“Scandal” has always been a show about monsters. A group of people who will go to great lengths to get what they want, hold onto power, or control people within their orbit. Whether they were doing it for good or for evil has always been a grey area, often dependent on what end of the gun they ultimately ended up on. But at some point, these monsters have all shown a glimmer of weakness and humanity: Be it love, guilt, or just plain fatigue, there has always been a line they couldn’t cross…
Except for Rowan (Joe Morton). For nearly six seasons Olivia’s dad has held steadfast to his imperious ways, shouting speech after Emmy-winning speech about how you can Never. Take. Down. Command. Until tonight! In this installment of the “this is my story” episodes that have made up this latest season, we finally get to see that Rowan does, in fact, have a softer side (read: weakness). That weakness comes through his nerdy love for dinosaur bones and, of course, a woman: Sandra (Tonya Pinkins), a professor of archeology “Eli” went to grad school with, and with whom he had an dalliance while on a dig in Buenos Aires almost 40 years ago.
In his flashback to before election night, Eli is sitting in on a guest lecture given by Sandra talking about extinction and how predators are the most susceptible to it; those who are the most powerful are the most vulnerable to change. Apt! But Eli isn’t listening, he’s just sitting there grinning like a school boy.
Back in her lab, Sandra tells Eli about the discovery of a rare dinosaur skeleton and how she wants him to come on board and help her dig it up. Amid his excitement of joining her team and moving into her new lab space, Eli discovers a tiny camera embedded in the wall, and his B-613 senses start tingling immediately. That night, with the aid of a nostalgic bottle of booze and a soundtrack of Marvin Gaye, Eli gets Sandra to talk about the people who are funding her dig; and with the aid of a gun to her head in a broom closet, he gets her to admit that they threatened her life so that she would bring him to them.
As soon as Sandra sufficiently convinces Eli that she doesn’t know who they are or what they want, that she was just bait, he steps out of the closet and into full view of anyone watching and goes full “Captain Phillips,” challenging whoever is on the other side of those cameras to show themselves… And surprise! It’s Sarah, the woman in the red dress from last week, and her shady colleague (who does a weird kind of inside-voice shout, like he’s talking in all small caps). They state with no further explanation that they want Mellie in the White House and Eli is going to make that happen for them. If he doesn’t, then Sandra is toast. Weakness!
In full Rowan mode now, Eli calls up one of his henchmen and goes through his playbook of tricks for rigging the election, ultimately falling back on the old standard: hacking the voting machines. The most vulnerable ones? San Benito County. This would’ve been the end of the episode, had Olivia (and Huck) not realized what he was doing and permanently stopped his plan by implementing the ultimate hacker trick: the back door.
Olivia confronts Rowan about what he’s doing and how she wants to win clean, even if it means losing. Furious, Rowan gives Olivia a Yell-Speech about how she had what she had always wanted, the Oval, but she unknowingly just threw it away; he then (with the help of his new friends) comes to the inevitable conclusion that the only way to complete the mission is if Frankie Vargas (Ricardo Chavira) is killed. Then we see the missing pieces to events we already know: while planting the rifle on the parking garage in Philadelphia where Vargas will give his acceptance speech, Rowan sneaks under the stage and, after a moment of human hesitation, shoots Vargas point-blank from below. After helping Rowan escape, his henchman Nelson McClintock (Larry Sullivan) takes the blame and the deed is done.
Back in his office with Sarah and friend, after making sure Sandra is unharmed, Rowan commands Jennifer Fields (Chelsea Kurtz) to place the now infamous call to the FBI about who shot Vargas. The wheels are in now motion for framing Cyrus Beene (Jeff Perry). But as Rowan and Sandra start for the door, Sarah and friend decide they still want Rowan around, he’s just that good. Besides, now that they know Rowan’s soft spot is standing right next him, they have all the control.
This does not sit well with Rowan. Remember who the captain is now? Without even blinking, Rowan pulls the gun from his belt and shoots Sandra square in the forehead. Rowan is the captain, no one controls him. Impressed but unfazed, Sarah pulls up a live feed of Olivia on her phone and hands it to Rowan.
“We have eyes on Olivia at all times. And by eyes, I mean an actual person ready to pull the trigger.”
And there you have you it. Someone has actually one-upped Command. Rowan has had a weakness that we knew all along. Olivia’s safety is a line Rowan just isn’t willing to cross.
“Scandal” airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.