From the start it’s clear that ‘They All Bow Down’ is going to be about Jake and Vanessa. Heigh-ho, I thought; the writers are going to have to try very hard to come up with an episode which gets me to care about them, particularly given that we barely know Vanessa and the role has been recast anyway, with Jessalyn Gilsig taking over from Joelle Carter.
In the present day and in flashback, then, we get to see what Jake has been up to since election night: unsurprisingly, he’s been killing people, meeting Rowan, and being mean to his wife, who has hit the bottle (“Liquor cabinet is back that way”) as a result. It’s not terrible, but it’s uninteresting; and oddly reminiscent, with its drunk wives and catfights, of something like Dallas: even the blocking and cinematography felt very 80s.
If the episode was trying to make me feel uncomfortable, it occasionally succeeded there: Vanessa’s repeated references to Olivia as Jake’s sister, for example, something which I picked up during last season; and the way in which Vanessa oscillates between crudely insulting and self-abasing. As far as I can see Joelle Carter simply had other commitments, but I wonder whether she would have taken the character in a different direction; Jessalyn Gilsig is a good actor, but I can’t see Carter, a somewhat flintier screen presence, making Vanessa quite so needy.
The episode saves its two big twists for the end. Firstly, Jennifer Fields, killed by Jake, is in fact alive, although until we know why there doesn’t seem to be much point in applauding the writers. I’m more concerned about the woman in red who seems to be the show’s latest boss, a Big Bad of whom even Rowan is scared. Scandal really, really doesn’t need further exposition of the management structure of B-613.