After the emotional powerhouse that was “The Lawn Chair,” this week's “The Testimony of Diego Munoz,” was a welcome palette cleanser. Although this hour didn't skimp on the emo quotient, but it did so within the framework of Scandal's fictional universe, jumping back into the proceedings after last week's bottle episode and going about the business of moving the seasonal arcs forward.
First up is Susan Ross' confirmation for vice president. As we've seen--and as she herself has acknowledged--Susan is not a natural born politician, so Abby has been vetting her for her public debut. She manages to get through a rudimentary press conference with flying colors; at least until she freezes up and unleashes a laugh so cringe-worthy I can't really describe it--on second thought, yes I can. It is the sound of someone losing their shit. Before you can whip up a “Susan Ross Be Like...” meme, the clip goes viral, causing Abby and Cyrus to bring in the black magician, a.k.a. Leo Bergen, who whips her to shape.
Susan proves a quick study, yukking it up on Jimmy Kimmel about her Howard Dean tribute, then turning serious for a in-depth interview where she plays to the wing nut base by towing the party line on gay marriage and naming-checking the Bible. Everything's smooth sailing, at least until the relentless Bergen weighs her down until she quits. Olivia manages her to talk her into enduring the vetting process in a way that doesn't involve selling her soul, and the Fitz administration and possibly the Mellie presidency are back on track. While Susan's is the most transparent, the basic arc of all the stories in “The Testimony of Diego Munoz” is watching characters reject labels foisted on them--whether by others, themselves, or both--to stake out a more honest path.
It's certainly the journey Huck (whose real name is in the episode) goes on. After his wife Kim goes to David Rosen's office with the stack of B6:13 files he left her with--you know, to explain his penchant for talking in whispers and his general shell-of-a-man demeanor--he meets up with Jake and David for a pow wow. Jake, trigger happy lark that he is, suggests taking out this Diego Munoz, at until Huck reveals he is Diego. After some intense whispering and staring down, Huck agrees to lie in his testimony, knowing it will likely end his relationship with Kim and Javi but ultimately save their lives.
But when the time comes, Huck, flashing back to his happy pre-torture life with Kim (a sly move on the show's part, making it unclear whether this was inspiring him to tell to the actual truth or double down on the lie) goes left, and gives a soul-scraping speech detailing all the ways he kept some semblance of sanity while in the hole. He knows he's put himself and everyone he loves in danger, but the genuine smile that lingers on his face after he drops Kim off at home suggests at least part of him feels it was worth it. Whether inspired or haunted (probably both) by Huck's confession, David tells Jake he's moving forward with Kim's complaint and exposing B6:13, shaking off Jake's notion that they are the bad guys he plans to take down. Not sure if Joe Morton's got any more guest spots this season, but if Eli gets a whiff of this tea, there's going to be some literal rolling of heads.
The person who seems to be having the most trouble moving forward is Olivia Pope. After pulling herself together enough to deal with Clarence Parker and the contentious, racially-motivated police shooting of his son Brandon, she's been reduced to chugging wine while squatting on the floor of her apartment, which is framed to appear large and sparse, a metaphorical prison where a wine-soaked couch seat reminds her of the moment her life was shattered.
Aside from getting Susan Ross together, Olivia also gives Fitz some tough love council when the senate threatens to kill her nomination, explaining his haphazard handling of the war in Angola was a mockery of democracy. He forgets Cy and Abby exists for a moment and goes for his trademark close contact, telling her she knows why he did what he did. She falters for a second, but gets her bearings and tells him to go to the senate and beg for forgiveness, which he does with positive results.
In the end though, neither helping Susan or Fitz pulls Olivia back from the brink, but helping Rose (Marla Gibbs) find Lois. After dispensing some legal advice to Rose so she could fend off an aggressive landlord from taking over her friend's (and who Liv later correctly guesses is her girlfriend) apartment, Olivia promises to help her find out what happened. Of course, both we the audience and she know all too well what really happened to Lois--it's partly to blame for her current fragile state--and on some level Rose knows her partner is gone. However, after Quinn and Huck locate her body, and Lois asks how she passed, Liv reaches for a lie. Flashing back to her sun-kissed days as Julia, she tells Rose Lois had an aneurysm, a quick death with no pain. Like being out in the sun.
Giving Rose closure allows Olivia to begin to move on herself. She puts the wine-stained seat in a trash bag outside her place, fixes herself a glass of wine and a bowl of popcorn, a steely look of resolve on her face. Our girl's finding her way back.
--Liv's traumatized state also gives her and Abby a chance to reconnect, even though ol' girl did come with the ulterior motive of asking Liv to pull her out of the fire and save Sarah's VP nomination. Though despite her more self-serving reasons, Abby does have a point about Sarah being an actual good person and therefore a necessary antidote in this toxic environment.
--As with Marcus and Olivia's confrontation over the status of the latter's “black card,” her and Rose's short but meaningful exchange about the difficulties of being black and gay in the not-too-distant past, as well as Rose's backstory and being in a same-sex relationship late in life were spot on.
---Sarah being asked what her favorite book is? Shades of '08 Sarah Palin anyone?
--Oh No You Didn't Moment: Cyrus throwing shade at Abby dating Leo. People in arranged marriage to prostitute houses shouldn't throw stones hon. At least Abby actually likes the man she's with.
--Quinn and Charlie hook up occasionally, particularly when someone's been drinking. Guess you gotta get it how you live and all that, but the two of them together still makes me go ew.
--Apparently, one of David Rosen's thankless tasks is fielding inquiries from crazies, like a guy who believes the moon is a hologram or that aliens run the treasury.
--Huck and Quinn practically spring to life when Olivia first enters the office. FYI: if Huck is treating you with kid gloves, you got problems.