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History Repeating: Constantine’s “Rage of Caliban”

November 29, 2014 1 comment

Life is all about connections, relationships, and the circumstances that make the world smaller. On a deeper level, it is also about the people who help make us who we are, for better or for worse – those who stand with us or behind us, helping to shape who we are and the path we take.

This week’s Constantine (Rage of Caliban – written by the wonderfully talented Daniel Cerone) was about looking to the past to inform the future. How actions, once taken, shape the road in front of a person. The episode opens with a classic bit of horror movie madness: a murder scene in a home, a small girl, and a bloodied, levitating man – who then plummets to his death. It’s clear the girl is responsible, but not how or why. Later, when two police officers start arguing about her, the child’s eyes turn black as ink and a coffee mug shatters. Someone yells, “Shots fired!” Shots fired, indeed.

Elsewhere, John’s getting kicked out of bed by a one night stand, with a bit of groggy comedy. She’s got a boyfriend, and the boyfriend’s at the door – and the important item she’s shoving at him is his tie (symbolism – yes, the tie means something). There’s a little frenzied he said/she said about whether Constantine knew she was attached, when he quips, “Should I set the table for three, then?” Shirtless, being shoved out a window, he’s got an incredible amount of sass – which I love. From the woman he was with, though, you get the kind of impression that yes, John is a world of trouble, but that his kind of trouble is also totally worth it. It makes his brashness a bit more endearing. I mean, I certainly wouldn’t kick him out of bed.

Back at the mill house, Chas gives John his best mom face/chiding eyes (I adore Charles Halford in this role), insisting that they pick the next point of trouble/case from the Bloody Map. They do, and it’s Birmingham, Alabama. Which is the murder site we’d just seen. So, off they go, with the cab still in the shop (this episode was intended to be episode two, which is why there’s only an oblique reference to Zed being at an art class).

Arriving at the crime scene, Chas and John give us a bit of backstory about the murder; John’s got his usual bag of tricks (literally a bag – an old medical bag, by the looks of it). What I liked about this episode is that we get to see more of the relationships between Constantine and Chas (as well as Constantine and Manny), which illuminates the relationship John has with himself. More on that later. The dabbler in the dark arts promptly breaks into the house, stiffs around, and then…licks a wall. I could make so many jokes here. But I won’t.

Manny shows up and he and John have a spat. They’re almost always having a spat, aren’t they? There’s a fiercely confrontational, almost adversarial quality to their conversation. “You know, I’ve never punched an angel, but you are begging for it, mate,” Constantine snarks after Manny surprises him. Manny wants to know what John’s planning on doing about the rising dark, what his plan of attack is. Calling him “more of a desperation move” as opposed to Joan of Arc, Manny really seems to take pleasure at goading John and making digs about how not special he is. Constantine needles him right back, using an insult-derived form of backhanded flattery to try and weasel information about the murder from Manny. That works about as well as you’d think.

Using a Mayan spell, Constantine figures out that the girl’s to blame, because she was possessed. He surmises that the spirit that’s done the possessing will be on the lookout for a new host. And a nice cut to the outside of a house lets the audience in on the fact that this episode takes place around Halloween. Inside, we get an earful of a screaming boy, insisting there’s someone in his room,. Being comforted by his folks, Henry seems like a typical kid – until later, when his creepy closet opens, and there’s really someone in his room. Once he’s possessed, he pretty much starts acting like the little kid from The Omen.

We find John in a bar (surprise!) with an unnamed woman, who provides some background on the case. There’s been a series of murders with the same M.O., starting 35 years ago. The woman and John have a history, and he helped her out in the past. It’s interesting to see this kind of bond surface, here and there, evidence of his good – evidence of those he’s helped along the way. We’ve heard about Newcastle – seen its scars on John (and Gary). But true to life, it seems like the bad carries more weight than the good.

Which is illustrated by the sneer Constantine gives when the woman tells him the first murder victim, Marcello Panneti, is at the local mental hospital. When he gets there, John finds a catatonic Marcello and a bit more backstory. Abused as a child by his father, Marcello pulled something of a Lizzie Borden, killing his parents. Upon seeing his frozen, unaffected state, John sits down and gives Marcello an interesting look. He’d thought that Marcello would provide some insight, but the avenue is closed. Which begs the unsaid question: what now?

Meanwhile, possessed Henry (well portrayed by Max Charles) starts acting out in a really effective, creepy scene. This episode pulled from multiple horror story tropes and not only brought them to life, but also made them work brilliantly. The subtle tapping of a lightbulb, while Henry’s dad, Daryl, stumbles around in the dark, was an excellent use of basic fear and suspense. It’s the kind of tension that makes a viewer shout at the tv screen. Not that I’d do that. Nooooo. (Yes, yes, I did.) The actor who plays Henry is reallllly good in this scene. After his father hurt himself, he almost chides, “Hey Dad? Be careful.” Definitely chills up the spine, there.

Once again back at the mill house, John and Chas discuss the case, which reveals the idea of ley lines to the audience – magical trackways that flow with energy that can be harnessed. While they’re looking for something to detect the malevolent spirit, Chas pulls a random sword out of a bookshelf (who doesn’t keep a sword there?), which leads to an honest, but funny moment between the two. It’s basically a sword of truth, and Chas prattles on about how Constantine is too self-involved, how he misses a woman named Renee, and how he can’t even talk to John about it – at which point, John takes the sword away from him. They both look hilariously uncomfortable and a bit sheepish. They dynamic here rings true.

After a rather unfortunate incident between Henry and a pumpkin, a raven/crow hurls itself into a glass door. This is not the first, or the last, time we’ve seen a crow/raven. I get the feeling the symbolism is going to come into play later in the series – that it has something to do with the rising dark. But that’s just a hunch.

John and Chas are walking down the street, waving the kind of incense holder you’d find at Catholic mass. (Because of course.) They stop outside Henry’s house and have a rather amusing exchange about whether or not they should knock, explain who they are and why they’re there. The back and forth here was really charming, but it’s also a bit revealing. Constantine takes the lead, always. He calls the shots. In a way, Chas looks to him to make the decisions. The laidback relationship between the two is really endearing. They’re solid, good mates – a dedicated team.

The next day, Constantine stops by the schoolyard and notices Henry fighting with another kid. He tries to bring it to a teacher’s attention, who is skeptical of John’s presence, asking, “What’s in that trenchcoat?” Constantine replies, “I am,” with a kind of quiet, insistent fury that only accompanies a man whose hands are tied – and not in a fun way. A man who is not used to being ignored and who isn’t accustomed to having to stand back and watch something bad happen. The subtlety bridled rage is an interest tic of John’s – a tell of sorts, evidence of the genuine good in an imperfect man.

The child who was taunting Henry suffers a fractured skull, while Constantine is forced to helplessly watch. Later, Henry is interrogated by his parents, his mom less lenient than his father. Which is of course when John decides to knock on the door, lie to get inside, then announce he’s an exorcist, and promptly gets kicked out of the house. He leaves his card on the way out, but not before getting punched by the father…and thus, thrown in jail.

John in jail is a really brilliant scene, character-wise. He’s antsy, frustrated at being trapped. Helplessness fits him about as well as an ill-tailored suit. Rambling and railing at his current state of affairs, he laments that his stint in an asylum (six months!) affected his skills negatively, verbally castigating himself. Face pressed against the bars, Constantine calls himself a “bloody amateur,” and his sudden bout of self-loathing is clear on his face. He is, almost always, at odds with himself. Sometimes, that motivates him to move forward, do and be better. But in this instance, he’s having a pity party of rather maudlin proportions.

Until, that is, Manny shows up and those two have a revelatory fight. Harold Perrineau is wonderful in this scene, one part antagonistic and one part righteous. He’s got the demeanor of an unaffected parent whose child is acting out again. And John is all sass, snark, and eye rolls – because he’s unimpressed with the angels refusing to intervene in the lives of humans. They’re simply watchers, passionately observing and advising without stepping in. Meanwhile, John’s risking his life time and again – assuming he’s on his own during all his hardships. But as soon as he offhandedly spat that he’s made it through his life without any help from Manny, the angel spins into an indignant rage, looming over him, basically driving home that the opposite was true. This interaction shows a bit of John’s horrifically tortured past, an abusive childhood where it appears Manny kept him alive when John might’ve chosen otherwise. Constantine’s reaction is the emotional equivalent of touching a hot stove with your hand: he jumps up, too many emotions on his face, and has to move. That says a lot about his coping mechanisms, by and large.

Soon after, Henry’s mom (Claire) shows up at the jail, springs him, and they set to work at trying to bind the spirit in Henry to a single spot (she drugs her son so that they can work). The spot is the home that Marcello Panneti grew up in, who is supposedly the first possession victim. The house, I should point out, is a character in itself – creepy, foreboding, and generally where abandoned nightmares go to live. Chas, John, and Claire are unsuccessful – all that shows up is a three-legged baby deer. It was a brilliant moment of comic relief and misdirection, but it failure leads her to ask Constantine to perform an exorcism on her son.

Like a sucker punch, the wound of Newcastle wells up within John, revealing his pain, his lack of self-confidence, and his raging, vicious doubt. Claire tells Constantine something that almost rattles him – that she does trust him. There’s a look of gratitude crossed with disbelief that ghosts across his face. John has a complicated history with trust, and there’s nothing that pains him more than the idea that he might let someone down. But her words might just be enough to balm what’s broken in him, to begin to counterbalance the horrors of Newcastle. If he can swallow the fear that’s raging inside him long enough to do what needs doing. He is, even at his worst, a man who tries.

Returning home with John, Claire and Daryl argue about what to do, revealing conflict as the trigger for the spirit. Without hesitation, Constantine enchants a mirror – which is a typical one you’d find at Bed, Bath, and Beyond. For some reason, that amused me greatly. I like the idea of everyday items being used throughout the show – the enchanted card, the mirror, etc. Using the mirror to deflect Henry’s magic leads the kid to flee house, trapping Chas painfully between two cars, with Constantine in hot pursuit.

This, of course, ends in a confrontation in the creepiest damn funhouse in the world. There, John realizes that the spirit is Marcello Manetti, when Henry appears holding an axe. Employing his usual irreverence and sass, Constantine takes Marcello to task for his actions, as the spirit tosses him here and there with a simple nod of his head. It’s here that John’s own past, his own rage, comes in handy – he draws an implied parallel between himself and Marcello, quipping that “this world’s dark – and full of pain, for everyone – only most people don’t leave a trail of dead bodies and shattered lives and retribution.” Perhaps in Marcello, Constantine is seeing what he might’ve been, if he was driven not to help people, but to seek revenge. If John had given into the dark, perhaps revenge (not protecting others and doing good) would’ve shaped who he’d become. Constantine’s rage and disgust at what Marcello did because of what happened to him illustrates the idea that while a person is shaped by his past, it doesn’t mean he is condemned by it. Everything, every moment is a choice. And for John, he chooses to fight.

Marcello Manetti’s spirit is returned to his body, and a quick glimpse at the asylum shows him going totally berserk. There’s a possibility he’ll find peace at some point, but it’s the closing scene I found more poignant. Constantine, lounging in the back of his truck, is in for the long haul. Lighting up a cigarette (someone get me that lighter, please), he knows that he’s in for a fight against the rising dark, but he’s taken up the mantle. The hardest part, for him, may be overcoming his own flaws, his own weaknesses, but there’s a sharp determination about him. As he spits at Manny in the preview for next week, “You’re either this bloody fight with me, or you’re not.”

Constantine’s in. I’m in. Are you?

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A Brilliant Sense of Fury: Constantine’s “Danse Vaudou”

November 22, 2014 Leave a comment

Everyone is running from something. Sometimes, it’s something/someone we lost. Sometimes, it’s something we did – or failed to do. Experiences like that shape us, like water cutting through a canyon. There can be no mercy in it. Where we come from is a facet of who we are – the past always informs the present – and the present, the future. But what we believe in is a powerful tenant of who we are. A person’s belief shapes his/her world.

And that’s a major theme of this week’s Constantine (Danse Vaudou). In the beginning, we find Zed working on her skills, but only coming up with snake eyes and a migraine. Until, that is, John pulls something out of his magic bag of tricks, forging a connection between Zed and the map. Zed is eager to learn how to use her gifts, and it doesn’t seem like she notices the tone of Constantine’s delivery when he says, “Seems we’ve opened up a physic connection between you and the map, which is what I wanted.” That’s what he wanted. Because there’s an angle to him that is all about a means to an end, people as tools. He seems like he never gets too close. Because he believes that anyone close to him will die. (Which, you know, Chas. Poor Chas. However, Charles Halford is a delight in this role.) John, though, is clearly shaped by the pains of his past. At one point, he tells Zed, “Pain’s good. That’s how you build muscles. Find something that guts you, and do it over and over again.” Is pain the only way to grow as a person? No. Is it an effective catalyst for change/growth? Yes.

This episode takes the gang to New Orleans, where they meet a detective, Jim Corrigan (exquisitely played by Emmett J. Scanlan). Corrigan initially laughs off Constantine’s profession, calling him a con man and delivering a very snide, deadpan bit of skepticism. Clearly, his belief is rooted in accepted norms. Until, that is, he starts to realize that there are things that can’t be explained in easy, simple terms. Trouble is that there are ghosts rising from the dead – a hitchhiker killed in a crash, an ex-model with a scarred face who committed suicide, and a husband who died of cancer without his wife getting a chance to say goodbye. But Corrigan doesn’t even entertain the idea of believing, until much later in the episode.

There’s an interesting scene between Constantine and Zed, when they’re getting hotel rooms for the night. It’s a bit of a cat and mouse, except each thinks they’re the cat and the other the mouse. John makes it clear that he really doesn’t know anything about her, and it’s more than idle curiosity. There’s a glint of suspicion to it. He trusts her gifts, but it doesn’t seem like he trusts her. Not yet. But he couches the conversation in terms of sex, quipping that he always respects the people he sleeps with, but he usually knows more about them first. Despite his tendency toward being ruthless in his decision making, there’s a depth in that moment. A hint of someone who, when he lets his walls down, really lets them down. But for all her psychic abilities, Zed’s as closed as ever, not really giving anything up to John. There’s kind of a sharp, smart edge to her general vulnerability. She seems innocent and sweet, but this episode highlighted her resourcefulness. And we do get a hint of her background. More on that later.

John ends up being arrested by Corrigan for trying to warn him about the hitchhiker killing again. After that Chas ends up on alleyway ghost hunting duty, trying to figure out the dead model’s weakness/purpose. Even in death, everybody wants something right? Meanwhile, Zed visits the hitchhiking ghost’s grandmother, getting backstory on him. But it’s Constantine’s conversation with Corrigan in the interrogation room that is most interesting.

You can see that Corrigan is coming around to the notion that there’s more to work in the world than what can be easily explained. There’s a fierce quiet to Corrigan, a steady kind of strength. It’s the underplay of interested calm that is intriguing. He asks John how he does it, how he handles the darkness, essentially. The reply is a belief that Constantine is desperate to believe: “It marks you. For life. But it doesn’t change who you are.”

John wants to think that what happens doesn’t alter who a person is. That knowing doesn’t turn the world on its axis. But there are always the things we carry with us, the things we are haunted by. Maybe the core good doesn’t shift, but the edges fray. You can’t always be good to do good. But how far does one go before tipping over the line? I don’t think John’s found that moment yet.

Of course, it turns out the ruckus of the dead rising is Papa Midnite. John waltzes into a ritual with all the swagger of an old-school cowboy. He sassily apologizes for coming empty-handed, because he didn’t know what dessert paired with pig’s blood. Make no mistake: that bravado is also one of Constantine’s weapons. He showed up, alone, at Papa Midnite’s home turf. The way he carried himself conveyed a casual, unconcerned confidence. Not fear. He remained remarkably self-possessed, even after Papa blew some sleeping dust in his face. For John, he did what he had to, which was to warn Papa Midnite that he’s not allowing grieving people to speak to the dead. He’s accidentally raising it. Oops. Talk about embarrassing. At least there wasn’t a creepy mask involved. (Again: Buffy shoutout!)

Papa Midnite, with his own bag of tricks, consults…his dead sister’s skull. Which…ew. It seems that she’s condemned to hell, and it was implied that Midnite was involved somehow. Eventually, he’s convinced that his magic’s run amok, when he goes to the house of a woman he helped…to find her dead husband alive and slowly killing her. Talking to John, he eats a bit of crow, and asks for his help. There’s a sense of honor to Midnite, here. Raising the dead was not his intention, and his magic has gone sideways, because of “the growing dark.” A Big Bad’s coming, and it’s messing with the order of things. For helping, John gets to ask Midnite’s sister a question. His sense of duty wouldn’t have let him just walk away and leave the dead traipsing about, but Midnite doesn’t realize that. He agrees.

This leads them to, of course, squabble like wretched children while stealing bodies from mausoleums. Midnite’s snaps that John is “jackass of all trade, master of none,” as they metaphorically measure each other’s magical…well, you know. What I liked most about that scene was a subtle catalyst for Constantine’s actions/strength was his grief. He’s struggling with the stone door that he can’t get open, and Papa brings up guilt and responsibility, throwing a hint of Astra in John’s face. And, without verbally reacting to what he’s said, John takes his anger/blame/rage out on the marble slab – and it’s that berserker show of guilt that gives him the strength to get the job done.

Elsewhere, Zed and Corrigan have teamed up, trying to keep the hitchhiker (Phillip) from killing anyone else. It’s during their escapade we learn the barest glimmer of Zed’s backstory. Remember when Chas asked who would name their kid Zed, because it means zero? She’d spat back that her parents didn’t call her that. Through Corrigan, it’s revealed that Zed is a missing person, whose name was something else. Zed, then, must’ve named herself. And because all names mean something, why zero? My guess is that it’s an attempt at leaving everything behind, going back to the beginning, a reset. Zero is a clean slate. And whatever Zed was running away from, she clearly didn’t want to bring any of it with her. Her belief is that disappearing would let her begin again. But if there’s anything to be gleaned from the past, it’s that everyone carries the past with them, for better or worse.

Papa and Constantine set out to do their joint spell with more than a bit of resentment. Their spell to put the three unruly spirits to rest (a bonfire of bodies that John lights with a flicked cigarette) fails spectacularly. Each blames the other fervently, leading to a snark-filled fistfight, wherein Constantine realizes that it’s not necessarily Papa’s magic that raised the dead. No, it’s the beliefs of those people left living. Those left behind.

So, the hitchhiker’s grandmother, the woman responsible for the model’s disfigurement, and the wife of the cancer stricken husband are brought to the ritual site. Constantine explains the power of pain, belief, and grief like this: “You keep the dead alive, because you can’t forgive yourselves.” The ravaging tide of loss is a powerful kind of magic, and blame is a heavy burden. They agree to the ritual, and the balance of things is restored. But this scene really spoke to the reality of loss – and how those left behind cope (or don’t cope). How the belief that we could’ve possibility done something differently, or done something more, affects our belief in ourselves. It rang true.

In the end, Zed has a vision of Corrigan dripping in blood and engulfed in green smoke. John and Papa share a Scotch, and Midnite deliberately pokes at an old wound. We learn that Constantine’s mother is dead, and Midnite offers to let John talk to her. For John, though, he refuses (with a hint of remorse) to let his grief inform his decisions. Instead, he calls in the marker for communing with Zatanna, Papa’s sister. A means to an end, John wants to know more about the growing dark. The choice (this, over his mother) is a practical one. That doesn’t mean it was an easy one.

Zatanna’s message is merciless and clear: Constantine’s fighting a losing battle. What’s coming cannot be bested. And what’s worse: it will be heralded by someone close to John. Someone will betray him. Given that Constantine isn’t close to many people, it’s probably a short list. But this revelation may also reinforce his tendency toward emotional distance and isolation. It’s one thing not to trust easily. It’s another to know that someone you’ve given that trust to is going to put a knife in your back. That might put a damper on all your relationships.

John absorbs this harsh knowledge without a word. But there’s a kind of quiet rage on his face. And you can see, in that moment, that he’s decided to do everything he can to stop what’s coming, to fight even in the face of futility. Again, John is not a good man. He’s not an easy man. He’s brash and he’s unapologetic. But there’s a sense of goodness and honor about him, a grim determination. As he told someone in this episode, “Sounds like your hell-bent on a path to redemption, love.” In their own way, each character in this episode is – but Constantine owns that motivation with a brilliant sense of fury.

Grief Has No Edges: Scandal and The State of the Union

October 5, 2014 1 comment

Poet Marty McConnell once wrote, “what no one tells you / about grief is that it has no edges.” That line kept rolling around in my head, while I was watching this past week’s episode of Scandal. Grief has no edges – therefore, it makes no visible cuts or marks. It’s rounded at the corners, meaning it’s violently smooth-edged ache. The kind that builds. The kind that extends – you can’t find its corners, because it has none. Grief is a bubble, and when it pops (when a person finally hits his/her breaking point) it spills out. And make no mistake, overt or not, in this episode – everyone is grieving.

“State of the Union” begins with Jake and Liv running. A bit of apt symbolism there, because those two are constantly using each other to run away from everything else. Talk about a door marked Exit. *ahem* Where was I? Right. Jake. He’s decided to take some kind of weird stand, getting himself a hotel room so that he and Liv can have booty calls, because he doesn’t want to hang around her apartment like a sex on demand. (Because, as far as the moral high ground goes, booty calls are somehow better? I don’t know, dude. That logic is pretty thin.)

That conversation dovetails into Liv meeting with Cyrus, whose hair still looks like someone murdered a raccoon and glue the remains to his head. (Please, for the love of coffee and kittens, someone make that stop.) Cy is pretty pissed that Liv didn’t reach out when she got home, and it is pretty shitty, as far as friendships go. Poor Cyrus, though. He’s now on a strict diet, meaning no more meat (and oh my god, oh my god – we’ll get to THAT symbolism later). Essential, Cy strong-arms her into taking a case for the White House, because he’s Cy and he’s not above a bit of manipulative blackmail. Which brings us the case-of-the-week, James and Lisa Elliot – they’re the public face of gun control for Fitz’s State of the Union address. He’s a decorated soldier, and she’s confined to a wheelchair, having been shot saving kids during a school shooting. But as we quickly learn, the state of THEIR union is cantankerous at best. The Hatfields and the Mcoys got along better, guys.

Elsewhere, we find Mellie deep in the midst of her I Don’t Give a Fuck trip, grieving her son, while eating potato chips on his grave. She’s still traipsing about in her Hugh Hefner-lite attire, which is her right. She lost a son. But unfortunately for her, she ends up in the papers, painted as a looney bird. There’s a great shot of Fitz looking agonized, glancing at Mellie across the cemetery. The state of their union is one of an odd armistice; their grief is what’s keeping them together, even though they’re living separate lives still.

Abby (Gabby!) is still masquerading as Olivia Pope-lit, which I really do not care for. Abby is a great character. To have her essentially mimicking a pale version of Liv (she even seems to be DRESSING like her), it’s strange. It would be one thing if she was killing it as the press secretary. She’s not. She’s playacting. She’s not being herself, and while her hair looks amazing, it feels weird and awkward – especially in light of the Liv-esque speech she later gives Mellie.

Quinn and Huck are still in the midst of this weird relationship limbo. And they get to babysit James and Lisa, which is hilarious. Huck and James end up drunkenly singing, and it’s pretty much the best.

Mellie is hanging around eating fried chicken (I feel you, woman. I eat my grief, too.). Fitz tries to talk her into attending the State of the Union address, which she laughs at. Cyrus tries to, and they end up measuring griefs like men measure penises. Because, lest we forget, Cy lost his husband not that long ago. “A broken heart is a broken heart. To take a measure is cruelty.” True words, Cyrus. But they don’t move Mellie one inch.

While Fitz is watching Liv’s interview (and James and Lisa) air, his grief over missing her is stark on his face. There’s a naked longing there. And simultaneously, Liv is sitting with her popcorn and wine, staring at her phone. Where she’d normally have called Fitz, she called Jake. They argue over having a booty call, and she says he should come back – that the hotel room is unnecessary. And he asks, “Are you summoning me?” That is an echo of Liv’s speech that she gave to Fitz (“You do NOT summon me.” “And you don’t walk away from ME.”). Except without any passion whatsoever. It’s like they’re arguing over what color of beige to paint the walls. Jake refuses to jump when Olivia says so, and they hang up the phone. He continues looking into the murder of Harrison and Adnan.

Meanwhile, Lizzie (Portia de Rossi) slinks in to try and get David Rosen’s nomination thrown out. (Are they purposefully styling her to look like Hillary Clinton?) Which flies about as well as Dumbo without his feather, because he realized he didn’t need it to fly. The evidence that Lizzie brings out about David is the fabricated domestic abuse story from a previous season. It’s rather genius that plot point was used to come back and bite him in the ass. Harrison supposedly buried it, but not deep enough. So, his nomination is tanked. Curiously, David spits out his opinion about how awful Olivia is, trying to get Abby to agree with him, because she doesn’t work there anymore. But she…does not. Is that loyalty I smell there? Why, yes. I think it is. In a later scene, David blackmails a Senator (he’s been in DC long enough to pick up a trick or two, apparently) with one of the B613 files. Which is both genius AND evil. If you’re wondering if anyone has a moral compass, the answer is yes – but it’s basically the compass from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies and everyone is Jack Sparrow. “This is blackmail,” the senator says. “I like to think of it as winning,” David replies. Now, if someone could get me a jar of dirt, that’d be great.

Moving on, we find Cyrus at a bar. Because NOTHING says “good decision” like drinking with strangers, while you’re cranky from everything falling apart and your lack of meat. Which, of course, brings us to the hot dude who HAPPENS to hit on him. The hot dude who turns out to be a prostitute, whom we later find out was hired by Lizzie. Because apparently, she’s taken over the Machiavellian supervillain duties and Cyrus has turned into a pumpkin-patch born idiot. (Seriously, Cyrus. YOU ARE SMARTER THAN YOUR PENIS. Except he isn’t, is he? Because he’s vulnerable, still grieving James.)

Huck and Quinn finally have a fight that they needed to have for FOREVER. She confronts him about his perpetual icy attitude toward her, and then admits that they were never a normal couple. And then they argue about him having pulled out her teeth, which is truly the yardstick for a messed up relationship. He thinks that she should mind her own business, and gets in her face, which leads to them almost kissing. And…holy shit, I think I ship them now. When did THAT happen?

James and Lisa cannot get along. Liv talks to Huck about his relationship with Quinn. And Guillermo Diaz is so, so wonderfully nuanced as Huck. There’s a dangerous vulnerability to his facial expression and reactions, like an adorable fox who is half a second away from biting the hell out of anyone who gets too close. It’s a beautiful mix of aching and anger.

Abby freaks out at Cyrus, because Liv called – and the Elliots won’t be attending the State of the Union address – and there goes Fitz’s public face of gun control. Cy, however, says that Liv has never, ever let him down – and that she does her job, so he has confidence that the Elliots will, indeed, show up. Unlike Mellie, because Abby is not Liv. Honestly, seeing how desperately that Abby is playing dress up (not only in Liv’s clothes but through working at the White House), this is the PERFECT motivation for Abby. It pokes right at her vulnerable spots, compelling her to give Mellie her best Liv-esque speech, about being the public face of a grieving mother and then dragging up Jackie O and how she stood by LBJ, shortly after her husband was shot to death. Mellie ends up putting on the pearls again – in her best Jackie O outfit. We’ll get to that in a minute.

Liv delivers James and Lisa Elliot to the White House. However, when she tries to leave, an aid tells her no. Fitz strolls in with Abby, and then he clears the room. But it’s not for personal reasons (sort of…). He wants her opinion on his speech, making it clear to Abby that her opinions are second-string. (I laughed so hard when he referred to Abby as Gabby after she left the room.) Fitz appeals to Liv, saying that he needs to hear what she thinks about his remarks. This is not just a political question. This is him needing her. This is how their reconciliations always start – need. A question. A reason to speak alone in a room.

Fitz’s speech (before he delves into the anti-gun portion of it) touches on the loss of his son, Jerry. He goes off book at Liv’s advice. And while in public, Mellie holds it together like a champ. But as soon as she’s out of public view, she pulls her pearls apart, crumpling to the floor and finally SHOWING her grief through tears. Finally breaking down instead of deflecting and holding it in, as if she doesn’t give two damns. Because Mellie does give a damn. Mellie has lost herself in her grief by not really letting it out. So, by putting on that dress and pearls and assuming what has always been her role, she gets back in touch with herself. And thereby, her pain. And man, when she breaks down, we all (the audience) break down with her. Because there’s something so painfully true to life about that scene. And Bellamy Young shines in a way that there are no words for. Fitz comforts her as she cries curled in a ball on the rug. And it’s that grief that connects them both. That is the state of their union – connected by the thing that’s broken them both.

Meanwhile, Liv shows up to Jake’s hotel room, wearing nothing more than a trenchcoat and knee-high boots. And I’ve got to give it to the woman, that is 17 different kinds of hot. Of course, before disrobing, she admits that their relationship has changed, because they’re not on the island anymore. Things are different, because the circumstances are different. She is clear that her showing up for the horizontal mambo is NOT a booty call. But if it isn’t, I’m really not sure what it is. Because what it looks like to me is that Liv just saw the president and then reacted by caving into what Jake wanted.

Everyone in this episode is grieving something. Cyrus is grieving James. The Grants are grieving Jerry. Quinn is grieving the loss of the relationship with Huck. Huck…he might be grieving it, too. Abby should be grieving her loss of self, but instead is grieving her loss of power (she’ll always take a backseat to Liv and her political savvy). Jake is grieving his loss of power in his relationship with Liv (because they’re back in the shadow of the White House). And Liv is probably grieving the loss of her carefree life on the island. Because now, it’s back to reality. And reality means Fitz. Reality means picking up the pieces of OPA. It means the return to drinking wine and eating popcorn alone. Because aside from her not-booty-call booty call, Liv is either working or alone. Things are in disrepair, darlings – and it will interesting to see how they are cleaned up.