We open in the distant past, a time when children could still freely eat toxic, non-organic sugar cereal, and listened to music on enormous plastic bricks with smaller spinning-wheel rectangle devices inside. We’re seeing 12-year-old Liv, eating breakfast and happily highlighting her dog-eared copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People: Teen Edition!
Then in comes … Mama Pope! And sadly she is not Diahann Carroll (h/t snicks), but she is Khandi Alexander, which is pretty great. She kisses Liv good-bye, all, “I’m about to get on a plane to London, and nothing can possibly go wrong. But just in case, I made casseroles for the next 10 years.” Then she leaves.
Buh-bye Kandi Alexander! See you next in that episode where it turns out you’re still alive.
Back in the present, adult Liv (Kerry Washington) has just heard the news about Fitz’s role in the plane crash from Huck (Guillermo Diaz) and Ballard (Scott Foley), and she’s just sitting there in paralyzed shock, like she’s auditioning for a one-woman show based on The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.
After several unresponsive minutes, she gets up to leave the office. She explains that only two people can confirm this crazy theory. One is her father who, should she ask him anything, will probably kill someone. The other is the President. “So I’m going,” she says with pre-credits dramatics, “to the White House.”
Click click click — S C A N D A L — click.
At the White House, The First Mellie (Bellamy Young) is convinced that the fact that Liv is on her way over means she’s accepting their offer to run Fitz’s campaign. She’s absolutely giddy over this, literally jumping for joy and clapping her hands, like a tweener who just heard the Jonas Brothers are not only getting back together but are actually (mostly) heterosexual.
Cyrus (Jeff Perry) for his part thinks hiring Liv back is a terrible idea of Greek tragedy dimensions, referencing “the mistress with the waxy wings who flew too close to the sun.” I have to tell you, I was an English major, and I wracked my brains out trying to figure out what this situation has to do with the Icarus myth and I came up empty. Cyrus, dude, if you’re going to dip into classic myths to convey the magnitude of what’s unfolding here, at least pick ones more clearly similar to what’s going on. Maybe something from The Oresteia. Or Valley of the Dolls.
Liv comes in and immediately asks for a moment alone with President Fitzgoldwyn (Tony Goldwyn). Mellie is all, “Oh, so you’re going to start right off with the boinking my husband portion of getting him re-elected, fine by me,” and graciously exits.
Alone, Liv asks Fitz if he did in fact pilot the Operation Remington Steele mission. He sticks his fingers in his ears and says, “La la la, can’t talk.” She persists, and he gets snippy and says that as a regular guy who loves her, he can talk about most anything. But as Commander-in-Chief, some things are classified. So la la la, can’t talk.
Liv looks at him like he’s dog poop on her Pradas, and announces that she can’t possibly work for him, then storms off. When Mellie hears this, she is FURIOUS, bemoaning to Fitz that she “practically wrapped your whore up in a rug and unfolded her in front of you,” and he screwed it up.
So Liv officially goes to work for Congresswoman Josie (Lisa Kudrow). We see the Congresswoman in a series of TV appearances, one on a View-like show where she talks about the only three things they ever talk about on those shows – menopause, advanced quantum field theory, and Lindsay Lohan. She also appears on a GMA-like show, where she makes pie and says her only two vices are “butter and shoes,” and this makes her so incredibly appealing to me as a political candidate that I actually start writing a check to her campaign, knowing full well she’s a fictitious character.
But apparently I’m wrong because these TV appearances are bad? Because we then see Congresswoman Josie’s sister-daughter Candace (Sally Pressman) all, “Turn it off! It’s so embarrassing.” Liv and Abby (Darby Stanchfield) proceed to criticize Congresswoman Josie, saying she comes across as too soft and has to show some cojones if she wants to get elected. They propose rebranding her in a major media campaign, but they need big money for that.
So we then see a montage of Congresswoman Josie begging for money from a number of fat cat, all-powerful yet morally suspect organizations –The Lollipop Guild, Ewing Oil, The Franklin Mint – and pretty much selling her soul to them. Even so, Liv tells her none of them are donating because they still don’t see her as winner material.
So Liv next proposes they do a primetime news interview, with a real “heavy hitter, like a Diane Sawyer, or James Novak.” Bwa ha ha ha! Oh, show, how I love you! Like throwing in the name of a fake character alongside a real person is somehow going to make any of this more realistic. And since when is James a heavy hitter? Like wasn’t it only last season when nobody could understand why he scored an interview with the First Lady even though he knew her personally?
But I don’t care about any of that because it means this is a Dan Bucatinsky week! I think I’ve mentioned before how much I adore him? So much so that I hope my relentless pandering in these recaps will somehow make their way to him personally, so we can commence our gay BFF dating, I’m thinking with sushi and Thor 2. Call me, Dan. Maybe?
Which leads to my favorite scene of the episode, which is Cyrus helping James pick out what to wear for the big interview. James is pissed that Cyrus borrowed a tie and put it in his own closet, and I totally relate to this, because my husband is 8 feet 4 inches tall, and I’m 3 feet 2 inches, so the only clothes we can share are ties and belts. And I never wear ties.
Cyrus is hectoring James to skip softball questions with Congresswoman Josie and instead try to make her look bad, bringing up the “bastard baby” and questioning her sexuality. James is horrified that he’d ask him, a gay man with an adopted baby, to go that route. Which leads to this brilliant little bit:
James (on his way out the door): “You’re a shameless monster.”
Cyrus (calling after him): “Who loves you dearly!”
Before the interview, Liv tries to prep Congresswoman Josie by having Abby ask her some hard-ball questions, things like, “What do you plan to do about the continuing turmoil in Egypt?” and, “Has anyone ever told you you look just like Phoebe from Friends?” Liv cautions that Josie is still being too nicey-nice-girly-girl with her answers and is going to lose voters. But when Liv presses her to go for the jugular, Josie gets pissed, angrily telling her to stop trying to make her into something she’s not.
And can we take a moment here to talk about Abby’s looks these days, like how much of this show’s budget is being thrown at her stylist? Seriously, I worry the writers are going to be all, “Hey, we wrote this amazing two-part hostage crisis/musical episode!” and the producers are going to be, “Sorry, all our money went to Darby Stanchfield’s hair.”
But then, just before the interview is to start, Josie spies Liv and Abby all hush-hush next to this laptop. She asks what they’re up to, and Abby is all, “Oops,” as she “accidentally” hits play. It’s a video of an attack ad about Josie from her Democratic primary opponent, Governor Killed-His-Wife’s-Lover. The ad focuses on a doorknob, and we hear this ominous political-announcer-type all, “On the other side of this door stand the world’s most important leaders …” And we see this beautifully manicured woman’s hand shakily reaching for the door … then chickening out to rub on moisturizer and open a box of tampons. Announcer guy: “Do you really want some girly-girl being the one to open it?”
Josie is all, “SEXIST!” And then she goes off to do her interview with James. BTW, you know Lisa Kudrow and Dan Bucatinsky are friends for reals? So I’ve been waiting for them to get a scene together on this show, and now we finally do, and it’s a really good one.
They sit across from each other, and he’s all, “Thank you for having me to your lovely home,” and she goes BALLISTIC, crying, “SEXIST! Governor Murdered-His-Wife’s-Lover is a sexist a-hole with his attack ads, and you are with your show and your ‘lovely home’ nonsense.” He’s gobsmacked, stammering his denials, and she’s all, “Then what’s with putting that pitcher of iced tea back there as if I made it?” And he’s all, “What, what iced tea?” And she says, “Right there! Next to the needlepoint, the stack of Danielle Steele novels, and the picture of Barry Manilow!”
She proceeds to attack the Governor’s lack of military service and aggressively defend her own positions. Liv and Abby beam over this like proud parents, finally seeing the presidential potential in their client.
But afterwards, sister-daughter Candace comes over to sarcastically compliment them on their many services, including the making of political ads. Having recognized the nail polish in the ad as identical to Abby’s, she accuses them of faking the attack ad to rile up Josie, which is of course exactly what they did and it totally worked. Blammo! Game, set, Pope and Associates!
More slimy politics this week, as stuff also happens with VP Sally (Kate Burton). She meets with The Guy from Private Practice (Paul Adelstein), and the two of them cackle and conspire, planning to rile up Sally’s wacko, right-wing Bible-thumping base.
So they egg on this famous evangelical minister to go on TV and attack Fitz, all, “My congregants and I want a President whose sexual morality matches that of the evangelical leadership,” and the TV interviewer is all, “Oh, so you want him to be even more of a hypocritical pervert?”
Seeing the attacks on him, Fitz realizes they need Sally on board with the campaign to rein in her base. So he invites Sally and her horndog husband (Jack Coleman) to a private dinner at the White House. Alone with Fitz, Mellie hilariously gripes about having to dine with the “Holy Hillbillies” (sadly no relation to the Beverly Hills Hillbillies), and Fitz points out that things aren’t so perfect with them, given Mr. VP has a “wandering eye” problem.
During the dinner, indeed his eye does wander, as well as his hands, feet, and lord knows what other parts of his anatomy, to as many parts of Mellie as he can reach without upending the table. In fact, he asks to say grace just so he can sneak a look at her chest, which just confirms what I always assumed about the sort of people who like to say grace.
While Mr. VP and Mellie laugh over First Lady/Second Husband matters, Sally assures Fitz she’ll do what she can for his campaign …
… and promptly meets with the evangelical minister guy in private to tell him she’s going to run as an independent and represent his moral interests better than the pervert in office. The minister seems delighted with this development and says she can count on his support. But then we find out he’s actually in Cyrus’ pocket and has no intention of turning on Fitz so long as Cyrus can send a few tax breaks his way. He confirms for Cyrus that Sally is planning on opposing Fitz herself. When Mellie gets wind of this, she argues they can use Mr. VP’s wandering eye problem for leverage.
Time, now, for a Gladiator Update …
We see Quinn (Katie Lowes) at a shooting range where she fires her gun a bunch of times, thereby killing the person on her right, the person on her left, and the receptionist in the front office. So apparently she’s a lousy shot. But then she gets mentoring … from Charlie the Lolly-Loving Assassin. Uh-oh. This can’t be good.
Meanwhile, stuff happens with Harrison (Columbus Short). So far, he’s had very little to do this season, other than wear shirt-tie combinations that make him look like a walking picnic table. But we finally get hints that his backstory is coming.
Cyrus tries to blackmail him into persuading Liv not to work for Congressman Kudrow, by threatening to help one Abu Nazir or something get back into the country. Harrison looks petrified at the thought (apparently they have a history), but then he gets Huck to do something hacky to prevent Abu Nazir’s visa from going through. So Harrison goes to Cyrus to crow that he’s not scared of him and happy to see Liv finally working for a candidate she respects. After he leaves, Cyrus simply picks up the phone and does some work-around that gets Abu Nazir’s visa despite whatever Huck did. Uh-oh. This can’t be good.
And now, back to the Operation Remington Steele/Did You Kill My Mother drama …
In the middle of her Kudrow campaigning, Liv goes home and drinks a case of wine and watches YouTube video footage of the plane crash, presumably because it’s less depressing than NBC’s comedy lineup. Then she drunk dials Daddy Command (Joe Morton), who’s all, “Young lady, are you drunk?” and she’s all, “Duh. Is wine red?”
She says, “I have so many questions I want to ask you. But I’m scared if I do you’ll kill my friends. So instead, let’s talk about average, everyday things. Say, did you see Al Roker get his prostate probed on The Today Show?” And Daddy Command is all, “Eww! Anything but that! Ask away! You can ask one question.
“And you won’t kill my friends?”
“No. And technically, that’s a question. But I’m in a generous mood so ask another.”
Liv asks him if he ordered the plane shot down. He says no, but when she tries to ask more questions, he advises her to leave the past alone.
But Ballard is still looking into the whole thing on Liv’s behalf. He meets up in a coffeeshop with this young woman he knows, let’s call her “Agent Spellstrouble.” He bats his pretty eyes and wears a low-cut V-neck to show off his heavage all to get her to agree to use her Langley clearance to get him the cockpit’s recorder from the crash.
Confirming once again how pretty but dumb he is, Ballard later goes to retrieve the recording from her IN A DARK, ISOLATED ALLEY WITH NO ESCAPE ROUTE. Sure enough, he’s followed into the alley by a creepy guy who raises a gun, only to shoot Agent Spellstrouble in the head. Because it turns out she was actually working for Command and going to kill Ballard.
And the guy who saved Ballard, it turns out, is actually an agent sent by Fitz to watch over him. But Ballard is pissed that Fitz was having him watched and promptly goes to confront him about it. Fitz wants Ballard to drop his investigation, but Ballard says it might be his only chance to finally be free of Command. Fitz asks if that’s his real interest, or is it staying in Liv’s pants, and I’m wondering why those two things are mutually exclusive.
After Ballard leaves, Fitz goes to Liv’s apartment and tries to get her to come work for his campaign. She asks him if he’s ready to talk about Operation Remington, and he’s all, “I don’t know nothing ’bout that.” She prevails on him again, asking if he had anything to do with shooting down a plane and killing 300 people, and he says, “I don’t know nothing ’bout that.” So she asks once again, even more earnestly, if he shot down a plane that killed 300 people including her mother. And he says, “I don’t know nothing ’bout that.”
At least his mouth says that. But his eyes say much more. From his expression, it looks like this bit about Liv’s mom is news to him. And it’s freaking him out. But he says nothing and leaves.
End of episode.
Wow. Even though we didn’t learn much new this week, I’m loving all the dirty political maneuvering going on right now. It’s interesting, too, to see Liv and Fitz so adversarial, while she draws slowly closer to her father. Once again, I can’t wait for more. So once again, I’m giving four out of five Gettysburgers.