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Scandal Recap: Bad Things Happen to Good People

James is dead. Jake murdered him, gunned him down in the street, and left David alive to throb with the guilt of surviving.

One of the reasons this death hits so hard is that it means losing this fantastic actor from our regular roster. Dan Bucatinsky was able to treat what should have been a secondary character with all the charm and benevolence James Novak required to counter Cyrus’s deeply evil persona. I rooted for James even when I wasn’t rooting for Cyrus, knowing that he deserved better but hoping he would find a way back to the love and family he really wanted with Cyrus. When Olivia and Rowan had their heart-to-heart and she asked him if it was worth putting on the white hat and doing the work of saving all the monsters in the world, I was hearing James. He got tripped up and got angry and got revenge just like everyone else, but in the end he put on the white hat and wanted to save the world from monsters, even the monster closest to his heart. Three cheers to Dan Bucatinsky. James, you deserved better.

I had to treat his death with some gravitas because the rest of these cast members have looooooooost theeeeeeeeir goddaaaaaaaaamn miiiiiiiiiiiiiiinds. 

Huck needs to die, and I’m not even sorry to say it. This creepy, I might kill you but I might have sex with you but I’ll definitely kiss you while my face is covered in a loogie you horked up on me after I ripped a gun from your hands but maybe I’ll weirdly spy-cam you, all with bulging eyes and heavy breathing? I AM DONE. They’ve turned him into a strangely neutered psychopath who treats Quinn like a doll made for his amusement, and I am way, way over his Quinn-centric God complex. You showed her how to work the deep web — that doesn’t mean you control her forever! He keeps trying to frame his psychosis through Quinn possibly still having some vestige of gladiator left in her, but how can she ever conjure up the mental wherewithal to come back to the people who have tortured, physically abused, and generally fucked her entire life over? Quinn needs to go rogue, she needs to go on a killing spree, she needs to start with Huck and never look back. I wish Scandal would stop framing abuse as love. This is a show where a woman chewed through her own wrists, and the first time I gagged was during this kiss scene.

I like that Fitz remains a gorgeous, surly mess. He hates being the president more than anyone hates anything, but manages to push through the din and fall on the “bold but brilliant” side of ending gun violence, giving Sally the endorsement from the gun lobby that they so desperately need to stay in the White House. Fitz is basically at the “Fuck it — in for a penny, in for a pound” stage of his career and his press secretary just got murked in a carjacking. He’s tottering around in a half-open bathrobe with a full glass of whiskey, frowning at CNN. Fitz is your old, drunk grandpa now.

Andrew and Mellie were so pissed that they spent all that time shooting clay pigeons with grown men named Dick only to have Fitz pull the plug on gun lobbyists that they had revenge sex! Mellie finally got some. Andrew has the sex appeal of brown paper bag but he legit loves her, and she legit needs to shake Fitz crumbs out of her vagina for good. I fully support this union, whether it’s a one-night stand or it brings down their marriage, the nation, the world!

Speaking of bringing down the nation, Adnan Salif handed Marie “Mama Pope” Wallace a sack of cash to make some kind of deal she instantly regrets. I think Adnan is going to die soon — she’s sexy and savvy, but she has hitched her pony to the wrong motherfucker. I mean, Mama Pope very casually killed that nice Russian man just for showing up unexpectedly, so does Adnan really think she can outrun whatever hell Mama Pope has planned for her? She won’t even see it coming.

For some reason, David thought he could watch three people get executed in front of him and still walk away unscathed, so it was no surprise that he eventually caved and told Abby what was up. David is a soft-boiled egg of a man, and he was always going to crack. His integrity is keeping him from setting up this Lynch dude as a patsy for a crime he knows Jake committed, but what is he supposed to do with his life at stake? David got to live, and the stress of it is going to kill him.

I’m in mourning about Jake “Puppy Eyes” Ballard. I could see the writing on the wall when they made him Command, but DAMN, SHONDA, why did you have to turn this sweet, hot, Boy Scout of a military man into a stone cold thug? The republic isn’t worth it, I promise! It will be interesting to see if he can maintain the unrelenting killer vibe as he racks up his own number to rival Papa Pope’s 183 killings he’s responsible for, but they keep trying to do this thing where they make him icy about his role, and then remorseful. The show has always done a really great job with unsympathetic characters in the past (like Billy, who was a massive asshole but also deftly pushed the story into new territory, or even Mama Pope), but they’ve also gone way off the rails by taking a formerly likable character into no man’s land (um, hello Huck). Real talk — are we ever going to be able to enjoy shirtless Jake again? This is a pressing concern.

Through James’s death, we were able to float through the greatest hits of his relationship with Cyrus, ending with the punishing, hefty release of grief Cyrus finally expresses at the podium. That they had a rocky start is true to who they always were to us, but damn did I cry when Cyrus went to grab James, Pretty in Pink–style, and twirl him onto the dance floor in full view of the slack-jawed, disbelieving Republican attendees of the state dinner. Because that was who they were, too, living between each moment of pain and glory, like the song they were dancing along to:

Oh, there have been times when times were hard
But always somehow I made it, I made it through
’Cause for every moment that I’ve spent hurting
There was a moment that I spent just loving you

If anyone should ever write my life story
For whatever reason there might be
Oh, you’ll be there between each line of pain and glory
’Cause you’re the best thing that ever happened to me

Cyrus’s face crumpled like tin foil and he let out that wail, buried under the doubly horrible weight of his husband’s murder and knowing that his eagerness to prevent the facts about Daniel Douglas’s murder from seeing the light of day might have set this train in motion. Jeff Perry acted the living shit out of that grief-stricken moment, and it was brutal to watch.

Equally brutal, though, was seeing that James didn’t die right away. Jake purposely took him down sloppily to make the carjacking story seem more realistic, so just when you thought your heart couldn’t take anymore, you see James, crawling and gasping, covered in blood, dying slowly. Jake apologized and stayed with him, talking him through the most emotionally horrific moment I’ve ever seen on this show. Was he trying to convince himself he was still a good guy? Did he think that having your murderer crouch over you like that while he looked off in the distance and tried to placate his victim would actually make him sympathetic? When James said, “Ella” and Jake assured him that his daughter would be fine, my eyes filled up with tears again. James was loving and protective to the bitter end, and Jake did him no comfort by watching him die. This was a knockout episode, even if I sort of hate everyone now.

Leaderboard of Arbitrary Points, Week 14

– 45,000 points to Jake for very casually digging a deep grave for Vanessa Chandler and Shelby Moss, the reporters he murdered along with James. I am willing to give him back 20,000 for digging in that tight white T-shirt, but I am STILL VERY MAD AT YOU, JAKE.

+ 10,000 points for James’s bitchy burns while he was courting Cyrus, namely “You really think I’m gonna take fashion advice from a guy with a neckbeard?”

– Infinity points to Quinn and Charlie for standing over the guy they framed, smiling while telling him that inmates get free medical care. What is this, a Quentin Tarantino movie?

+ 85,000 points to Shondaland for upping their Block Olivia’s Bump game to the next level by using Fitz’s knee in one scene, then a lamp, then her own purse. When this baby comes out, Kerry Washington is going to have a team of set decorators putting fully sashed curtains in front of the umbilical cord hanging out of her choach.

+ 1,000,000 points to drunk Mellie, now and forever (“Bloody Marys kill far more people than guns!”). I also love that they got drunk on the tiny mini-bar bottles.

– 4,765 points to Papa Pope for his unsympathetic, hand of god, monsters and demons,  “I’m responsible for a whole lot of dying” speech. He is basically a madman on a bench at this point. However …

+ 3,000 points to Papa Pope for holding Liv’s hand for ten seconds, then being like, “Can I be done being your dad now? Great. Bye.” It was the only time I laughed all night.

+ 3,650 points to the gladiators for timing their reveals perfectly — Abby told Liv that Jake is behind the murder, Harrison scooted in to tell her Adnan Salif is back, and Huck ambled over to talk about getting Quinn out of B613. In my head, the Benny Hill soundtrack played the entire time.

– 7,981 points to Sheila, the intermediary White House Press Secretary. Honey, you are not cut out for this.

+ 10,000 points to Mellie because of course she knows guns like the back of her hand. Of course.

– Infinity points to the White House Press Corp who still flashed pictures of Cyrus during his emotional breakdown, because that felt too real in the “completely lacking in humanity” department

+ 500 points to Cyrus for finally figuring out the best way to flirt with James was to kiss him. “Damn right that’s your move.”

+ 200 points to Papa Pope for telling Olivia “Being the hand of god is already the worst punishment in the world.” I think she needs to be reminded that she doesn’t have to be the arbiter of good and bad for everyone.

+ 1,000 points to Lauren’s eye roll when Cyrus said, “Get me a new press secretary!” I am ready for the Lauren spinoff.

I can’t wait for your comments. I am bereft. See you next week! 

Photo: Richard Cartwright/ABC