, he screams about being married to his job and the one that got away, which seems to appease her, but Nichols is hiding a big secret after all — the one that got away is Mellie, and he’s thrilled to be back in her orbit. I like that Liv’s gut seems to be working again, but this is a potential nightmare scenario because Mellie doesn’t seem to be into this dude at all. Does she have it in her to cheat on Fitz? And if not, are we going to have to watch her fight off another rape-y, insistent dude? The way she was positioned between them both, holding each of their hands high at the end of the episode, makes me think this will play out in deeply disturbing ways. I never watch the previews for next episode because I like to be surprised, so if they’ve already revealed a Grant/Nichols threesome, don’t tell me.
Harrison spent most of the episode shitting bricks because Adnan Salif is back in town. The big reveal is that Adnan Salif is a woman, a beautiful, sexy ninja, and when she finally confronts Harrison, she takes him down with her vagina. Like most Harrison subplots, this one ends with boning, and I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but I am so bored with Harrison having sex. Does he like to cook? What’s his favorite baseball team? We know he has a dick already! Harrison is being objectified out of existence. They’ve built Adnan Salif up like she was a Voltron of murder, so I wasn’t expecting this Red Shoe Diaries treatment of a supposedly threatening character.
It was nice to see the strain between Liv and Mellie during that clenched-jaw lunch Mellie organized, because there is no way she’s just going to keep watching Liv make out with her husband all over the White House without eventually pulling rank. That list of suitors was an expertly Wasp-y move!
I’m so pleased with the development of Leo Bergen, I could squeal. He’s a formidable opponent for Cyrus (which keeps Cyrus from chewing up too much of the scene), the perfect amount of comic relief, and masterful in the way he handles Sally with equal parts eye-rolling and sarcasm. Now that he’s teaming up with Papa Pope, he’s basically as unstoppable as shark riding a bear, and I think he actually stands a chance at taking Fitz down.
James flipped a switch, found his backbone, and now he’s officially playing the game. He called Cyrus a monster! He used a framed photo of Ella to record Cyrus’s conversations! He’s feeding information to David! For the first time, he’s using Cyrus more than Cyrus is using him, and there’s no way Cyrus sees it coming. I love it.
Even when she’s drinking wine from glasses that are five feet tall and made of gossamer (seriously, you could sink a 3-pointer from the top of the key directly into one of Liv’s wine glasses), Olivia is introspective and sad, caught in the Fitz Love Cycle of guilt and making out. Every time they kissed and fought, I hoped Olivia would bare her pregnant stomach and yell, “Oh, yeah? Well I’m pregnant! And you know who made this baby? I made this baby out of popcorn, wine, and willpower, and when it is born I’ll call it Grapey McCornCorn and I’ll make sure it goes to Harvard!” Instead she just drank, filled her eyes with tears, worked, thought about resigning, and talked like a first-year theology student. I’m still rooting for her, but taking this job was a bad idea, and she doesn’t seem quite like herself.
It certainly doesn’t help that her father engaged in an epic screed about love and betrayal to explain why he was fired from B613 and really drive home the fact that Fitz, the man she loves and the one who betrayed him the most, is an unflinching sycophant. I transcribed the entire thing here, because it is well worth the read as both a peek at Roman’s positioning and an explanation of what’s to come:
You have no idea what happened. You have no idea what is currently happening. You’re skipping around in a field full of bombs and mistaking them for daisies. This, dear, sweet child, is what happened. The married man you can’t seem to stay away from had me abducted and locked me up in chains and spoke to me about the way you taste while he allowed the terrorist who snaked her way into my marriage bed to clear U.S. airspace. What happened was the man who you screw betrayed me by freeing the woman who gave birth to you as a bargaining chip! What happened was the man who defiled you also defiled an organization that I gave my soul to build. That is what happened. What is currently happening is that President Fitzgerald Thomas Grant III has made an enemy, the worst kind of enemy, because I know all his secrets. I know where every body is buried, and the greatest weapon I can use against him calls me Dad. Uncommon valor was a common virtue. The thing about that quote, Olivia, is that it is from the good old days, it no longer applies. Today everyone is afraid, everyone should be afraid, the president should be very afraid, and if I were you, Olivia, I would be terrified. I would pick up whatever chips you have left, and run as far away as possible from that burning building known as the White House. Run, Olivia, run, because mark my words; Fitzgerald Grant is not going to make it to the end of his term. […] Start grieving now, Olivia. Rend your garments, curse the heavens, it will save you time down the road. But first — run.
Fitz, you messed up, man. Papa Pope is coming for you.
LEADERBOARD OF ARBITRARY POINTS, WEEK 11
+ 488 points to Mellie and James’ conversation about how to ruin Sally, ranging from calling her a traitor and an emotional cripple, which, according to Mellie, is sexist but effective.
– 8,000 points for underutilized characters. Huck had about ten sentences this week, half of which were just communicated via his scowl instead of talking, and Quinn’s transition out of the Gladiators and into an arm’s length relationship with B613 means we get to watch both of them staring at things a lot instead of doing what they do best.
+ 9,600 points to Lauren, the hardest-working woman in the White House, who is still caught in this Liv and Fitz affair. Closed, open — let her do whatever she wants to do with the door!
+ 300 points to Charlie and his conversation with Jake about “killing two birds … and some people.”
– 4,000 points for basically making Abby the Mother Hen of the group. I miss the smoldering intensity of her first couple of seasons. She held her own on that talk show when she was pitted against Bergen, though.
+ 200 points to Nichols for being an “age-appropriate playboy.”
+ 8,500 points to this exchange between Cyrus and Bergen:
Cyrus: Don’t push me, Leo, I know sally Langston very well and I have no problem exposing her for the prolife homophobic raging bitch that she really is.
Bergen: Oh, as opposed to the corpse-moving obstructer of justice that you are?
+ 1,000 in advance for Charlie’s Yelp Review.
+/– 4,733 points to Quinn for saying she could be a babysitter in one breath and then turning around and snatching a child for ransom in the next. That was pretty funny.
+ 3,000 points to Abby for what she said after finding Harrison borrowing her gun: “You’re stealing my gun? We are the normal ones — if we need to borrow a gun, we ask.”
+ 2,000 points to Quinn and Charlie for this expert cover-up:
“Do you have power tools and something in a blowtorch?”
“For building bookshelves?”
“We’re big readers.”
+ 10,000 points for pretty much everything Bergen said, including the thing about Teddy Roosevelt’s face being on a mountain, and telling Sally that abortion should be low on her list of sins to be worried about.
– 3,498 points to Nichols for being a fourth wheel in the Liv/Fitz/Mellie love triangle.
+ 421 points to Jake for earnestly thinking he will be a better boss than Roman and that being Command for B613 won’t ruin him too much. Aw, Jake. That’s sweet, but naïve.