As I feared, last week’s episode was indeed preparing the way for the return of the B-613 plot. Kind of, anyway: Jake visits Rowan in prison, and tries to get him to admit that he’s behind the fire at the Louvre as part of Lazarus One – the B-613 plan for putting itself back together in the event of catastrophe. (The plan itself – steal some artworks, replace them with fire-damaged copies, and sell the originals to secretive oligarchs – is a little prosaic for the once-mighty B-613. Never mind.) Rowan denies all knowledge, of course, but Jake and Charlie head to “Paris” – a few shots of the Eiffel Tower – to meet Elise, an old art-market-connected contact of Charlie’s.
Well, as soon as Jake and Elise set eyes on each other they realise that they know each other. Heck, used to work together. Actually, used to date. In fact, were married. Or is “were” the mot juste? Given the backstory – she didn’t turn up at Grand Central to meet him, because nothing is forever in spy world; he thought she was dead and decided instead to romance the President’s mistress – presumably they never in fact got a divorce, so are still married? It’s not impossible that I’m overthinking this. Anyway, on the face of it the art heist has nothing to do with B-613, but Elise gets shot in the course of establishing that. Not fatally, so Jake invites her back to the States, and since they’ve already made out, and since Elise is played by Mia Maestro, and since the whole thing has Rowan’s fingerprints all over it, I’m guessing we have (a) a new recurring character who’s (b) more than she seems.
In fact, I think we have two new recurring characters. Because back in Washington, D.C., those of us who were wondering what OPA was actually up to these days get an answer of sorts: not surprisingly, since they never seem to do any actual work, they’re haemorrhaging clients and the business is in the crapper. So Quinn sets up a meeting in a bar with Marcus, the activist we saw last season, in order to offer him a job. She gives him a version of the gladiators-in-suits speech she got from Harrison way back in the pilot, and although Marcus at this point refuses the offer, he does so in a way which mimics the cadences of a typical Shondaland character, so we know it’s just a matter of time before he comes aboard.
And when he does, he makes a series of pertinent observations about race and gender which, I would guess, were at least in part inspired by Alessandra Stanley’s infamous article in the New York Times about “angry black woman” Shonda Rhimes. The media is reporting the affair between Fitz and Olivia, Marcus concludes, in a way which they simply wouldn’t do were the female protagonist white: it’s dog-whistle politics. So it’s time to fight back, and change the topic to the reporting of the scandal; and Marcus, Quinn, and – amazingly – Huck do the rounds of the political TV shows to achieve that. I’m not sure that Huck is the public advocate I’d want if my future were on the line, but on the basis of what we see he just about gets away with it.
Back in “the Oval”, as everyone is still calling it, Fitz wants to fire Abby for throwing Olivia under the bus last week. That would suit me fine, as presumably she’d head back to OPA, and we could get closer to reuniting season 2’s dream team, but it doesn’t happen. While he’s stamping his foot like a toddler, though, everyone else is discussing whether to impeach him: gender politics here, too, as an all-female senators’ caucus tries to persuade Mellie to join them. She wavers, particularly after a visit to see Fitz – which actually reminded me of the existence of Teddy, their son – during which they agree an informal non-aggression pact.
On the other hand, Cyrus is leaping up and down demanding that she join the impeachment movement, although his logic seems a little flawed: if Fitz leaves the Oval, he’ll be replaced by Susan Ross, who will be a disaster, whereupon the country will look for someone with gravitas, i.e. Mellie. Gravitas? Mellie? I don’t think so. But Cyrus is largely motivated by revenge and betrayal: he loved Fitz, you see, in a way that Mellie just didn’t. He then spectacularly overplays his hand, though, when he makes a jaw-droppingly tasteless comparison between Fitz (who he regards as his son) and Mellie’s dead son; at least she knows her son’s safe in the ground. It’s as good as a resignation speech. He’s lucky she didn’t stab him, frankly.
An episode which is wrapped in a framing device – a TV documentary about Olivia Pope – ends, appropriately, with Fitz and Olivia heading straight into the eye of the media storm, when he goes round to her apartment in order to take her out for dinner. Once again, this can be seen as a direct reaction to the not-very-coded criticism offered to Fitz by a Republican senator, who suggests that the President should have a lover more acceptable to the party’s base. Eff that, Fitz clearly thinks; she’s the woman I love. Which is as close to admirable as anything he’s done in a while, even if it does lead to Mellie joining the impeachment cause. A highly enjoyable episode, and one with something to say.