With fans ranging from former president of the United States Bill Clinton to Oprah Winfrey, ABC’s Scandal has a lot to prove to its fans in this third season. The good news is that creator and veteran writer/producer Shonda Rhimes is fully aware of the task at hand, and is pulling out all of the stops. One issue Scandal had during its first and second seasons was a lack in character development with protagonist Olivia Pope. Kerry Washington was nominated for an Emmy for her portrayal of Washington, D.C.’s fixer, but she’ll need a little more humanizing before such an award would make sense. With the introduction of her father and—in last night’s episode—her mother, it’s clear that this season is all about the rounding out of Olivia Pope’s character, which is exciting for fans and critics alike.
“Icarus” opened with the flashback scene we’d all been waiting for, as Olivia Pope’s mother (played by Khandi Alexander) made her highly anticipated debut. In previous episodes we learned that Maya Lewis (a.k.a. Mama Pope) had been killed in a plane crash that was somehow related to Operation Remington and President Fitz. But what was more unsettling was the fact that Olivia’s father Eli (a.k.a. Rowan a.k.a. Papa Pope a.k.a. Command) was also involved. Towards the end of this episode Olivia’s father claims that he was not responsible for her mother’s death, but refuses to explain anything else about the situation.
Meeting Olivia Pope’s mother was exciting because, 1) the scene opened up with The Chambers Brothers’ “Time Has Come Today” playing in the background, which immediately evoked the spirit of Spike Lee’s Crooklyn, and 2) we got to see a young and adorable Olivia Pope—totally innocent and unaware that this would be the last time she saw her mother.
After flashing back to this moment, Olivia decides to go straight to the White House to ask the president directly if he was responsible for killing her mom (because according to the current theory—he is). This is a critical scene in the episode because Olivia’s arrival in the White House is expected to signify her heading up President Fitz’s reelection campaign. But she shocks everyone (Fitz, Mellie, and Cyrus) when she turns down the position. Because Fitz refused to answer any questions about the plane accident and Operation Remington, she refused to support his campaign. This was pretty awesome news for Congresswoman Josie Marcus because Olivia then decided to represent her, instead.
This episode reminded us that the political drama on Scandal is just as thrilling as the romantic stuff. We haven’t seen Olivia and Fitz get all hot and steamy yet this season, but we’re now getting ready to see them go head-to-head in the polls, which will be just as good (or, close enough). With Fitz under fire for his recent affairs, this is the perfect political climate for a woman president, and now that Olivia knows Fitz was involved in some way with her mother’s death, she’s going to do everything she can to help the Congresswoman win. In one of the best scenes of the episode she shows the Congresswoman an ad from her competitor (which was actually a fake video she and Abby created) in an attempt to fire her up just before a big interview; it works brilliantly. Kudrow shines in this moment, as her character launches into one of the greatest television tirades ever about sexism and gender bias in both liberal and conservative media. She breaks down everything from the manner in which her political career is introduced (as a Cinderella story) to the pitcher of iced tea precariously set next to her. She fumes that none of this would happen if she were a man running for the presidency, and her pointing all of this out before her interviewer (Cyrus’ husband, James) can even get a word in edgewise makes everyone (us, the viewers and the voters watching on the show) love her fiercely.
Congresswoman Marcus isn’t Fitz’s only competition, and this episode also showed us a very determined Vice President Sally Langston doing some dirty deeds behind his back to get support. In typical Scandal fashion, Langston is unaware that her people are actually in the President’s pocket and he now knows that she plans to run against him as an Independent.
While all of this is going on, a few of the Gladiators find themselves in some trouble. Harrison’s story (one that many of us have been anxious to delve into) is starting to unfold. Cyrus is preparing to bring someone named Adnan Salif back into the country, and apparently this means death for Harrison? And Quinn, poor Quinn. Last season she got a taste of the B6-13 lifestyle (having experienced her first torture episode), and now she’s hanging out in gun ranges. Since Huck is giving her the cold shoulder, she’s found another mentor in another B6-13er Charlie (although she doesn’t know that this is who’s giving her all these helpful shooting tips). And naturally, Eli Pope is behind this relationship, as well. He appears to be trying to recruit Quinn, which is beyond frightening, but should make for some pretty exciting complications. Jake also finds himself in a strange situation, as a trusted friend betrays him when he starts asking for information about the plane crash. But he finds an ally in a mystery man, who we’ll probably be seeing more of next week.
Overall, this was a strong episode, but we really could have used more Mama Pope! Olivia’s father is such a strong character, and before we even knew he was Papa Pope, we knew to be afraid of him. Mama Pope’s introduction was a little weak—if we are going to understand Olivia, we’ll need Maya Lewis to emerge as a real character in the future.
Favorite Quote of the Episode: “This is a Greek tragedy in the making. Winged mistresses flying too close to the sun.” (Cyrus)