Last week’s penultimate Scandal episode brought a reckoning to the world of Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) and associates. While the TGIT favourite has unfailingly remained a soapy treat for loyalists, the Shondaland drama also consistently threatened to take its plotting over a narrative cliff – to speak in OPA parlance — leaving nothing but fiery wreckage behind. A big part of this looming threat of complete storyline implosion was making B613, a top-secret, all-powerful spy organisation, a central tenet of the proceedings when the show was originally a sexy political thriller. Soon enough, Liv was no longer a simple Washington, D.C., fixer with a story-pushing Oval Office affair. Instead, she was a daughter doomed to follow in her spymaster father’s footsteps or drown under the weight of her bloody, deceitful destiny.
Many would point to season 2 finale “White Hat’s Back On” as the place where Olivia Pope’s story changed its trajectory for good. But, those people would be wrong. Instead, a much earlier episode, “Spies Like Us,” forever altered the DNA of Scandal.
“Spies,” the thirteenth episode total of the series, is the first time the phrase “B613” is ever uttered on Scandal. However, it’s not like that was the first time Huck’s (Guillermo Díaz) shady past was referred to. Oh no, there’s an entire subplot in season 1 about Huck torturing former B613 colleague, current killer for hire and future Quinn Perkins (Katie Lowes) life partner Charlie (George Newbern) for the location of Amanda Tanner’s (Liza Weil) body. During “Crash And Burn,” Huck, high at the thought of torture and eventually from the action of it, explains his entire past as an “artist” of inflicting pain.
Clearly, the two have a shared history of black ops missions, yet, B613 isn’t mentioned. Instead, Huck refers to their shared past as state-sanctioned mercenaries as a “government” job. To get the point across as to how much that “government” gig ruined Huck, he lies on the floor next to a naked, bloodied, and freshly-tortured Charlie, waxing poetic about his passion for ruining the human body with nothing but a scalpel and a drill. At this point, Huck's black ops past can be chalked up as general governmental skullduggery and left unexamined.
In “Spies,” we get an in-depth look at what exactly turned Huck into this kind of gore-worshipping monster. Crosby, Huck’s case officer in B613, dies by suicide in public, and then sends Liv a heavily coded message begging her to protect his charges, who are now out of the business. When OPA newbie Quinn asks, “What’s B613?,” all Olivia can muster in response is a terrified little nod to suggest the answer is, “You don’t want to know.” Once Huck is out of the room, everyone agrees Huck is, and always will be, “a trained killer spy.” Soon enough, Huck is manipulating radio frequencies to call all the other killer spies to OPA in order to protect them from a mole, who is threatening to leak their identities.
The episode primes viewers to understand just how deadly B613 alums are, just how dark their work was, and just how easily they can blend in anywhere. After all, you can count among the ranks of Huck’s former coworkers a happy mom of three (Sarah Aldrich), a bed-and-breakfast proprietor (Mary Pat Gleason), and a college professor (Adam Lazarre-White). All of these people may seem trustworthy, but their introductions reveal the entire group is more than capable of killing a person in at least 17 ways, loves this talent they have, and is constantly packing two firearms, at minimum.
If you weren’t already suspicious of every person in the Scandal world, “Spies Like Us” makes sure to change that. Especially since the instalment closes with dutiful Atlanta mum Maggie Andrews (Aldrich) blowing a fellow B613 alum’s brains out in the OPA conference room for threatening to expose them. Then, Maggie and the rest of the group cleans up the crime scene so thoroughly, the authorities would never guess it was splattered with brains mere minutes earlier. Charlie even comes prepared with an oil drum, which is a very convenient device for hiding a body. With one episode, fans could officially say goodbye to the idea Huck and Charlie, who already seemed like murderous weirdos, were the only people to fear.
After seeing the murderous instincts of low-level B613 operatives at work, it’s no surprise “Spies” was followed by the introduction of Jake Ballard (Scott Foley) and the king of spy melodrama, Rowan “You Can’t Take Command” Pope (Joe Morton). Without that early-season glimpse to true, violent espionage, no one would have been ready for “Snake in the Garden,” where we meet Rowan. That episode comes 11 episodes after “Spies,” once the entire Defiance fiasco and the Fitz Grant (Tony Goldwyn) assassination scheme is handled. Thanks to the brutality of “Spies,” it’s almost genteel to see Jake running around hiding tiny cameras all over Olivia’s apartment and having secret meetings with Rowan, who starts out as a shadowy figure on a park bench.
At least here, with Rowan and Jake, no one was talking about how “beautiful” murder is. Their malevolence slowly reveals itself, as Rowan closes out season 2 attempting to trick Olivia into a new relationship and even going so far as trying to leak her sex tape with Jake to Fitz just to end Olitz for good. It’s only thanks to this mounting mystery, normalised by “Spies Like Us,” that Scandal was able to pull off its greatest twist. Of course, we’re talking about the final seconds of season 2, when Olivia, freshly outed as Fitz’s mistress, shrieks “Dad?!” at Rowan, unveiling his true identity as her father.
Scandal may have evolved into a spy-flavoured drama for good with a single word, but it started down that road far, far earlier.