Olivia Pope has always been serious, but up until now, she’d never been humorless. In this swan-song season, Olivia is deadly serious, so serious that there’s hardly room for any of the bouncy Motown and funk classics that normally play in the background. And let’s be clear: Scandal has never hesitated to marry a Sister Sledge deep cut to a sequence wherein Huck takes a power sander to some poor schmo’s testicles. Now it seems only moody score is appropriate accompaniment for Dark Jedi Olivia’s descent into tyranny, which means we’re closer to the end of her downward spiral than the beginning. Damn, that was fast.
Or as Cyrus Beene puts it when he and Olivia have a tense confrontation: “Well, that certainly escalated quickly.” (Oh Cyrus, always saying what the audience is thinking!) Last week’s episode ended with Eli’s busy body returning to his lab to find his daughter waiting for him in an especially prickly mood, which, at the time, felt like an inert cliffhanger by Scandal standards. “Adventures in Babysitting” immediately goes to work proving that moment was heavier than it seemed at the moment. The episode picks up right at that moment, with a cowed Eli sitting silently in a chair while Olivia upbraids him with theatrical flourishes. Eli is not just concerned for Olivia. He’s scared of her, which is enough to demonstrate that Olivia may have already crossed the rubicon on her journey from white hat to black.
Granted, in the Scandal-verse, these are precisely the kind of desperate times that call for desperate measures. America is on the brink of a large-scale military intervention, with Olivia having reluctantly agreed to go along with Mellie’s plan to topple the insurgents who deposed President Rashad. Olivia was on the fence based on her suspicion that Mellie’s romantic feelings for Rashad were clouding her judgment, but Olivia is also addicted to task completion. She’s been given a target, so she’s determined to hit it, even if that means knocking a couple heads and leveling a few thinly veiled threats of retaliation.
But Olivia is also Command now, so there’s always another way. She comes up with a scheme to send in a tactical team to assassinate the leader of one of two insurgent groups and blame the other. The coup was the result of the two rebel groups, once sworn enemies, reaching a fragile détente, so Olivia is certain that setting the two sides against each other will give President Rashad’s loyalists an opportunity to fill the vacuum. It’s an ingenious if sinister solution to the problem, one that pleases Mellie by returning Rashad to power, but avoids the military intervention Olivia fears will tank Mellie’s popularity. Everything was going according to plan until the former president had to waltz in, all resolute and gracefully aged, and Fitz it all up.
As it turns out, the return of Olitz was short-lived. Olivia is back to pitching woo with Curtis Pryce and wants Fitz on the first thing smoking with a stop in Montpelier. Fitz is stubborn as ever, so instead of focusing on his presidential library, he goes straight to Mellie and rats Olivia out. “I told her everything,” says Fitz as he walks out of the Oval Office with a smug smirk on his face. And he does mean everything. Olivia is suddenly forced to explain to Mellie why she reformed B613 and murdered her vice-president. But for once, Mellie isn’t swayed by Olivia’s sweet talk about being the first woman’s face chiseled into Mount Rushmore. POTUS demands that Olivia shut down her extracurricular, extrajudicial activities and get Congress to approve a military strike the old-fashioned way. (Y’know, using manila envelopes stuffed with ultrasounds and photos of an escort’s murder scene. Politics as usual.)
But in the end — surprise! — Olivia gets her way. She and Jake launch their shady mission to return Rashad to power, because as indignant as Mellie was, she recognizes that Olivia’s solution also gives her another shot at a lasting peace treaty. In one final victory lap, Olivia summons Fitz to the Oval Office so that Mellie can deliver the message Eli failed to. Mellie demands that Fitz go back to Vermont, and go through formal channels to communicate about co-parenting issues or any other matters of concern. The Oval Office is no longer his to waltz in and out of as he pleases. Male privilege, amirite?
Of course, Fitz is not going anywhere anytime soon. The episode gets its title from an underpowered B-plot featuring Quinn Perkins and Associates, which apparently doesn’t work unless Olivia has overflow tasks. President Rashad realizes his niece Yasmeen is in danger as long as the rebels are gunning for him, and probably longer than that. Quinn & Co. only have to keep an eye on her and convince her that it might not be the worst thing in the world to return to Bashran with her uncle. They succeed at doing so, and Yasmeen boards a plane with President Rashad to head back to their home country and quell the unrest. But they don’t get any farther than the tarmac. The plane explodes before it can even get its wheels off the ground, sparking an international crisis that Fitz will undoubtedly have some influence on. But more than that, the explosion jolts the season to life and threatens to push Olivia farther into the dark side. It’s a shame, because she has such a lovely smile.