Olivia Pope is in crisis. Fitz is brooding. Cyrus is scheming. Mellie is manipulating. Rowan is terrifying. Jake is... missing.
Scandal. Is. Back.
And it all starts with a question central to the Shonda Rhimes thriller: Can a fixer fix her own problems? The answer: Sort of -- if she has a team of Gladiators backing her up.
One of the night's biggest surprises arrives right out of the gate: Olivia and Fitz's affair was reported by... Vanessa Chandler of the Post's style section. A style reporter? That's who brought down the great Olivia Pope? Cyrus clutches the newspaper in question, which boasts the headline "First Mistress" (we have to give it to that copy editor). "It's just one source, but it's a good source," Chandler reveals. WHO IS IT?
We'll get to that, but first we get a black-and-white montage of all our characters reacting to the news (well, most are reacting to the news getting out; they've known the truth for quite some time). We're right back where the finale left off: Olivia has just left for her morning jog only to be bombarded by hordes of press (thankfully she looks great in a white track jacket and yoga pants, because it will be her first introduction to the country and, hell, the world) when
Rowan OLIVIA'S DAD swoops in to pick her up. Apparently it's not a talkative reunion: Olivia has given her pops the silent treatment for 22 minutes ("If only you'd been this quiet as a child").
She breaks her silence to sneer, "Why did you try to have me killed?" Great question! Only, Rowan says it was Jake he was after, not his daughter. (Kudos to the commenters who predicted Rowan's real target right after the season 2 finale.) But let's not hop on the daddy-daughter bus just yet: The next words out of Rowan's mouth paint his daughter as a harlot who "opened her knees and gave it away to a man with too much power." Yikes. It's her vs. the president now, he says, and she's outnumbered. Actually, it's not her vs. Fitz; it's her vs. "power." "He was never in charge," Rowan yells. "Power is in charge. Power got him elected." Fight the power, Olivia!
"He told you that you'd be First Lady, and you believed him," Rowan says, as if Olivia isn't already getting the picture. Well, Olivia is in good company, because we all believed Fitz too, didn't we? (Didn't we???) As much as this scene instantly put me in protective mode over Olivia, Rowan's straight, no-B.S. speech is all too similar to the ones we've heard Olivia give her clients. And we really see how Olivia Pope became Olivia Pope when he shares the family motto: "You have to be twice as good to get half as much."
The one thing in Rowan's speech that we don't recognize from Olivia's DNA is cruelty. "Do you have to be so mediocre?" he asks his far-from-mediocre scion. To top it all off, he ushers her onto a plane... which will fly her to an island... for EIGHT MONTHS. When she makes her one phone call -- to frienemy Cyrus -- he urges her: "Don't run." But he might not have her best interest at heart. To make Fitz look good in this scenario, he's going to need a sacrificial lamb -- or a mistress in a luxurious lamb's wool capelet.
Olivia begs Cyrus to get her message to Fitz: "I just wanted to say goodbye. Tell him I said goodbye." But Cy insists they're on the same side and says Fitz will (rightly) assume that he had Olivia killed if she disappears into thin air. He promises he's her champion, her friend -- "When you aren't a monster?" she cuts in. "I'm your monster!" he counters. We learn here that Cyrus' plan isn't damage control but damage denial: They will pretend the affair never happened.
NEXT: How Olivia got her groove back