By Arturo R. García
And thanks to Kendra and Joseph for allowing me to follow in a proud tradition of San Diegan closers by being your guest recapper for the season finale. But enough about me.
Spoilers under the cut, and they will be thorough.
While this episode began with the Gladiators seated around the table together dealing with the emergence of Billy Chambers as the (most visible) Big Bad, what ensued was a numerologist’s dream: the 22nd episode of the 2nd season was decided by teams of two. Accordingly, let’s break down the disparate duos who ended up forming the core of this episode:
Olivitz: I don’t know if this episode was trying to show us Fitz in a better light, but it ended up showcasing exactly why he’s the wrong guy for anybody. And especially Mellie, who we need to discuss before getting to Olivia.
As he enters a summit of sorts with Cyrus, Mellie, and Hollis to decide how to put down the threat suddenly posed by Chambers and the Citron card (Hollis, of course, takes that in a literal sense), Fitz immediately shouts Mellie down. Not only that, but she and the rest of the table is cowed–except for Olivia, who is apparently turned on watching him leverage the privilege he literally did not earn.
It’s not until she’s out of earshot that Mellie reiterates her justifiable feelings (“I will not be humiliated anymore”) while Cyrus continues to play his weird mix of Iago and Dr. Phil, reassuring her that Fitz wants to be back by her side (“He’s a child…we just have to show him the way”). But after weeks of building up righteous steam, Fitz does indeed get to humiliate her again, as he lays out, without objection, the road map for her life out of the White House. The way it’s explained to her, she gets to sit on the sidelines while Fitz goes on play dates before the coast becomes clear for him to formally date and move Liv into the White House. And to throw in the threat of a feminist backlash? C’mon now: if anything, it might make her a key asset for Sally to deploy in her plan to re-curry favor with the socially conservative set.
While this is presented as Olivia’s plan, it’s still Fitz who sets the agenda, based on a conversation focusing what he wants to accomplish (re-election, co-habitation, marriage). He also gets to butter Olivia up enough to get her to clean up the mess he incited. And so, just a few days in canon after telling him, “You want me? Earn me!”, Liv is more or less conned into “using her superpower” to earn him. So what does she get out of this? Apparently…
But even as his presidency is saved–more on that shortly–Fitz ends up losing. To a point. He’s forced to scurry back to Mellie (and give Tony Goldwyn credit for playing the moment with the precise mix of sadness and humiliation) when Olivia finally backs away from their re-relationship. But despite finding out that he killed her mentor and was of sound mind in doing so, Liv says she’s leaving him because of her team. She may be their “gladiator,” but it’s still Huck who sees that’s not enough of a shield, and it’s good of Shonda Rhimes to both allow him to play viewer surrogate (“I worry about you with him) and her to acknowledge it (“I worry about me, too.”) But perhaps there’s some hope on the horizon for her.
James and Cyrus: Speaking of uneven power dynamics, James still can’t get any respect from the Chief of Staff, despite (mistakenly?) doing him a solid in tipping him off to Sally’s planned desertion to begin with. Cyrus, of course, swoops in to stomp a mudhole in that plan and walk it dry before another clandestine meeting with Evil Joe Morton Rowan. All that gnashing and stomping takes its toll, though, landing Cyrus in an ambulance, a sequence that provides some much-needed (intentional) levity to the proceedings.
Of course, the lulz are short-lived, as Cyrus’ increasingly desperate need to keep Fitz a “happily” married man lead to him being the one to narc Olivia and Fitz out to each other. Now she knows what he did to Velma, and he knows what she was getting up to with 00-Nothing Jake (which, of course, shouldn’t really count; even before backing off, she could’ve easily cited the Geller Defense.) Still, he got what he wanted in a roundabout way. And James even came back, in a hospital scene that was more sad than touching. Poor James. Maybe he’ll meet a guy who really does support his news-hounding career track. But let it not be said that America doesn’t respect Cyrus’ willingess to go that extra low-down mile, right, Jeff Perry?
Huckleberry Quinn: It’s their super-sleuthing that allows Team Pope to (inevitably) get the drop on Chambers and Gov. Reston before they can implement Billy’s master plan. But Huck also sees another problem brewing: Quinn is starting to enjoy the dirtier side of his job along with the clean. Despite that bit of foreshadowing, it’s still a bit surprising to see Quinn’s turn to the Dark Side come to fruition so quickly:
As Huck freezes up when called upon to wrest the information out of Billy, Quinn doesn’t just takes over; she gleefully and literally drills Chambers and boasts enough about it afterward to not realize that Huck is hit by another trigger over the whole incident. While “Seven Fifty-Two” and Guillermo Díaz did a good job of bringing the character’s frailties to light, let’s hope the switch in attitude–and, perhaps, in power–in this relationship gets explored in some more detail next season. (At the same time, if I were a fan of Harrison and Abby, I’d start sweating it a little; for them to have almost no influence on a pivotal episode tells me they’re…you know, not essential to services.)
While Quinn seems to be inheriting the old Huck’s zest for (ahem) interrogation, it’s Jake who is forced to revisit the uglier side of The Job, as Rowan punishes him for saving Olivia by putting him in the Hole. But without having a nominally stabilizing environment to return to like Huck has, Jake’s journey could end up becoming darker still, should he be asked to “redeem himself” by B6-13.
Billy and David: This partnership of convenience was probably doomed as soon as Billy used his sales pitch on David. Sure, it makes little sense for David to have the Citron card and not make his own deal to get his professional life back and some glowing words from President Grant, but it sounds like it was Billy’s monologue that drew him back to the side of the angels–and away from that of the Gladiators, which is the safest place where anybody could be.
Now he’s just pushing his luck.
Olivia and …
Say what you will about this episode–heck, about this season–but the last minute was a brilliant trap by Rhimes. There we all were, enjoying Olivia’s victory lap, “Higher Ground” playing, when all of us walk into a phalanx of Beltway press, who have just now been told that she was sleeping with Fitz. Only now she’s not. And now both of them need to prove it.
Beyond that, Rowan’s insistence on “bringing her in” now takes on a different dimension. What if this is his version of tough love?
But hey, we’ve got at least one more season to gnash out those answers.
- Assuming that next season will hone in on Fitz’s re-election bid, is anybody else curious to see how Shonda Rhimes writes not only Candidate Fitz, but right-wing politicos beyond Sally?
- How did Billy survive that encounter with Quinn? How was he able to walk?
- Bad time for Mellie not to have her fixer around, don’t you think?
- If you’re wondering about Olivia’s white jacket, Kerry Washington has got you:
- Now the big one: Who do you think is going to play Olivia’s mom? My (unwitting) guess was a little…beyond right field. Way beyond.
Thank you very much for reading our crew’s recaps this season–and don’t forget, the Roundtable convenes once again on Thursday the 23rd!