Catch up on Scandal S5 Ep. 13 The Fish Rots From the Head



L.T. Milroy

What an exhausting episode this was. Pretty good and a definite improvement over the previous installment, but so tiring, watching everyone’s endless machinations.

Politics is not for the timid, and even those who seem incorruptible almost always have their price. That’s the message I took away from this episode. Prove me wrong. It can’t be done. Cynicism rules.

Case of the Week. There is a case the rest of the episode is wrapped around. Abby gets a middle-of-the-night phone call that a party with some Secret Service agents got out of hand. It’s a situation where some fixing is required, so she calls Olivia. Then Liv and the Gladiators go to a hotel room where they find some nervous agents, a shattered glass table and a woman dead on the floor.

The agents say the woman, Megan, was high and fell and hit her head on the table. It was a tragic accident. The other woman present, Erin, confirms that’s what happened. Liv seems distracted, so Quinn takes charge. She tells the agents to leave and go to a nearby bar. She’ll pay off the bartender to say they were there all night. She tells Erin to go and that she was never there in the first place. Anyone in the hotel who knew about the party will have to be paid to keep quiet, and security camera video will have to be confiscated, Quinn says.

As they’re scrubbing down the hotel room, Marcus is having second thoughts about the whole thing. He tells Quinn he’s uncomfortable covering up for the inexcusable incompetence of the agents. She lets him know this is part of the job. He won’t always like what he has to do, but basically he’ll have to suck it up and do it. Then she gives him my favorite line of the episode, and it encapsulates perfectly what the Gladiators do and what Marcus must learn to accommodate if he wants to stay around: “Sometimes we get to save the day; sometimes we do this.”

Liv, a hot mess. Liv maybe doesn’t have her heart in the case yet, because she’s thinking about other things. She’s told Mellie that she can’t advise her officially, but Mel and Liv still have this alliance, even though it’s ‘unofficial’. Liv drops by her office, where Mel is signing copies of her book that’s about to come out. She’s glad to see Liv, as she needs some advice.

It’s about Susan Ross. Mel is apparently taking her candidacy seriously, despite how Susan was picked as VP, because Mel didn’t find her threatening. It doesn’t appear as if Mel is overly concerned at this point, but she is wondering how Fitz will respond to the situation. Liv, giving some unofficial advice, says that Mel can’t expect Fitz to endorse her now that they’re divorced, but neither can he endorse Susan. That would be a real blow to Mel’s campaign. She must see to it that Fitz remains neutral.

Liv is also busy doing some covert work on her own. Now that she knows the identity of Jake’s new GF, she’s shadowing them on dates and generally being stalkerish. Considering how many times she’s turned Jake down over the run of this show—living in a deserted tropical paradise with him a couple of seasons ago wasn’t enough for her, FFS—it’s rather surprising to see how obsessed she is now that he has someone new. Is this simply an I-don’t-want-you-but-no-one-else-can-have-you situation? I expected more from Liv. She says she thinks Jake is planning something, but at the moment it just seems as if she doesn’t like that he’s serious about someone who isn’t her.

DC Madame Abby. In the meantime, Abby has been busy with her own matters. Free now of both Mellie and Liv and on his own in the White House, Fitz has discovered that having a flashy job can get a guy a lot of poon, and he’s certainly not above exploiting his position. In the last episode, Abby outlined to him the procedure that must be followed if he’s going to conduct himself like a horny teenager, and now that he’s decided to act on it, the press secretary discovers she’s inherited the task of running his conquests through that procedure. Poor, ever-beleaguered Red.

There’s a montage of Fitz meeting one attractive female after another at public functions, who all end up back at the White House for private consultations with the chief executive. But first, they must go through Abby, who confiscates their cell phone, swears them to secrecy and haves them sign a non-disclosure agreement. She trains a Secret Service agent on the drill, and the two of them form a kind of trim tag team, as the conquests parade through the White House bed chamber.

Worlds colliding. Liv is in her car one night, watching from across the street as Jake and his new lady, Vanessa, have dinner in a restaurant. Abby shows up; she needs to speak with Liv, and I guess this is the best way, since Liv is so preoccupied with her surveillance activities. Liv fills her in on who Vanessa is, which is your basic Rhodes Scholar/civil rights lawyer/brain surgeon/friend to all species yadda yadda. Of course Jake found someone amazing, and I’m sure Liv hates her, even though she’s never met her and has only peeped at her through windows.

Abby asks about the case and is shocked to learn it involved a death. She was only told that ‘things got out of hand’. She says the whole matter has to be kept quiet and can’t get back to the president. Liv is barely listening. She doesn’t really want to be bothered with such mundane matters right now. She’s too distracted watching the happy couple and wonders what Jake is up to with Vanessa.

At OPA. The Gladiators have noticed that Liv doesn’t have her usual appetite for the job these days. Quinn tells Huck she thinks Liv is just bored, with just about everything in her life. She cites Liv’s reticence to take control at the hotel, but Huck thinks that was a matter of Liv’s temperament, not her lack of passion for her work. There was a corpse there, which Liv didn’t expect and that’s not what she specializes in, Huck says. Liv is a fixer, not a cleaner. Or, as he tells Quinn, “Liv doesn’t like dead bodies. She’s not like us.” Aw, a weird bonding moment for Huck and Quinn. So touching.

Another OPA member who likely doesn’t share the corpse fondness is Marcus, who breaks up this ghoulish little lovefest. He’s been busy with some detective work. He got Megan’s cell phone and found that everything on it had been erased. Why would the Secret Service agents at the party wipe her phone clean? It casts their claims of her accidental death into doubt.

Marcus keeps digging and gets his hands on Megan’s autopsy. It shows that she died of a heroin overdose, which was administered after she hit her head. The agents had said she was high when she fell, but the autopsy says the opposite. Her death was no accident. Marcus brings this information to Liv, but she tells him to forget about it. It’s their job to serve their client, she says, and this client isn’t served by pursuing this matter any further. She tells him to drop it.

If you’re thinking the lack of discipline and professionalism on the part of these partying Secret Service agents, and the lack of decorum on the part of the president that the SS in general is being asked to accommodate and cover up these days are linked, you’re correct. But before that can be resolved, there’s the episode’s other plot, which is the political circus that is the pursuit of the presidency.

Making a president. Toward that end, Cyrus is this week’s master manipulator. Always at least a step ahead of those he wishes to control and those who must be kept in the dark about everything, Cy is back to being the political poker player extraordinaire. Poor Francisco Vargas. The guy never stood a chance.

Vargas is the governor of Pennsylvania and is currently, unbeknownst to him, being groomed by Cy as a candidate for president. Last week he was turned into a national hero when he disarmed an intruder at his Harrisburg office, a takeover that Cy orchestrated. Now that the country knows Vargas’s name, it’s time for the next step in Cy’s plan.

The two get together for lunch. Vargas is still uncomfortable with his new high-profile status and doesn’t want to exploit it. As they’re talking, Sally Langston stops by their table and gushes over the governor, telling him he should go on her show. Vargas is polite, which seems to come naturally to him, but when she leaves he says he’d never do her show, because she’s crazy and so are her fans. Besides, he tells Cy, he doesn’t want to do any media, period. He shouldn’t even be there right now, because he has work to do trying to get his education bill passed. This guy is so earnest and honest, you can almost see the venom glistening on Cy’s fangs as he fantasizes about what he’s going to do with him.

For now, Cy says that Vargas shouldn’t just discount people like Sally. She may be nuts, but she has a popular national show and that’s always an attractive platform. Vargas says he doesn’t want to exploit what happened to him. There was a shooting, people were killed and he himself was shot and injured. It was a tragedy and shouldn’t be used as political fodder. Cy counters with an invitation to the White House. The president has his own education bill that’s going up against Vargas’s bill, so they should get together and discuss them. It could be a very productive meeting, says Cy, and besides, it never hurts to have an ally in Washington.

Frankie gets Cyed. But of course, Cy has his own agenda. He goes to Fitz and tells him the governor is coming for a visit. He makes it sound like it was Vargas’s idea. Like he’s trying to exploit the attention he’s currently getting by muscling himself an invitation to the White House. Cy really lays it on thick, expressing sympathy for Fitz having to put up with having his education bill criticized by opportunistic attention whores like Vargas. But it will look bad if he turns down a meeting with someone who’s still a national hero, so Fitz reluctantly agrees.

The meeting doesn’t go well. Vargas tries to make small talk, but Fitz cuts him off. So Vargas gets down to business and still gets cut off. It’s clear the president resents having Vargas there, and he won’t even listen to criticism of his bill. The meeting is basically over before it’s begun.

Vargas leaves the Oval Office ticked off, and the first thing he does is call Cy. Is it still possible to get on Sally’s show?  Crazypants or not, Sally has a national show, and that’s what he needs right now to sell his education bill. Cy thinks it can be arranged. Cy got exactly what he wanted. Just a coincidence, I’m sure.

Michael lives! Cy watches Vargas’s appearance on TV at home with his husband. Yes, we have a Michael sighting! Mikey is sitting next to Cy, but his attention isn’t so much on what’s taking place on the screen, as he’s busily braiding the hair on a doll. He says he’s practicing for Ella. Aww, that is beyond cute. Not only is Michael doing his best to be a good dad, he’s also trying his best to adapt to the whole biracial thing. What a good guy. Interesting that the ex-hustler might be the most morally centered character on this show.

That is one big doll, though. Wow, it’s almost Ella-sized. I assume what would be Ella’s size right now, anyway. Though we do get to see the usually absent Mikey. The kid, as always, is MIA.

Vargas talks about his education bill, and Sally says he sounds almost presidential. He brushes that off by saying there’s no chance he’ll run for president. He’s just there, because he wants to get exposure for his bill. All of this anti-president talk concerns Cy, who immediately gets on the phone to Tom and tells him to find out why Vargas apparently has no presidential aspirations.

Dizzie Bear lives! Meanwhile, David and Lizzie, that study in Washington dysfunction, have their thing going with Susan, who they want to make the next president. Unbeknownst to her, of course. That’s the way things work in Scandaland.

The situation is getting complicated for David, who’s been having a covert sex-and-power relationship with Lizzie and just recently started a more conventional relationship with Susan, which it seems is based on mutual respect and admiration but also now includes sex, as well. While he appears to be enjoying himself on one level, it’s obvious he’s just waiting for the proverbial stuff to hit the fan, which it will, shortly.

In bed with Susan, David enjoys the afterglow by talking politics. He tells her the next thing she needs to do is secure Fitz’s endorsement. She’s the VP, so it won’t look good if the president won’t endorse her. It will make it appear like he doesn’t think she’s up to the job. But Susan doesn’t think she wants that coveted endorsement. Fitz hasn’t exactly been hiding his skanking around lately, and Susan is disgusted by it. She’s appalled by his behavior and wants to distance herself from the Grant administration. She isn’t even sure she’d accept Fitz’s endorsement.

When David tells Liz about this latest development, she, of course, is not pleased. She tells David that Susan must be convinced not only to accept Fitz’s endorsement but to seek it out. Then she tells David to drop his drawers, which he compliantly does. He seems comfortable right now enjoying nasty sex with Liz while pursuing a relationship with Susan. TV characters are rarely allowed to enjoy such an arrangement for long, however, and Davey’s clock is running down.

The monster lives! Cy and Lizzie cross paths in the White House. It seems incidental, but since everything Cy does in this episode is calculated, it’s safe to assume he accidentally/on purpose ‘runs into’ Liz. He tells her he’s figured out that Susan really doesn’t want Fitz’s endorsement and tells her it’s a brilliant strategy. That upsets Liz enough to get her to go to Fitz and tell him that they have to do something to stop Vargas’s education bill. She suggests getting Susan to go on Sally’s show to rebut everything Vargas said. She sees it as a chance to make the president look good and make Susan look loyal at the same time.

Liz goes ahead and books Susan on Sally’s show, which upsets Susan when she finds out. Liz is in the Veep’s office trying to sell her on the whole idea, when who walks in but David, complete with bouquet. He’s there to pick up Susan for their date. She immediately pulls him into the fray. She’s upset because she doesn’t want to defend the president’s education bill on TV, because she thinks the president’s education bill stinks.

Susan and Liz argue about it, and Liz asks for David’s opinion. The vice president and her chief of staff both turn to the attorney general, awaiting his word. He tries to weasel out of it and leave the room, but Liz won’t let him. Susan then sincerely asks David what he thinks. It’s his first real test between Susan/Liz, and this one goes to. . .Lizzie!

In the next scene, Susan is on the Liberty Report, defending the president’s education bill. She talks about how Vargas’s bill is crap, but it’s clear she isn’t comfortable doing so and is unhappy with herself.

Skanking around the White House. Susan is defending a president, who continues playing slave to his libido. Fitz’s behavior really starts getting in the way when Mellie drops by one afternoon with little Teddy. We still don’t get to see Ella, but at least one of those eternally absent DC kids resurfaces this week. It’s time for Fitz to have visitation with his son, and Mel is there a little early to drop Teddy off. She’s also hoping to get in a word with Fitz about his endorsement, but his nads get in the way.

As Mel is talking, Fitz’s latest conquest wanders in, clad only in one of those fabulous white White House robes. The woman hastily excuses herself, but the damage is done. Mel takes Teddy back and tells Fitz that he can whore around all he wants, but not in front of her son.

That’s the beginning of things crumbling for Fitz. The decline continues when one of his special ladies, another journalist (this show’s Washington is sure packed with unprincipled female reporters who think nothing of doffing their journalistic integrity, along with their panties, when exposed to President Feelgood), asks if he can confirm the rumor she heard that Liv is running Mel’s campaign. Ouch.

Later, Mel tells Liv about the whole matter. What gall Fitz has, she says, to parade his bimbos around in front of their child. It sparks something in Liv, who goes back to OPA and tells them to follow up on the leads in the Secret Service case.

A temporary setback. Tom digs around and finds that Vargas has a young daughter with cancer. That’s why he doesn’t want to run for president. He doesn’t want to be away from her. This would seem to dash Cy’s plans, but the man is nothing if not determined.

Cy has Vargas over to his house and tells him to go home to PA. His business as governor, and especially his family matters, are more important than anything in DC. Vargas seems a little relieved and wonders how people like Cy even put up with all the pressure. Then Cy tells the story of his older brother, who was paralyzed by a drunk driver right before Cy was set to go off to college. He’d been accepted at Harvard, which was a big deal for the family and was something to which Cy was greatly looking forward. But his brother’s situation changed things for him, and he decided instead to stay home and go to the local community college. His brother wouldn’t accept that, though. He wouldn’t let Cy turn down such a great opportunity and forced him to go to Harvard. It allowed Cy to go on to have the political career he’s had, one he says he dedicates to his brother.

Sharing that story has the desired effect. Later, when Vargas is leaving, Cy apologizes for bending his ear. Vargas responds by asking Cy to run his campaign for president. He’s going to try to advance his political career, and it’s something he’s going to do for his sick daughter. Michael comes in the room, and Cy introduces them. Wow, two Mikey sightings in one show! Vargas tells Michael that Cy will be running his campaign, which seems only fair, since it’s Cy’s story about his brother that made Vargas decide to seek the presidency in the first place.

After Vargas leaves, Mike says he thought Cy was an only child, and Cy confirms that. So he made up that whole fake story about a fake brother just to convince Vargas he should do something he apparently otherwise wouldn’t have done. Cy has been manipulating everyone in sight for the entire episode just to get something out of someone who was basically unwilling to give it. And he finally got it! He’s obviously pleased with himself, but I wonder how long it will take before Vargas finds out about the whole brother lie. And how long till he discovers that Cy set up the office invasion in Harrisburg? It should let him know pretty quickly that what he’s signing up for is being a slave to Cy’s ambitions. If he doesn’t like it, he best bail now before he gets in too deep.

Like old times. Erin, who you’ll remember was with Megan at the party, is called to Quinn’s place. When she sees Marcus there, she assumes they want a threesome, but they’re not interested in her professionally. They want to know what really happened that night in the hotel room. They know Megan’s death wasn’t an accident, but Erin says she’s not a snitch. So Quinn tells her about the autopsy, that Megan survived hitting her head, but the agents covered up for themselves by giving her a fatal dose of heroin. They could have saved her but instead killed her, and Erin is covering for them. That changes her mind. She says what happened was that the agents didn’t want to pay Megan, who was stumbling around angrily when she fell and hit her head. They were cheap bastards who didn’t want to pay up and instead risked a scandal, which they got? Idiots. Nice to know that idiots are protecting our country.

Quinn and Marcus report their results to Liv, who calls Abby. While sympathetic, Abby reminds Liv that she’s supposed to solve problems for her clients, not create them. Liv thinks that over and says the Secret Service isn’t her client. Abby is the one who placed the original phone call putting her on the case, so she’s the client. What would Abby, as the client, like her to do next? Liv asks.

After finding out in graphic detail about Fitz’s behavior from Mellie and armed with backup on the case from Abby, Liv heads for the Oval for her first meeting with Fitz since the big breakup. It’s expectedly awkward at first, but after exchanging greetings, Liv gets down to business and tells him about the party and the Secret Service agents. He’s upset to hear about it and wonders why Abby didn’t give him a heads up. Liv answers that Abby has been kept busy tending to other matters, and things go downhill from there.

Fitz insists his sex life is none of Liv’s business and also brings up her working with Mel, and how this is all just the two of them getting revenge on him. Liv tries to get back to the matter at hand and talks about the case and the agents, and he kind of brushes her off. That’s when Liv utters the title of the episode. She tells Fitz that the old fish rots from the head proverb applies here. The Secret Service has been witnessing his bad behavior, and the agents are now following his lead. She saves her biggest blow for last and talks about how his son walked in on daddy with some strange woman, just like Fitz did as a boy with Big Jerry. Has he turned into his father? Is Fitz Big Jerry now?

It’s a low blow, considering Fitz’s history with his father and all of the loathsome things we’ve come to discover about Big Jerry. The comparison obviously infuriates Fitz, but he also knows it’s not an entirely unfair one. He stands there, speechless, as Liv finishes her tirade, tells him sarcastically that it was good to see him again, and leaves. So, he just takes it.

Or rather, he takes it to heart. Seems that Liv can still get through to Fitz, even though they’re not currently lovers, or even friends. She has that ability to reach him when no one else can.

She makes him want to be a better man. Abby and her Secret Service cohort are waiting outside an elevator, expecting Fitz’s latest bimbo to arrive. When the door opens, instead out steps Susan, who chirpily informs them she’s been summoned by the president. No, not in that way.

Fitz begins by complimenting her appearance on Sally’s show, and then asks her what she really thinks about the education bill. She admits that she likes the Vargas bill better, and tearing it down on TV made her feel gross. Fitz says that’s good, because it means she’s being true to herself. She says there’s always so much pressure to toe the party line. He says not to worry about that and to never lie to the American people again. She agrees. Then he says he wants to endorse her for president. She tells him no offense, but given his recent cavalcade of indiscretions, she doesn’t really want to be associated with him. He totally understands that, he says, but he’d like her to accept his endorsement at some point and is looking forward to putting in the work required to earn her approval. She thanks him.

From there, Fitz hits the briefing room. He tells the press about the party scandal and that the agents involved have been fired and arrested. This kind of behavior, he says, won’t be tolerated on his watch.

For those who still care about Jake. Yes, the Jake tripe. There’s more of it.

We almost get by without seeing Pa this week. Alllllmost, but here he is, popping up in the final scene. Liv is at his front door, wondering about Sunday dinner. Sunday dinners with Pa is a tradition that’s fallen by the wayside, but Liv wants to start it up again, so here she is.

Pa wasn’t expecting her, he says, but lets her in anyway. He already has a guest, though. Liv walks into the living room and there’s Jake and his gal pal Vanessa, along with a bottle of Champagne. Jake tells Liv they’re getting married.

It should be noted that in a previous brief but unsettling scene, Jake turned up in Liv’s bedroom uninvited late one night. He cites his capacity as head of the NSA with being able to pretty much go wherever he wants, but he seems to want to drive the point home that he basically has unlimited access to her, regardless of what she wants. Then he tells her that Vanessa is perfect and wickedly awesome and everything, but she’s not Liv. And then he tried some sexual stuff before Liv came to her senses and asked him what he was up to, at which point he left.

So the night before he asked Vanessa to marry him, Jake was unfavorably comparing her to Liv right before fingering Liv and proposing mind-blowing sex with her, even while planning to marry another. And now Liv is jealous while Jake and Vanessa beam at each other, and Pa smiles as they pop the Champagne? What a mess.

Maybe some of this will be resolved next week in 05.14, “I See You” –

Olivia continues to spy on Jake while the Gladiators fend for themselves; Susan and Mellie are feeling the pressure as their campaigns heat up; Abby begins to question Cyrus’s motives; a blast from the past surprises everyone.

Would that title be more appropriate as ICU? Find out next week…



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