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Thursday, October 10, 2013

The SCANDAL? "It's Handled"

Article first published as The SCANDAL? "It's Handled" on TheTVKing.

ABC's Scandal's season three premiere, "It's Handled," ranks among the top five episodes of this series so far, and that's saying something. It's an intense, twisty piece of drama, with some surprises, at least one big revelation that absolutely makes sense, and some wonderful extended, character-driven scenes. In short, it's everything you want from the show.

"It's Handled" picks up right where last spring's finale left off, with Olivia (Kerry Washington) on her way out of town, courtesy her estranged father, Rowan (Joe Morton, Eureka). Rowan has a plan: have Olivia lie low for eight months, then he'll set her up a new life anywhere in the world, other than D.C. Shocked and speechless, Olivia allows him to put her on a plane.

We know Olivia cannot leave, but it's Cyrus (Jeff Perry) of all people that talks her into staying with a quick phone call. These two have a strong, strange friendship. Sometimes, their purposes are at odds with one another, and that creates major conflict. But it's clear Cyrus still wants her around, even when she causes him a headache. He hasn't figured out how to deal with the fallout of Olivia being outed as Fitz's (Tony Goldwyn) mistress yet, but he insists that she remain in town, and then he'll formulate a plan.

It's very surprising that the help Cyrus gets to make said plan comes not only from Mellie (Bellamy Young), who has her reasons for not wanting the real story out there, but also from Olivia's own team. Harrison (Columbus Short), Abby (Darby Stanchfield), Huck (Guillermo Diaz), and Quinn (Katie Lowes) go into damage mode, considering Olivia as they would any client. Their solution is to throw the press onto some poor, innocent girl, leading them away from Olivia's scent, and Cyrus helps them put it in place.

The team isn't trying to act against Olivia's wishes. But her wishes are that they just stay out of it, as she says "It's Handled," and that is not in their nature. They can't sit idly by and let things happen, no more than can Cyrus, who first puts together a kill file on Olivia before embarking on this path. All of these people care about Olivia and are trying to protect her. Inadvertently, they do the opposite, screwing everything up. From her perspective, anyway, as her reputation and business may be the better for it.

You see, Olivia has a plan, and that's to come clean about her affair. She gets Fitz and Mellie in a room to talk about how to control the story, and plan on going with the truth. This is Mellie's nightmare, but she goes along with it to stall for time. Mellie worries that this story breaking is the first step towards Fitz and Olivia having a real, public relationship, and her being shoved out of the picture, which is exactly why Fitz is the one that leaks the affair in the first place; he wants to be with Olivia, not Mellie. Olivia's people sabotage this.

Is there a chance for Olivia and Fitz to ever be a full-fledged couple? Everyone around them seems to think that idea is crazy, as does Olivia. Yet, it's something that Fitz really, really wants, and I think she does, too, though she tries not to let herself. It could happen after he leaves office, but with a re-election campaign looming, that could be awhile and he's impatient. No one can have it all, though, not even the president, and this mess does not have a clear path through it.

I love Scandal because it creates these very complex situations with lots of moving parts, each affecting the others. Every character is operating through their own motivations and values, and those bump up against everyone else's, sometimes working together, and sometimes destroying. Somehow, the writers keep these all wonderfully balanced and juggled, providing a great big picture when one steps back.

Despite all this chaos, things will settle down soon enough, and the characters can move onto the next crisis. The only real fall-out I see caused by the events in "It's Handled" will come from V.P. Sally Langston (Kate Burton). Fitz and Sally have never gotten along, but they have a real, mostly honest conversation in this episode. Fitz apologizes for screwing up, and pledges to do the right thing. Sally believes him. Through it's not Fitz's fault that Cyrus, Mellie, and the gladiators screw up his plan, if he goes along with it, Sally will feel betrayed. And he has to go along with it to maintain his office.

What can Sally do? Might she campaign on the truth, using what Fitz tells her to try to beat him in the primary elections? That would make sense, and it seems like it would take a miracle to be able to combat that platform. Or, she could force Fitz to her will with the threat of such exposure, which she might do if she feels her goals are justified, even though that doesn't seem to be her style.

The scene between Sally and Fitz is a real, raw moment, a powerful bit for the series. As is the three-way meeting between Fitz, Mellie, and Olivia. And the moment in which David Rosen (Joshua Malina) comes to Olivia "as a friend" and seems to sincerely offer to help. It's all of these combined that ranks "It's Handled" among the best hours of television this week. Where will the story go next?

Scandal airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.

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