‘Hardball’ jumps back and forth between two timelines, without ever being wholly convincing in either. In flashback, we discover that Mellie had an affair with Marcus during the Presidential campaign, despite Olivia’s prim advice to her to keep her knees together. This, in turn, leads to Olivia ensuring that Marcus is appointed as Press Secretary by Fitz, thus removing him from Mellie’s campaign team. (I was going to put “somewhat improbably” in that last sentence, but yet again I’m forced to acknowledge that that the IRL appointments made by the Trump administration have rewritten the book on what might be regarded as possible.) I could have lived without Mellie’s breathless and excited analysis of Marcus-as-lover; the greater problem, though, is that forbidden-yet-passionate love between a Presidential candidate and an aide has been done fairly recently, and on a TV show not a bajillion miles away from this one.
In the present day, meantime, “the Constitution’s going up in flames”, according to David Rosen. Isn’t it just, David, and you don’t even have a President prepared to demean the role of the independent judiciary on social media, or use his office to promote his own leisure resort. The man in custody for the assassination of Frankie Vargas, Nelson McClintock, is making Oswald-esque claims that he’s just a patsy, which doesn’t help; everyone wants a confession that he was acting as a lone wolf, which would enable Cyrus Beene to slide, unencumbered by suspicion, into the Oval. This roadblock is resolved when McClintock spends a couple of minutes in the company of Jake, who doesn’t even need to touch him in order to extract the necessary document, along with a lot of urine.
Meantime, Fitz is as ever pursuing both political and personal goals: he sits Cyrus and Mellie down to come up with a compromise – Vice-President Mellie to President Cyrus? Really? – and he chases the new FBI director, Angela Webster, while Olivia looks on, grits her teeth, and pretends that she’s totally fine with Fitz going after a powerful African American woman who isn’t her. But Olivia and her team aren’t letting go of their suspicions about Cyrus, and manage to unearth an apparently damning piece of evidence: footage of Cyrus threatening Vargas, which Olivia takes straight to Fitz, who possesses sufficient integrity to call the Attorney General, while Olivia strolls off with a Carrie Matheson triumphant face. Not at all bad, I should say; I have a hope that there’s better to come, but Scandal seems at least to have shaken off its season 5 malaise.