It's Olivia Pope's world and all the people on Scandal are just living in it, is the takeaway from the final season premiere episode – which is titled "Watch Me," but should really be titled "Watch Me Tell Everyone What's What."
If you'll recall where we left off, Olivia (Kerry Washington) and Jake (Scott Foley) got Luna Vargas (Tessie Santiago) to kill herself in order to avoid being exposed as the mastermind behind her husband's assassination. But it turned out Cyrus (Jeff Perry) was actually the real mastermind, pulling all the strings while keeping Luna thinking she was in charge. This let Mellie (Bellamy Young) take over as president and Cyrus be sworn in as her vice president.
Meanwhile, Olivia took over B-613 (in addition to being Mellie's chief of staff), and Quinn (Katie Lowes) became the new head of Olivia Pope & Associates, which is now known as Quinn Perkins & Associates. David (Joshua Malina) points out this is not a great name change because Quinn's name has no cache around Washington D.C. He's not wrong, but luckily a woman wanders in the door at that very moment to give QPA what appears to be its first client.
But the Case of the Week could hardly be less important other than the fact that the missing CIA spy pits Jake against Olivia as to what is the best course of action – kill him so he doesn't crack under torture and put all the other CIA assets at risk, or rescue him because Olivia wants to form a kinder, gentler B-613?
Now, I'm with Jake on this one. His argument is considerably stronger. However, Jake is awfully quick to jump to "kill the spy" before exhausting every other possible avenue, as Olivia demonstrates by getting the Bashrani ambassador (Shaun Toub) to release the spy by threatening the ambassador's young son. Were she and Huck actually going to shoot a child? Based on the stone-cold look in Olivia's eyes throughout the episode, I'd wager she would have given the order, but Huck wouldn't have pulled the trigger. Guess we'll never know!
What Jake definitely shouldn't have done is go behind Olivia's back to take his plan to Mellie, even if his plan is better than Olivia's. That was not only a betrayal of their personal relationship, but a betrayal of Command. That's not how a military chain-of-command works – you don't get to decide which orders to follow and which orders to ignore. So Olivia rightly kicks her buddy to the curb in favor of a new boff buddy, one Curtis Pryce (Jay Hernandez), a political talking head who I'm already tired of and it's only been one episode. I always thought anything was better than the endless Jake-Olivia-Fitz love triangle, but I was wrong. Turns out this walking piece of smug in a suit is worse.
Either way, Mellie goes along with Jake's plan – and you can't blame her for doing so – but then ends up having to back down when Olivia delivers the spy to her unharmed. It leads to one of Shonda Rhimes’ typically wonderful showdowns between the two ladies where they're both right and just need to come together.
Mellie tells Olivia that her orders are the final word, which is 100 percent true. Mellie is the president, not Olivia, and Olivia cannot be undermining Mellie in front of other people. But Olivia tells Mellie that she can't go passing Liv over in favor of some man's advice. The speech is so fiery I feel compelled to include it in its entirety here:
One, you do not ignore me. Because two, I am right, always. It's frustrating. Get used to it. And three, there is only us. You and me -- that's all there is. We have it all. The people, the pulpit, the purse strings, the guns, all of it. Everything. Ours to deploy in the betterment and defense of the people and office we serve. But the men outside these oval walls? They want to take it all away from us. Because they are terrified. Because they are outraged. Because they have come to the realization that all those centuries of misogyny and privilege and status quo are finally over. That is why you never listen to a man over me. Your success as president is my only agenda. I alone have your back, always. You want to keep the barbarians at the gate? You want to hold these walls? You want to keep having it all? Reverse the tides of injustice? Redraw the map? Flood the darkness with light? Earn our place and make it so that a woman holding this office is no longer a novelty, but the norm? Then you have to stop thinking of me as an employee and start thinking of me as what I am. The boss. Put your faith in me and me alone, and you will become a monument. Ignore me, allow them to come between us? And you will become an asterisk.
Preach, Olivia. Seriously, can the final season of Scandal just be 18 episodes of Olivia and Mellie being bad-asses all over Washington D.C.? Because that would be a helluva way to go out.
Oh, also – Olivia doesn't trust Cyrus completely (nor should she), so she employs
Angela Chase’s mom Senator Greenwald (Bess Armstrong) to bait Cyrus with an offer to make him president in four years if he'll torpedo the Vargas bill that Mellie is working on, which is going to provide free college to anyone who wants to attend.
Cyrus, of course, considers the offer, especially when Olivia dresses him down about feeling like some vice presidential duties are beneath him. But he changes his mind once he sees that Mellie really does want them to work together – as a team, but also as friends – and so it's one big happy Team Mellie family (for now).
Odds & Ends
Hopefully they can find more interesting ways to incorporate Quinn Perkins & Associates into the final season. This was the only part of the premiere that didn't work for me. QPA feels like an afterthought (and it kind of is at this point), but if they're going to be included, make them a little more important.
Papa Pope (Joe Morton) is basically under house arrest, courtesy of his daughter, so how long before he starts causing trouble again? A caged animal who isn't actually under lock and key is not going to stay caged for long.
It was nice that Fitz (Tony Goldwyn) is off in Vermont for at least a little while. He doesn't have a huge part to play in this final season, so shoe-horning him in would be irksome.
"The ability to pay for college, Diane, it's one of the many things that keeps the rich, rich and everyone else screwed."
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