Ask someone a question, and when that person starts to answer, interrupt by asking the question again but louder: Woohoo, 'Scandal' is back!
The Season 3 premiere lacked many of the series' hallmarks: There were no bastard children, illegal crime-scene cleanups or torture by power drill. Then again, we did get Harrison asking "Are we gladiators?" of the team, several references to the "white hat" and Kerry Washington taking 100 deep breaths. So we're definitely in the right place.
The episode picked up just a few minutes after the end of the Season 2 finale, when it was leaked to the press that our hero, D.C. fixer Olivia Pope, is the one who's been sleeping with President Fitz — which is of course true, but also means, you guessed it: She is now the one who needs fixing. We also learned, in the final moment of last season, that the Mysterious Man in charge of all of the creepy assassins, the one who presumably ordered the attempted hit on Olivia, is actually her father. Daddy issues!
At the beginning of the episode, he takes her in a limousine to an airplane, tells her he's created a new life for her and that it is time she disappeared. But she immediately borrows the flight attendant's cell phone and calls her murderous White House chief-of-staff best friend Cyrus, who convinces her to stay. (By the way, no judgment in calling him murderous; half of the show's characters have also killed people.) So she storms off the plane with a new vigor to take back her life.
Can she handle this?
CAN. SHE. HANDLE. THIS?
The entire episode, save the last (and exciting) minute, is dedicated to Liv and Fitz's affair, a charged and tortured, on-again-off-again relationship that has successfully and consistently overheated viewers: Kerry Washington and Tony Goldwyn have great chemistry and, also, are smoking hot. So at least there will be that, right?
Olivia makes a phone call, announces some secret password, and suddenly every limo in D.C. is driving around, while one delivers her to a secret steel-door panic room for what turns out to be — yes! — sexy president secret-meeting time. Oh damn, here comes first lady Mellie. The three of them hash out a foolproof plan: Fitz will tell a form of the truth, admitting the part of the affair that they can eventually spin away. Then Olivia tells Mellie, "In order for me to do my job effectively, I'm going to need you to not refer to me as a whore. At least not to my face."
Finally the threesome gets its story straight and agrees to the plan, and then — nice! — Mellie leaves. Please can they have sex now? Good, they're fighting, and they always make out after they fight. OK, he took his jacket off. She says, "Don't," like she always does, but we know he will ... hug her. That's it? Then she turns and leaves.
Dammit, why does the president always have a shirt on?
WHY. DOES. THE PRESIDENT. ALWAYS. WEAR. A SHIRT?
We do however get to see inside Olivia's case file. Naturally, the White House has pulled it in order to manage the scandal, and in turn, we finally learn biographical data about Ms. Pope: Her mom died when she was 12, after which she never lived at home again; her father (who, by the way, pretends to curate antiquities at the Smithsonian) shipped her off to boarding school; and in her early D.C. days, she built a reputation as a party girl. That's a good show: It takes until the third season before anything is revealed about the lead's background, and you didn't even care.
This episode also roots out the source of the leak. First we learn, when Cyrus pulls it from his journalist husband James, that the information was heard at a bar where the Secret Service drink. But this is "Scandal," so it's never that simple. Mellie, who constantly reminds us she was first in her class at law school, figures it out: Fitz told his Secret Service to leak it. He admits it, explaining he did it so Olivia could finally be free of Mellie's blackmailing. It's tempting to think he's always the good guy, but let's not forget about that time he killed that old woman undergoing chemotherapy.
BUT WOULDN'T SHE HAVE DIED ANYWAY?
However, just before the president and first lady make their scripted announcement in the Rose Garden, here come the gladiators! Earlier, Harrison had wrangled the team and asked them to work, behind Olivia's back, toward a solution: "Yes, OK, we're gladiators, blah blah blah" (paraphrased). So when the press is suddenly fingering some random aide named Jeanine as the real mistress, we know the warriors ... er, Vikings ... no, Huns — what do they call themselves? — had been hard at work. America takes the bait, poor Jeanine is the fall guy, and Olivia is completely off the hook.
Did you think it was over?
DID. YOU LEAVE. YOUR COUCH?
Of course it's not over: Jeanine is now Olivia's client. Boom! Scandal! It's handled!
Let's see, what else? Fitz made up with the judge-y Bible-thumping vice president. Jake Ballard is in the same box they put Huck in. The writers made their millionth reference to Bill Clinton: "If all we had to talk about was a blue dress with a stain on it, I'd be fine."
And, oh, right: that exciting last minute. Cyrus finds out what really happened during that secret military mission Fitz was on with Captain Jake Ballard. And, presumably, next week we'll find out too. See you then.