‘Scandal’ season premiere recap: Olivia is the target in ‘It’s Handled’

War makes strange bedfellows, doesn’t it? As much as the drama on “Scandal” seems to swirl around Fitz and Olivia doing it in dark corners of the White House, the truth is this show is really as much about duking it out as an old special on the History network. In the season premiere, we see unexpected alliances and declarations of intent; battle lines are drawn and shots are sent arcing over the bow. The secret of Fitzlivia is out, and it’s going to take a whole lot of force to stuff it back in the box. Oh, our poor gladiators. Their white hats definitely got dirtier this week.

We pick up where we left off, which is with Olivia facing off with the man we now know to be her dad. The scenes between Joe Morton and Kerry Washington are brutal and lack even a whiff of sentiment. When he reminds her that he always told her she’d “have to be twice as good as them to get half of what they have,” we don’t sense that she’s a disappointment simply because his attachment to her is more theoretical than real. This is not the guy who cries at your graduation or get mushy over his Golden Retriever. It’s hard to know if any part of his rescue effort with Olivia is really about protecting her, or if he’s just doing his job and making a problem for the President go away.

Olivia, encouraged by Cyrus, hops the plane (I was glad Dad didn’t shoot her) and heads to work, where she learns all of her clients have fired her. For some reason, this seems to surprise Olivia, but I would say when you’re calling up a client and saying, “But I helped your son when he was totally guilty of that rape!” you’re probably not dealing with the most honest or loyal crowd. For a hot minute, Olivia thinks the White House will protect her, and Cyrus certainly seems to believe he will — after all, if she disappears as her father hoped, Fitz will never forgive him — but soon enough, Cyrus is putting together a kill file about Olivia.

Watching Cyrus squirm as his assistants sneer over Olivia’s track record with “silver foxes,” I’m pretty convinced he won’t follow this path to its logical end (slut shaming Olivia would kind of kill the show anyway). Olivia, with no other clients to help, is taking on her own case — and to do it, she turns the Providence key. Just like that, she’s whisked away to a private bomb shelter to be alone with Fitz. Man, why didn’t she use this thing earlier? Although bomb shelters, not so sexy.

It’s not a romantic moment, of course. He’s furious with her for “pulling the fire alarm,” and she just wants to talk strategy — with Fitz and Mellie. What follows is a scene that reminds us of the damage this affair has done to everyone, but mostly to Mellie. Her contempt, her hurt, her wounded pride — it’s all on the table as the trio discuss whether to deny or confess, and if they tell the American public the truth, how much of it they reveal. Watching Mellie and Olivia negotiate how many times she will accept Fitz admitting to having sex with Olivia is awful and yet, it’s hard not to see the humor in it. “Two,” Mellie mutters, as if she’s ordering Big Macs while on a diet. Pretty sure no one in the room ever saw themselves parsing which sex acts to disclose to the media in the Rose Garden.

After Mellie leaves, Fitz just wants to hug his poor, wounded bird. Olivia stiffens but slowly relaxes into his embrace, then sobs. Even though he’s the man with all the power, even though Olivia is so clearly lost and alone, Fitz clealry relishes the moment, happy to play the good guy role even if he’s not the good guy and everything is kind of his fault (yes, yes it is! Guess who leaked Olivia’s info to the press!). I guess other countries’ heads of state aren’t as eager to hug it out.

But, even with a plan to reveal all (or most) to America, that isn’t going to work for Cyrus — or, despite her seeming agreement to the deal, Mellie. She has a plan to fix things — a plan the Gladiators are happy to accept and Cyrus is eager to facilitate. They create a story out of whole cloth that Fitz had his affair with a cute little red-haired girl in the press secretary’s office. Her life is, of course, ruined, Olivia is restored (so, that video footage of Fitz coming out of Olivia’s apartment? Eh, fuggedaboudit) — and (punchline!) Olivia takes her case. Oh, the irony!

Harrison tries to assure Olivia that “there’s nothing wrong with a little self-preservation; that doesn’t mean you can’t wear the white hat,” Olivia soldiers on. There is a client, a client that wouldn’t exist if not for her taking Olivia’s place, and she must be helped.

Because this episode revolved around conflict — war with the media, Fitz’s never ending struggle between his desire to be good and his annoying weakness, a battle to get all of the necessary players to play their parts — it was actually nice to see a thawing of relations between Fitz and Sally. Sure, she had to stomp her feet and take the high road about this whole affair business (and get in some nasties at Cyrus for being gay), but when she and Fitz sat down one on one, he managed to convince her to handle the press for a little while, at least until he could prepare his family for his plan to tell the world the truth. Later, when he invited her to take the window of opportunity after his speech to condemn him, there’s a surprising moment of semi-confession. It turns out Sally’s husband has become more “fun” and Fitz is able to show compassion and kindness to a woman who’s being cheated on — as long as, he notes, it’s not his own wife.

No, for Mellie Fitz has nothing but contempt, and he declares war on her after her clever end run around his and Olivia’s plan. I suspect Mellie, who is chafing at the constraints of being a political wife, could win this fight — that is, if Fitz doesn’t have Olivia in his corner. Mellie is a smart cookie with time on her hands — time enough to figure out Fitz leaked Olivia’s name as a first step toward making her First Lady. I’m wondering if Olivia will be thrilled about Fitz tossing her to the media like a fresh steak to zombies, but hey, Fitz loves her, right? Right?

Also, David Rosen appears to offer friendly support to Olivia and function as a plot device. Still, always happy to see him!

With an innocent slut shamed and Olivia back in business, the show quickly moves on to a new challenge. While Olivia isn’t able to convince her dad to tell her what’s happened to Jake (that’s need-to-know information, and really, Olivia doesn’t need to know), Jake comes up again when Charlie hauls Cyrus in to visit Olivia’s dad. Something happened when Jake and Fitz served together, and, given the look on Cyrus’ face, it couldn’t be good. Whee! Let the roller coaster commence!

Who do you think will win the war — Mellie or Fitz? Do you think Olivia should have taken on her latest client, or was it a conflict of interest? What do you think happened with Jake and Fitz?