Shiver. What a deliriously good episode this is, with that final, terrifying scene a microcosm for the whole thing, taking all the lofty principles Alicia likes to think she stands – and now runs – for and, with nothing more than a satisfied smile and a garishly charming badge, smashing them into tiny pieces.
It’s a magnificent end to a magnificent piece of television, built around Eli and new campaign manager Johnny Elfman showing Alicia the results of the “Oppo Research” Castro et al may use against her, and bluntly and unapologetically tearing down her carefully-constructed image of her entire world in the process.
An exercise in the toughest of loves, of course – better she find out these secrets from her allies now than her enemies later – but my God, the secrets. And the lies. Each fresh blow lands with physical effect on Julianna Margulies’ face, with Zach’s the most lacerating, puncturing mercilessly as it does the perception of herself Alicia clings to as someone who, whatever else she’s done, has sacrificed her own happiness for her children’s repeatedly and, she’d thought, earned their trust in return. Veronica and Owen’s secrets may tickle more than they wound her, but Zach’s is a knife in her heart.
That this annihilation of Alicia’s entire sense of self takes place around her dinner table, to randomly hilarious bursts of “I Will Trust in the Lord!”, with the deliciously meta “Talking at Noon” pontificating in the background and that strange dancer girl pirouetting in, turns the whole thing into an epic, utterly glorious mix of tragedy and high farce. “It’s like a Marx Brothers movie in here!” says Johnny Elfman – a sleek, handsome, sharp young man whose name and face seem more reminiscent of pop star than political operator, a fact Peter is painfully, comically threatened by – and he might be right, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Marx Brothers movie, but either way, it’s marvellous.
And it continues to be so, once the truths are all out, and Alicia has to “Talk to Zach, Owen, Mom and Finn Polmar. And see if any of them plans to screw me over.” Heh. Finn’s talk begins with what seems very much like an attempt at seduction – Finn, hon, it’s too soon – but ends with what seems very much like a betrayal. (For now, anyway. I don’t think he was in on it, but we shall see.) Veronica’s, meanwhile, ends in copious giggles, on my part and Owen’s, anyway, while Owen’s doesn’t end, it just stops. Mid-estrangement. To. Be. Continued. I hope.
Again, it’s the talk with Zach that’s the kicker, though, with Alicia at her coldest and deadliest: “Don’t embarrass yourself by saying any more, Zach.” Ouch.
For all the episode revolves around Alicia, the immaculately-plotted, intricately-packed script gives us plenty of other incidental pleasures, too. Eli’s meeting with Kalinda, for one, is an unmitigated delight – “Of all those things I just said, you find objectionable the BEST FRIEND charge?” – as is his and his assistant’s joy in the long-awaited firing of the intern, only to find that she may have been the decoy rather than the real Spartacus all along.
It’s all terrific, though, every second, using years of story and characters and incidental moments the show has built up to take Alicia and the rest of us “down the rabbit hole” in astonishing style. If “this is the red pill,” I want another one. Wow.