Two things we learned about Abby Whelan (Darby Stanchfield) in “A Stomach For Blood,” (Mar. 30): Abbey is a force, and Abbey really hates Vermont.
How do we know these things? The first, because she tells us so, and the second because she just went to REALLY GREAT LENGTHS to not run a foundation out of Bennington.
Let’s flash back: It’s 60 days before election night, and Abby and Fitz (Tony Goldwyn) are in the Oval Office merrily planning the future Grant Library, trying to figure out the best location. In passing, Fitz suggests Vermont — it’s close to his kids, he already has a house there,
he’s childishly obsessed with Olivia HE COULD FINALLY MAKE THAT JAM. It all sounds idyllic to Fitz, but Abby just… can’t.
Brushing him off, Abby heads to lunch with possible donors for said library that will not be in Vermont, probably hoping he’ll get over it. After giving her rote donation speech, the two mystery donors across from tell her they plan on giving
$250 $300 million dollars — but not to the Grant foundation, to the Abby Whelan PAC they’re about to set up. Because they want to be in the Abby Whelan business.
Just who are these mystery donors? Why, the super shady Shadow Group, of course: “You are a force, Ms. Whelan. And you don’t even know it,” they say, as a means of flattery (and a well-planted seed). Stunned, Abby dismisses them, too… At first.
Until Cyrus (Jeff Perry) tells her she’ll be a great candidate — once she’s sure that she can live without Fitz’s validation and affection — and the second she gets back to the Oval, and Fitz is still talking about Vermont. And fly fishing. Ugh, men are such idiots, and selfish, and why shouldn’t she run for office, and yeah, she could President one day — right? She’s looking for a reason from the second she walks in, and it’s Fitz: You know he can’t help somehow giving her one.
So Abby slams her office door, pulls out her phone and dials the Shadow Group donors: She’s in. A few jump cuts later, we land back on the fateful election night and see PEOTUS get shot — just after a call from Shady Lady telling her not to go into a tailspin when whatever is about to happen, happens. It happens, and naturally, Abby goes into a tailspin. Wait… was this part of the plan? Did I really sign on to this? Did I think it was going to be easy?
While we can appreciate the context this episode gives us for what we’re learning are her nefarious deeds, and now that the ball is rolling the avalanche makes sense throughout… It’s all still predicated on the idea that she’s literally so special that some random creeps would hand her $300MM. As much as Fitz, Cyrus and the rest of the men around Abby spend the whole episode telling her how powerful and wonderful she is, that’s still a pretty wild concept. She’s been up and down, in terms of her whole power-hungry arrogance vibe, for the last few seasons. But is she really three hundred million dollars past the line of common sense?
Abby’s dispatched to shut down the hospital where Vargas’ body has been taken, and among the scenes we’ve already gotten of that situation, we also see Huck’s girlfriend/murderer Meg (Phoebe Neidhardt) appear in this timeline, pressuring Abby on behalf of the Shadow Group to somehow get her hands on the bullets inside the President-elect — and with boyfriend Leo (Paul Adelstein) tied up somewhere getting beaten to death.
Abby, you are a force. Forces figure things out. Abby’s on-the-spot plan involves bribing an Army doctor who really just wants a transfer to California, and jamming her own hand all up and around inside Frankie Vargas, nearly barfing, and then getting out into the hallway — past the staring, fugue-state Cyrus, to a convenient barf receptacle. How’s that fly fishing in Vermont sound right about now, kiddo?
Back home, Leo bloody but safe, Abby has a moment to collect her thoughts. Which again, most just consist of the letters W.T.F. over and over again. After a late-night anger jog down the streets of Washington DC, she finally comes to the conclusion: This is actually wack, and only I, the Force Abby Whelan, can make it less so.
First, Abby tries turning to her good friend and ex, Attorney General David Rosen (Joshua Malina) — though what she plans on telling him, at this point, we’re not quite sure? “Hi, I really messed up!” — and is immediately stopped outside his front gate by the Shady Blonde Lady. Confident in Rosen’s ability to help — his power — Abby stands firm, claiming she’s going to bury them all B6-13 style for their treasonous ways.
…That is, until Rosen pops out, gives Blonde Shadow Lady a peck and says they’re on their way to brunch. THIS GROUP IS GOOD! WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?
Abby’s next plan is to get Cyrus (Jeff Perry) out of jail — he’ll know what to do once he’s free, she’s become a fan of his after all this time, and of course she also engineered the whole situation where he is about to get the death penalty, so that might factor in, too. It’s at this point that Huck (Guillermo Díaz) shows up and drops the news in her lap that one Jennifer Fields (Chelsea Kurtz) is still alive. She goes to the Shadow Group and demands (a little wobbly, tbh, but we get it — high pressure, long day) that they get Cyrus out of jail in exchange for this info. And, after an intriguing moment in which the Shady Man has to physically restrain the Shady Lady from jumping Abby, they agree.
…Which is how Huck’s girlfriend Meg got to Jennifer and she shot her, and also why she shot Huck after. “Don’t worry,” Meg assures Abby again, now with a totally different meaning. “He won’t know you were behind this.” *menacing wink*
Back in prison with Cyrus, Abby assures him that she’s going to save his life. She’s not giving up. She is a force. And even though it meant trading Huck’s life for Cyrus’s, there’s nothing that particularly doesn’t add up here.
We loved: This episode is another key part of the delicious chicanery that is Season 6 of “Scandal.” This is truly Shondaland at its best — heightened but grounded, smart but exuberantly frothy, and one of the most subtly complex arcs anywhere in recent memory. Also, there was brief moment during the initial luncheon where we thought the Shadow group was going to frame Abby as a Trump-like outsider, and that’s why she’d be a good leader. “You’re different. You don’t belong. We like that.” But they didn’t take that route, and we are glad.
A little disappointed: Because, by our calculations, Abby might have actually been the last person who was sorta good — at least, ever since Olivia took away her wine and they had that big fight about how horrible Abby had become. But Abby has proven skillful over the years in finding new ways to be obnoxious, and there isn’t a single character here who hasn’t changed in huge ways over the course of this intricately plotted season, so it makes sense that we had to watch this crash again in fast-forward.
But seriously — can no one escape the lure of political power in this town? Because at this rate, Quinn Perkins (Katie Lowes) is going to end up being the coolest/only Gladiator left — and if that happens, we will join the Secret Shadowy Group just out of spite.
“Scandal” airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.