The Distance Between Us: Scandal ‘Mrs. Smith Goes to Washington’ Review
By Chelsea Hensley
After last week’s episode, Scandal resumed the following morning with Olivia and her staff welcoming a new client, Jake asleep in Olivia’s bed, Huck intending on killing Rowan, and Fitz and Mellie biting each other’s heads off while Cyrus tried to paint a pretty picture of their marriage.
The case of the week, brought to us by a distraught mother, Mary Nesbitt (Cynthia Stevenson), strapped with explosives and taking hostages, acted as an startling interruption to the troubles our characters are already steeped in. A long day for Olivia Pope became even longer with Rowan and his toxic hold taking center stage and interestingly, and for what may have been the first time, setting Fitz and Olivia’s relationship to the side.
At the episode’s beginning, Olivia ignored a call from Fitz and checked in with Huck instead, the start of a recurring theme of Olivia ignoring Fitz in favor of something more important.
And Mary Nesbitt’s murderous instability was way more important than anything else, forcing Olivia to focus all her attention on it. Her interactions with everyone, from Fitz to her staff, revolved solely around Mary. When Olivia finally spoke with Fitz, it was in a mostly professional capacity.
Though the depth of Olivia’s feelings for Fitz haven’t dissipated, she’s being forced to set them aside. For the first time we’re seeing Olivia live a life that isn’t revolving around Fitz. That may change with more information regarding Operation: Remington, but after season two’s focus on the election and its rigging on Fitz’s behalf, this season could be making a change and moving away from him somewhat. Right now it’s about Olivia. It’s also about Huck and Jake. All three are trapped under Rowan’s influence and unable to figure a way out. There’s no indication Olivia’s going to clue Fitz in on the situation with her father. Fitz has been placed on the outside of an issue that’s deeply personal to Olivia, and that placement could create a significant gap between them. The switch in focus, and the switch in allies, is distancing Olivia from Fitz, pushing her toward Jake and moving toward a full blown love triangle.
With the exception of Olivia, Huck and Jake, only Cyrus has any real understanding of Rowan and B613. Fitz is unaware of the scope and the power of the organization and was only made partly aware last week because of Cyrus. It’s Cyrus who meets regularly with Rowan and knows the details of Operation: Remington. Not Fitz, and despite being the president, Fitz has no power over B613. The only way he can get Rowan to do something is by giving in to ultimatums Rowan’s already issued to the White House. If Olivia wants to defeat her father, if Scandal is going to make Olivia’s liberation from his control a major arc this season, Olivia’s going to need people around her who can help her. And Fitz isn’t one of them.
At the same time Fitz is juggling a presidency and his relationship with Olivia, and he does so religiously. As Mellie noted, Olivia is a fatal flaw for Fitz. She’s a weakness that can – and probably will be – exploited. By Mellie, by Rowan, by someone because Olivia is a constant in Fitz’s life. Even if Olivia’s dealing with other things, Fitz isn’t. He’s the President of the United States but he still makes time to call Olivia regularly. Despite heaps of national and international issues to sort out, Fitz finds his and Olivia’s relationship to be sacred.
But for Olivia, their relationship and her feelings are being infringed upon by more pressing matters like grieving mothers with bombs and devious fathers leading shady intelligence organizations. The “Fitz Phone,” Olivia and Fitz’s one line of genuine and private communication, was used by Jake at Olivia’s request. Hearing Jake’s voice on the other end of the line was a breach of their confidence, the crossing of the holy line that is Olivia and Fitz. The “Fitz Phone” isn’t a secret anymore. In fact, it’s probably in a few pieces after Olivia threw it on the floor because it wouldn’t stop ringing (because Fitz wouldn’t stop calling).
Slowly the sacredness of the Fitz/Olivia relationship is being replaced on Olivia’s end. Fitz is moving into the realm of convenience rather than affection. Last week Olivia demanded he find a way to get Jake back, taking advantage of Fitz’s presidential power to secure Jake’s safety knowing Fitz wasn’t going to be happy about it. In this episode, Olivia wanted to speak with Fitz because he could, as the president, give her what she needed.
Mary Nesbitt was a huge crisis, but it’s possible Rowan is an even bigger one. Mary had explosives strapped to her body and a wavering trigger finger, but Rowan has government funded assassins, tricky manipulations and mounds of political secrets. Olivia couldn’t deal with Fitz and Mary. Can she deal with Fitz and her dad? Does she have the ability to split her focus in this way, when Fitz has proven to be a consuming component of her life?
In an episode such as this one, with one half of the show’s main pairing in a life-threatening situation, the audience would expect to see that pairing reunited at the episode’s end to embrace and lament their near loss, declare their fear and to re-establish their love and connection. Scandal reunited Olivia with Huck and Jake, the only people she knows are as caught in Rowan’s web as she is. Fitz, and what was probably a heartfelt declaration of his joy at Olivia’s safety, were left unacknowledged.
Despite Olivia’s efforts, Mary Nesbitt didn’t make it out of the episode alive. The explosives were detonated, and Mary was killed. If we imagine Mary as a small precursor to what may be coming with Rowan, the kind of problem that Olivia can’t cleanly solve, the real thing with Rowan is going to require all of Olivia’s attention so what does this mean for Olivia and Fitz?