“At least when they ask me where I was when Frankie Vargas was shot, I’ll have a great story,” says Leo Bergen, in his first appearance in Scandal in ages. Seems like everybody will have a great story about that night, won’t they? “A Stomach for Blood” flashes back to Election Night for approximately the 712th time in the span of eight episodes to fill in the whereabouts of Abby Whelan and explain how she’s wrapped up in Scandal’s latest and most boring Über-cabal. While Jake was off blowing up cabins and spiriting Jennifer Fields away, and Rowan was crawling underground to shoot Vargas, Abby was yet another deeply placed asset working in the interest of a powerful yet amorphous enemy. Sound familiar?
It all starts two months before the election, when Abby is helping Fitz choose a location for his presidential library and feeling wholly underwhelmed by his plans after he leaves the Oval Office. Fitz is dead-set on putting his library (and his future) in Vermont, a kinda-sweet, kinda-sad effort to lure Olivia back to their shared fantasy of a post-Beltway happily ever after. Abby finds the news hard to hear, especially as she’s being aggressively courted by Mr. Pais and Ms. Rueland, the omnipotent and omnipresent suits who have been manipulating everyone in and around the White House for reasons still unknown. They’ve offered to pump $300 million into some kind of war chest for Abby’s future political ambitions, and while she initially declines, she ultimately migrates to the dark side after a blow-up with Fitz. Abby’s tired of riding a man’s coattails. She’s ready to set her own course.
Power is seductive, but in Scandal, presidential power is arguably too powerful. Characters talk about the Oval Office the way people talk about evil talismans in Stephen King novels. It’s like the office itself has some sort of supernatural pull that makes people want to be president so badly, they’ll behave in completely illogical ways. Abby, of all people, should been wise and wary enough to realize that two random people don’t emerge from the shadows and offer you $300 million because they think you’re so awesome at being the White House chief of staff. That sum of money is suspicious and terrifying on its face, so why on Earth would Abby agree to get into bed with these people? Because they mentioned the word president and an ancient evil calls out to her from beyond the void.
Even without knowing everything we already know about Election Night, it’s clear Abby will live to regret accepting the cash infusion. Just before Vargas’s assassination, she gets a call from Ms. Rueland telling her to await instructions. The $300 million apparently leads back to North Korea, so they’ve got Abby over a barrel — and as an additional insurance policy, they’ve kidnapped Leo and are pummeling him in some undisclosed location. All Abby has to do to stay out of prison for treason and save her boyfriend’s life is … well, actually it’s a whole bunch of stuff. A whole bunch of stuff that goes so far beyond the bounds of basic credibility that it doesn’t bode well for Scandal’s storytelling.
Let’s go back to the question of why Abby is involved in any of this in the first place. She’s in this situation because her political ambition apparently blinded her to the potent threat sitting across the breakfast table. We’re to understand that Abby was so charmed by the idea of being president that she accepted a nine-figure sum on the chance she might want to run in the future. The thing is, if anyone knows that being president in the Scandal-verse isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, it’s Abby Freakin’ Whelan.
Remember when Fitz got shot? Or how about when his entire White House was infiltrated by the members of yet another Über-cabal back in season four? Seems like an eternity ago, but Olivia Pope got kidnapped because Vice-President Nichols wanted to go to war with some African country or something? The president himself was told he was being watched around the clock, and that anything he did would result in Olivia’s death. Abby was privy to all of this information, so she knows there’s a difference between the idea of being the president and the reality of it within the universe of this show. It’s a far shittier job than in real life, and the real-life job is terrible.
The motivation behind Abby’s behavior is so thin, especially when considered against what she’s actually asked to do. Team Evil Geniuses, which includes Meg, infiltrates the hospital where Vargas’s body is being held. Meg commands Abby to remove the bullets from the body and replace them with sniper slugs. This is the moment any normal human being would say, “Screw this, I’m out,” but when Abby resists, Meg shows her the footage of Leo getting roughed up. So Abby complies with the instructions, up to and including reaching her manicured hand into Vargas’s abdominal cavity to pull out one of Rowan’s bullets. Just as Meg said when she pitched the insane plan, Abby is smart and would “find a way.”
If she’s really that smart, could she not have found a way to send up a distress signal? Could she not have, I don’t know, pulled a fire alarm? Something? Anything? Scandal loves twists, and this sort of insane stuff usually serves the show well. But this? With Abby? It’s just ridiculous. After doing the Über-cabal’s bidding, a guilty Abby tries to go to David Rosen to blow the whole case wide open, only to find out that Marjorie Rueland is also “Samantha,” a.k.a. David’s girlfriend. And apparently Abby can’t approach anybody else because Pais and Rueland appear to be physically following both her and Rowan all day, every day, despite the targets being in two different locations all the time. Rueland somehow even has time to forge a whole romantic relationship with David Rosen in her spare time. They’re efficient, I’ll give them that.
“A Stomach for Blood” builds to the final moment, the shocking scene from last week’s episode that seemed to jump-start the season in spite of itself. Meg reunites with Jennifer Fields, only to shoot her and Huck multiple times. Is Huck really dead? Time will only tell, but so far, no one is confirming or denying the death — and that’s manipulative as hell. As ridiculous as this show has become, I wouldn’t be surprised if Huck did die, then was revived with a magical kiss. If Scandal is going to so aggressively reject reality, it might as well become a full-on fantasy.