This is a strange episode. While some key matters are addressed, at times it almost seems like a different show. The plot does get moved along, but it still feels odd.
Kerry Washington’s pregnancy is responsible for a shortened, 16-episode Season 6, as well as these episodes that are heavy in character studies of supporting players and light in participation by Olivia Pope. Last week we found out all about Jake and his private life, and this week Papa Pope gets the same treatment. We delve into the recent past and see events that explain what’s happening in the present. Of course, new questions then crop up, as well.
It’s time to go all Pa, all the time.
Pa’s past. This is another flashback episode, which is how we’re getting all of our info this season. The starting point is fifty-three days before the election. Papa Pope gets a package in the mail containing a small model of a dinosaur, and judging from the look on his face he knows who sent it. Then he’s attending a lecture wearing that same fond look as he watches the woman who’s speaking. She notices him and seems to feel the same. They talk afterward, and we find out her name is Sandy, and she’s an old grad school friend of Pa’s. They were both paleontology nerds back then, and that hasn’t changed. She takes him to her new work studio where she’s delving into a project she’s rather passionate about. She’s secured a sponsor to fund her work, says she could use a knowledgeable partner, then offers the position to Pa, who enthusiastically accepts.
Pa seems extremely happy and seems to be throwing himself into his new work, but of course, no one is ever allowed to be happy for very long on this show. One day in the studio, he spies a hidden camera. That night he meets with a guy named Adam who was tasked to look into Sandy’s history. Adam says she’s clean and that he couldn’t find anything questionable in her past. The benefactor who’s funding the project Sandy’s working on, however, is another matter. He says this so-called ‘collector’ doesn’t seem to exist. Pa then pays a visit to Olivia and asks to borrow a Marvin Gaye album. Pa laments that the young people working with him don’t know what real music is, and he wants to show them.
These seemingly unrelated events are tied together when we see Pa alone in the studio at night. Marvin Gaye is playing, and there’s wine waiting. It’s not for those young whippersnappers Pa works with, but for Sandy. The two loved wine and Marvin way back when, and start to reminisce. Pa says turning her down forty years ago is one of the greatest regrets of his life. It should be mentioned at this point that Sandy looks at least a decade younger than Pa. I don’t know the actors’ age difference IRL, but just looking at these two characters, I have to say they don’t look like contemporaries, and one is left to wonder why a more age-appropriate actress wasn’t put in this role. What, there are no available talented women sixty or over in Hollywood? Yeah, I call bullshit on that.
The reminiscing leads to making out, and they eventually move to a nearby closet. Sandy assumes Pa is being coy by taking their make-out session out of the room, even when no one else is there, but Pa has more sinister motives. He knows by now that cameras are watching the entire room, so if he wants privacy, the closet is the place. Once inside, he drops the romantic act, pushes her against the wall, puts a gun to her head, and tells her to spill. Who are her benefactors? How did she meet them? She says she knows nothing about them. They sought her out, and all she knows is that they want access to Pa. She seems terrified and appears truthful, but Pa still looks angry enough to pull the trigger. But instead, he walks back into the room, faces the covert cameras and tells those undoubtedly watching that if they have something to say to him, they should come to the studio and do it face to face.
Invitation, accepted. That challenge is accepted by the cabal, as two men and a woman show up for a meeting with Pa. The woman is the lady in red we saw threatening Pa last week. Pa tries to tough-talk them, but they aren’t having it. One of the guys sits down, says he’s in charge and starts talking. Then the other guy, out of nowhere, shoots the first guy and says now he’s in charge! I was waiting for the woman to shoot the second guy, but apparently they’ve decided they’re going to coexist, for now. I think she’s referred to as Sarah at one point, but I’m not sure, and he’s never given a name at all. Since these two figure prominently in the rest of the episode and I have to call them something, for now I’m just going to call them Boris and Natasha.
I guess the gratuitous killing was just to prove what bad-asses they are and that they mean business. It does get Pa’s attention. He listens as Boris says that Sandy is an innocent pawn in their plans. Their goal is to get Mellie elected president. Pa doesn’t ask why they want that so bad and, frustratingly, the question is never broached. Pa says that fixing an election isn’t cheap or easy. Boris says he’s sure Pa can deal with that, and then threatens Sandy. He says if Pa cooperates, they’ll leave Sandy alone, and Pa agrees.
Later, Pa apologizes to Sandy for that little gun-to-the-head incident. He tells her about the situation and assures her he has it under control and that she’s safe. Since we know what Pa is capable of, hearing him speak this way, as a protector rather than predator, is rather unsettling. Sandy doesn’t know about his dark past, though, and trusts him. They start to kiss again, and this time Pa doesn’t draw a gun. Instead, he spends the night.
The fix is on. Pa gets started trying to rig the election. Adam suggests a voting machine fix. Pa thinks that’s a good idea and knows right where to go: San Benito, California, which was established in preceding episodes as the unlikely county that would decide who would be the next president.
Somehow, Liv finds out about Pa’s plans almost immediately. Things happen quickly in this episode. He says he doesn’t know why she wouldn’t want him to help her candidate, but Liv says she doesn’t want to steal another election. He tells her she’s not; this is something he did, so she’s in the clear. Semantical arguments don’t sway Liv, though, and she tells him she undid his ‘fix’. Huck put the San Benito voting machines back to normal, and there will be an honest vote. Pa angrily tells her she’ll lose, but Liv says whatever happens, it will happen honestly through the natural course of Democracy, and leaves.
That puts Pa into panic mode. He tells Sandy he wants her to go to Zanzibar, because he doesn’t think she’s safe and wants her far away from DC. She declines his offer. She’s says she’s got a life here, and she can’t just up and leave it and go halfway around the world. Pa opens up a little about his past and says he became a member of an organization that didn’t allow its employees to have a private life. He broke that rule, he says, but he broke it with the wrong woman, it should have been her. She says she expected they’d spend their lives together. He repeats that he wants to protect her and she should go to Zanzibar. She says to protect her here.
Fast-forward to two days before the election. Adam tells Pa he couldn’t reboot the voting machines. Huck did a great job of encrypting them, or whatever it is computer nerds do, and it just couldn’t be unraveled. Pa is no doubt turning his options over in his mind when he arrives home to find Natasha waiting for him. She says she knows the machine rig was unsuccessful, then menacingly brings up Sandy and says she’s been taken to a ‘secure location’. Zanzibar is probably looking quite good to her right now.
Natasha says since Pa was unsuccessful, it’s a new game now. If he ever wants to see Sandy again, Pa will have to arrange to have Vargas killed and frame Cyrus for it. That will both pave a path to the White House for Mel and get Cy out of the way.
Pa meets up with Adam and gives him a high-powered rifle. He also says he needs information on Jennifer Fields.
Election night. There’s a quick rehash of what we’ve already seen of what took place on election night: San Benito is called for Vargas and so is the election; Grant campaign headquarters is thrown into a tizzy, during which Jake gets a text message and disappears.
Then the new stuff. In Philadelphia, Adam sets up his rifle as Frankie Vargas gets ready to make his acceptance speech. Meanwhile, Pa is also there, working furiously behind the scenes. He takes down a Secret Service agent and takes his equipment. Then he navigates through some tunnels and such until he’s right underneath the stage where Vargas will be speaking. As usual, nefarious types are pretty much unfettered to do their nefarious deeds on this show, with both Adam and Pa having little trouble getting into position to shoot the new president-elect.
When he gets the opportunity, that’s what Pa does. He has Vargas in his sites above him but can’t bring himself to pull the trigger when Vargas is done making his speech. When he wanders back into bulls-eye range again, however, Pa finds his nerve and squeezes off a couple of rounds. A gruesome head shot fells Vargas, who ends up lying on the stage in a puddle of his own brains. Really didn’t need to see that, Scandal.
Pa escapes, of course, and meets up with Adam, who now has to ‘finish’ the assignment. By that Pa means he’ll be assuming the identity of Nelson McClintock and confessing to the murder. Rough day at the office, dude.
Also, how ridiculous is this? Won’t the trajectory of the bullet wounds show that the shots came from below, not across the street, where ‘McClintock’s’ rifle was set up and left for police to find? In these days of advanced forensics, won’t that be immediately evident? The matter isn’t addressed.
One last thing… Pa returns to his studio after a decidedly long day. There waiting for him are Boris and Natasha, watching on TV as AG David Rosen talks about the arrest of McClintock. All seems to be going to plan. They want to talk to Pa about the next step, framing Cy, but Pa says he does nothing until he knows Sandy is okay. She comes into the room, looking to be in decent shape physically but very shaken up. They embrace, and Pa gets out his phone. He calls Jennifer and tells her to make her phone call, the one she made to the police fingering Cy as Vargas’s killer. That out of the way, Pa says his work is done, and goes to leave with Sandy.
But Boris and Natasha have no intention of setting him free. Boris says Pa is too useful to them to just let him go. He works for them now, and if he has any doubts about that, all they have to do is threaten Sandy again. They know now that she’s his supreme weakness, he’ll do whatever they want to keep her safe, and will have no problem exploiting it.
It looks like Pa is trapped, but if there’s one thing he doesn’t like, it’s not being in control. And when those seizing said control gloat over it, that’s even worse. Without warning, Pa wheels around and puts a bullet in Sandy’s head. As she drops to the floor, Pa reminds Boris that he has no weaknesses. There’s nothing they can threaten him with, and as far as he’s concerned, their relationship is over.
Of course, Pa does have another weakness, and they already know about that, too. Before he can leave, Natasha pulls out her phone and shows Pa video of Liv. Live video. She’s being watched constantly. They know of Pa’s soft spot for his little girl, and she’s in the crosshairs now. Natasha says there’s someone within striking distance of Liv at all times, with the order to kill her on command. That will happen if Pa steps out of line. She says all of this with a big dose of condescending snark while repeatedly referring to Pa as ‘Coolio’. That’s the go-to put-down in her verbal arsenal? Hey, Natasha, 1995 called; it wants its lame, slightly racist insult back.
She sums up that the goal is Cy in prison and Mel in the White House, and Pa will help make that happen. Then, she says, the ‘real work’ begins, whatever that is. We aren’t privy to this information as yet.
Interesting flashback. Then we see a replay of the scene from earlier in the season where Liv pays Pa a visit and asks point blank if he had anything to do with Vargas’s murder. It is interesting to watch, in light of what we now know. He denies having any part in it, which we know is a lie. Then he brings up Cyrus and how much he stands to benefit from the situation, and we also know why Pa hyped this angle so aggressively. Unbeknownst to Liv, he’s doing it to protect her. He says he offered her San Benito, and she turned it down. Now she has a second chance.
So, one mystery is solved. Pa killed Vargas to protect an old love we hadn’t seen or heard about until this episode. And now she’s dead anyway, and by Pa’s hand. That was a shocking moment, even if it crossed my mind that Pa might do the deed first in the closet, then again when Sandy refused to go to Zanzibar. And, quite frankly, given what we know about the way Boris and Natasha operate, she was as good as dead, anyway. She was nothing more than a bargaining chip for people who kill as a casual pursuit, so she was a marked woman. The difference is, Pa was the one forced to do it, and for once, he regrets his actions. When alone at the end of the episode, he looks at Sandy’s body, which he’s rolled up in plastic, and cries.
And in the end, she died for no reason, because Liv has replaced her as the target being used to manipulate Pa. And who is this person who can take Liv out at a moment’s notice? Is it someone in the shadows we haven’t met yet, or someone in Liv’s inner circle? Have Boris and Nastasha managed to ‘turn’ one of the Gladiators? And who are Boris and Nastasha? What’s their end game?
Maybe more will be cleared up next week in 06.07, “A Traitor Among Us”. A preview:
After discovering new information about the assassination of Frankie Vargas, Olivia makes a shocking decision and asks Huck to complete one of the most difficult tasks yet.
So it’s looking like Huck will be the character study next week. This week there was no ‘B’ plot and it looks like more of the same next week. A trip through the mind of the likes of Huck. A dicey undertaking, indeed.
Oh, and incidentally ladies, Pa is in the market for a new GF! What, no takers?