The second episode of the season kicks off with the White House prepping for the State of the Union address. The denizens of Shonda’s Washington D.C. aren’t too worried about the speech itself, but rather the all-important optics. The First Lady was spotted by the press en déshabillé at her son’s grave and refuses to attend. The President’s specially-invited pro-gun-control guests are suddenly missing in action. Which is where Olivia is asked—well, really, blackmailed—to help get them on board. But the next 43 minutes are more interested in the characters’ many shifting alliances. Last week, we saw where everyone was after Olivia’s long absence; now we’re seeing how they relate to one another. So let’s take a hint from the episode title, and look at the state of some of Scandal’s unions.
James Elliott and Lisa Elliot
We’ll start with the couple at the center of Olivia’s Problem of the Week, as they also provide us with this episode’s thematic line: No relationship is what it seems. James is the survivor of a Taliban POW camp. Lisa was a teacher at an elementary school teacher where a Newtown-like event occurred, leaving her paralyzed. As far as the press is concerned, they’re a perfect pair, husband and wife crusading for greater gun control laws. In reality, they’re embittered and angry, and can barely be in the same room. Their resolution is easy: a divorce, as negotiated by Olivia Pope, so long as they can get through the State of the Union.
Olivia and Jake
The episode opens with Liv and Jake mid-jog and mid-argument. Since their stay in D.C. appears to be indefinite, Jake has decided to take a stand. By getting a hotel room all his own. “I’m not going to live in your apartment waiting to service you,” he tells Liv. “But I did book a nice hotel suite for booty calls.” Jake, real talk, getting your own space is a good move, but you’re undercutting your strong, independent dude stance by opening your door to Liv for booty calls. Better to ignore her pleas to return to the apartment and sulk in your poorly-lit room, sifting through data that includes Harrison’s autopsy and video of B6-13 assassin Charlie eating dinner. Eventually Liv unbends and accepts that, for once, she will have to go to Jake. And really, what better way for Liv to show him she cares than with a bottle of wine in hand and nothing, but nothing, on under her trench coat.
Olivia and Fitz
And here we are, right on theme. Even though they only shared a few scenes, there’s much more going on beneath the surface with Fitzgerald Grant and Olivia Pope than their very professional interactions implies. Much as last week’s nearly-brushed fingertips suggested, Olivia and Fitz are keeping their feelings for each other on a tight rein. Does Fitz do some lingering staring at Olivia when she appears on TV? Of course. Does Liv unbend when Fitz asks her to take the final look at his State of the Union speech, just minutes before he’s due to give it? Of course. They’re not made of stone!
The unbridled, unstoppable attraction between Fitz and Olivia was the fuel behind Scandal’s breakneck political intrigue. But narrative can’t live if it’s dialed up to 11 all the time. Putting some distance between our star-crossed lovers is a smart move. Not just because it gives the story a moment to breathe, but also because it means we get to watch them rekindle in a slow burn, from tantalizing almost-touching to—we fervently hope—consuming, undeniable, fated-to-be passion.
NEXT: The strained relations at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.