|Photo Credit: ABC|
Let the bodies hit the floor! Battle lines have been drawn, and with two episodes left for this season, the epic Pope vs. Pope showdown takes center stage in “First Lady Sings The Blues,” with often thrilling results.
Last week's episode ended with Jake getting shanked and left for dead by a masked assailant revealed to be Russell, who it turns out is not Olivia's hapless, role-playing boo but a mole for Papa Pope. Shonda and Co. wring out the “is he or isn't he?” tension of Jake's fate for all its worth; the camera follows an unsuspecting Quinn as she goes about the normal first person at the office routine, then comes in the conference room to find Jake bloody and unconscious. She freaks the hell out until Huck performs some Pulp Fiction shiznit (but without the syringe), popping Jake in the chest and bringing him back from the dead.
Taking Jake to the hospital isn't an option, as it will create a digital trail that would lead Papa Pope straight to them, and as Olivia says several times, their gruesome deaths. So Charlie calls up his guy, an ex-KGB spy with a knack for patching up agents who find themselves at death's door (hey he got Charlie a new kidney). However he doesn't accept money, but favors—in this case, that they help Black Sable, a notorious agent who puts fear into hearts of even the toughest Russians spies.
If you were expecting Sable's abode to be a dank, inconspicuous hideout or for her to resemble Marc Mero's ex-wife (wrestling geek reference!), you head likely twisted around on both counts. Instead Huck and Liv pull up to a crib straight out of a Disney flick and find Mary Peterson, the cook-baking suburban grandma formally known as Black Sable.
Mary/Black Sable runs down some of her personal history. She grew up Russian poor—meaning her brother died because they literally did not have food—and jumped at the chance when the KGB offered her stability, even if it involved killing folks—to paraphrase her, it was fine, until, as Huck quickly helps her point out, it wasn't. As cold as Mary initially comes off, confessing the ways she's suffered—the KGB killed her mother when she attempted to go home and see her, and her husband and daughter were killed in a crash—softens her chilly facade. By the time she's explaining to Olivia how her family's demise left her alone to think about all the people she killed, you really see why she wants to stay in retirement. However, those days are over now that mother Russia's started the spy game up again, and she receives an order from handler. Huck tracks him down, and Olivia confronts him about letting her go. But the guy, a seemingly innocuous butcher, is unmoved, and threatens that Mary knows what happens to traitors.
Speaking of seemingly innocuous dudes with homicidal tendencies, Papa Pope spends much of the hour off the front lines. He doesn't do any of the dirty work himself, instead preferring to do things like berate Russell for failing to finish Jake off, then shooting him in the arm when flirting with Liv doesn't pull her out of hiding. Liv shows up to his hospital room, but brings Russell to their makeshift hospital via Huck drugging him, still unaware he's working for Eli. However Jake knows, and nearly kills himself by going against doctor's orders to stay still, trying to alert everyone to Russell's true identity.
Olivia makes a bold move, offering the butcher Eli's life in exchange for Mary's continued retirement. But Liv then goes to her house to find her and her grandkids shot dead, and the butcher shot dead and laid out in the trunk. As a coup de grace, Papa Pope leaves a cell phone on his corpse (which of course rings right when Olivia finds the body), and when Liv answers, reminds her “Against me. You'll never win.” You know, Huck may be right about going on the offensive.
The other big story of the night was the backlash against Mellie's senate run. Sally Langston spends an entire segment of her show reading Mellie for filth, calling into question whether it's even legal for her run while still being first lady. Abby, like everyone else on staff, is tasked with dealing with the ensuing fallout, asserting her feminist bonafides to David Rosen that misogyny is responsible for the legality of Mellie's run (since no man ever thought a little first lady would do something like run for office), then tossing them aside by pushing for a man—in this case Cyrus (yes! Showdown!)--to go on Sally's show and discredit her, knowing more people will respond positively, sad and sexist as it is.
Cyrus balks, and can't fanthom that Fitz isn't pushing for Mellie because he actually wants to support his wife, but Fitz makes it clear this is happening and to get on board. Cyrus goes on , and chile, the shade is thick as molasses as these two smize their way through a chess match of barbed comments and thinly-veiled insults. Sally pulls out the big guns when she asserts thinks he should be running for Senate, not Mellie.
It's an easy answer to his antipathy over her campaign, but not an unbelievable one. As a woman, Mellie has barriers to the brass ring, but as an openly gay man in politics, not to mention one working for a Republican president (lord the cognitive dissonance), Cyrus has encountered his own glass ceiling—as he once raged to James, his current position is the highest he's able to climb, and it is what he has to settle for. But ever the political champ/animal/team player, Cyrus plays the Daniel Langston card, asking Sally if she would be so critical if she'd won the presidency and her hubby wanted to work outside the home. And Sally quickly ends the interview. Checkmate Cyrus!
The appearance does some help to Mellie's plight, but many Americans still disagree with her run; Liz suggest they pretend their marriage is on the rocks, to position as a sympathetic single mom with her own views, but Mellie shuts it down, admirably trotting out their partnership.
Fitz calls Liv, convinced Mellie can't win, but wants to support her to make up for what he calls, his “sins of the past.” Liv doesn't take the emo bait her throws out, but eventually tells him to embrace the criticism and make it a selling point. Which Mellie does with aplomb, turning on the Southern gal charm to ten and working magic on Virginia voters with quips about pillow talk with Fitz and having him wrapped around her finger. Abby's all for it, and Fitz doesn't care he's crashing in the polls, but Cyrus points out what may be his real reason for being against this: A win for Mellie means the erasure of Fitz's legacy, as he'll remembered only as a whipped Commander in Chief. It's pretty much a given Mellie's campaign will stretch into next season, so we'll have to wait and see on that.
After finding Mary and her grandkids dead, Olivia calls off the B6:13 war, reminding everyone that if they even flinch to make a move against Eli they are all dead. Or at least she pretends to in front of Russell, who still laid up in the makeshift hospital. Later though, while she turns on the Alex charm for him in bed, she pulls her gun on him, explaining she connected the dots about how Eli knew about her deal with the Russians, and asking what the hell is Operation Foxtail, which she overheard him talking on the phone talking to Eli about.
It ain't over. See ya' in two weeks!
--As great as it was seeing father and daughter go head to head, I don't see how this could end any other way than Papa Pope dying or being put away for life without it all feeling like sound and fury signifying nothing (and even the latter choice feels a bit disappointing, though it would provide a chance to see he and Maya share a cell block),
---Eli on Jake's will to live: “It irritates me to know he's still breathing.”
--Olivia to butcher/agent on her notorious rep: “Some people have bark, some people have bite. I have both.”
--Who else (aside from David Rosen) got a little nervous when Charlie and Quinn announced they're going on a blood run, which with those two, could mean literally accosting and withdrawing blood from hapless victims. However in this case, it meant stealing blood bags from a blood bank. Phew.