Sometimes you finish an episode of Scandal and need a nap.
ABC’s political-drama-soap-opera-romantic-thriller is absolutely bonkers. In a given episode, a sex tape will be revealed, a main character will have a heart attack, the President and the First Lady will break up and get back together, and someone will try to kill Kerry Washington. The screen cuts to black. You breathe a sigh of relief. Then you have the realization that this isn’t the end of the episode, but just the first commercial break.
To call Scandal TV’s wildest series would be true, but also a gross understatement of the level of transfixing craziness the drama serves up week after week. Starring Kerry Washington as D.C. crisis manager Olivia Pope, wearer of the District’s most immaculate wardrobe, each episode of Scandal merges a weekly case—the “scandal” of the week, if you will—with the torrid tale of Pope’s hot-and-cold-and-then-scalding-and-then-frigid love affair with the (very married) President of the United States (Tony Goldwyn). There’s also an election-rigging cover-up, a mole in the White House, and a top-secret government organization that’s attempting to assassinate the show’s lead, to name a few of the high-octane plot lines.
Thanks to a massive following of Gladiators (the name adopted by Scandal fans) who tweet about each episode with a ferocity that rivals the show’s own pacing, the series was one of network TV’s biggest breakout hits last season. With season three set to begin Thursday night, and so many cliffhangers and plot lines to resolve, here’s a cheat sheet of everything you need to remember before tuning in.
1. Olivia Chooses Work Over Love
Tracking the ups and downs of Olivia’s affair with President Grant (better known as “Fitz”) is a ride that requires copious amounts of Dramamine. But when the finale begins, they are very much together. First Lady Mellie Grant has moved out of the White House, rejected by Fitz. He’s so committed to Olivia that he tells her he’s going to win a second term and move her into the White House as his girlfriend, maybe even his new wife.
The President’s chief of staff—and Olivia’s close friend—Cyrus is unhappy with this plan, convinced that Fitz can never be re-elected without Mellie by his side. Olivia tells Cyrus about the attempt on her life, telling him, “I know who it was and I know why and I don’t care. Fitz and I are going to be together.” Cyrus, however, has other plans—and has other secrets to reveal. He shows Fitz a sex tape that Olivia had (unknowingly) made with Jake (Scott Foley), a man the president had hired to keep her safe. He reveals to Olivia that Fitz killed her close friend Verna (Debra Mooney), a co-conspirator in the election rigging, after Verna, on her deathbed, told him that she was going to go public confessing the fraud.
In the final minutes of the finale episode, Olivia makes the decision to leave Fitz. She realizes everything is out of control: her relationship and the lengths she’s forced her co-workers to go to cover up the scandals. She rules that she can’t abandon her co-workers: “They need me. I’m their Gladiator.” She tells Fitz to run for president again with Mellie on his arm.
2. Someone Is Trying to Have Olivia Killed
Jake (remember him, the one from the sex tape?) is a Navy buddy of Fitz’s who he hires to spy on Olivia—as well as protect her—while they’re broken up. Jake also, it turns out, is a member of a top-secret killer CIA division named B-613, which hired him to sway Olivia away from Fitz. Part of that mission included wooing her, and the two eventually have sex, the proof of which is captured on surveillance cameras Jake sets up around Olivia’s apartment. Jake ends up genuinely falling for Olivia. So when B-613’s head honchos order a hit on her, Jake puts himself at risk with the dangerous organization to save her. When we last see Jake, he’s being thrown into a holding cell by Rowan, the B-613 commander.
3. The Election-Rigging Scandal Is ‘Handled’
David Rosen (Josh Malina) was the attorney hell-bent on uncovering the Grant administration’s election-rigging scandal. In a nutshell (though nothing on Scandal easily fits in a nutshell), through a series of flashbacks throughout the season, we learn that Grant’s core campaign team—which included Olivia, Cyrus, Mellie, Verna, and a skeezy Texas power player named Hollis (Gregg Henry)—rigged election-voting machines to ensure Grant’s victory, because they were nervous that he was slipping in the polls. All of the information about their plan is kept on a chip called the Cytron card, which is locked up in Olivia’s office.
Olivia and her Gladiators craftily shut Rosen down early on in the season, effectively ruining his career. But he comes back into their lives after being framed for murder and ends up living in their office while they try to keep him out of harm’s way. While there, he gamely helps the team “handle” a series of cases, including tracking down the person who ends up, by the end of the season, stealing the Cytron card in order to bring down the Grant presidency.
It turns out, though, that it’s actually Rosen who steals the card. He’s in cahoots with Billy Chambers, the government mole responsible for multiple murders and the leaking of government secrets, and who wants the Cytron card to finally get Grant out of office for good. While meeting Chambers to hand over the Cytron card, Rosen gets him to confess to all of these crimes. As it turns out, he was wearing a wire the whole time and the card he gives him is a fake. In return for outing the mole and handing back the Cytron card, Rosen gets Grant to appoint him District Attorney.
4. The Affair Is Leaked
Olivia and Fitz’s affair was an open secret to almost everyone who worked in the White House and on Olivia’s team. And though Mellie, in an attempt to blackmail Fitz into getting back together, revealed in a TV interview that the president had a mistress, she never actually named Olivia. In the finale’s dramatic final moments, and the morning after breaking up with Fitz, Olivia leaves her apartment to go for a run only to be greeted by a throng of reporters asking her about her affair with the president. Someone outed her. She can’t breathe (and neither can we).
As she stands dumbstruck while the swarm of reporters fire questions at her, two thugs in suits grab her and drag her through the crowd into a limo. Sitting across from her is Rowan, the B-613 commander who ordered her assassination. She sees him and says the absolute, unequivocal, without a doubt last thing any viewer of the show would ever expect her to say: “Dad?”
And with that, happy viewing.