Scandal returns Thursday night on ABC after two seasons of delicious, ridiculous, addictive total nonsense that made it a pop-culture preoccupation. (OK, obsession. But hey, we can quit any time we want.)
Despite the completely bizarre romantic mythology that strains to create romantic longings in the audience based around the story of Olivia and Fitz (who is the most dumpable man on television, as previously established), and despite the fact that the show sometimes feels like one of those sanctimonious law-firm shows of the '90s if everyone in the firm was utterly corrupt, people still gather around their televisions for Scandal just as if it were a perfectly normal nighttime soap. And Twitter will confirm, if you let it, that this happens to be a show people actually tune in for and watch when it's on, like we did in the olden days.
If you want to catch up and jump in, as much as it might be fun to go back and watch the previous seasons, you don't really have to. Everything you actually need to know can be explained in a few simple rules.
Fitz is the worst. Okay, you know that already. But you should assume that everything Fitz does (he's the president, you see) has various ulterior motives, mostly relating to feeling sorry for himself. If Fitz donated a kidney, it would be for the tax deduction.
Olivia spends at least half of her time getting shopping and getting dressed. This is technically less of a rule and more of a truth. Olivia never wears anything that isn't impeccable and incredibly expensive. If Olivia were cleaning out the garage, she would — well, first of all she would die first, but second of all she would wear Calvin Klein overalls, a Donna Karan shirt, and a painter's hat by Marc Jacobs that cost $4,000. Olivia officially has a crisis management firm, but now she seems to ignore the idea of having clients and mostly just worry about cleaning up her own messes and those of her associates. This still brings in enough dough to keep her in duds fresh off the runway.
Mellie is presented as the most ruthless person, but she is also the most honest person. If you ask Olivia what she wants out of life, she'll say, "To be happy and help others and know real love." Then she will do something atrocious and self-serving. If you ask Fitz what he wants out of life, he'll say, "To be true to myself." Then he will act like a wad of garbage, meaning he will be arguably successful, but not on purpose. If you ask Mellie (Fitz's wife) what she wants out of life, she'll say, "To line up everyone who ever wronged me and expose them to a unique toxin that causes them to experience the flowering of their greatest emotional fear, at which point I will walk by them, laugh, and throw a drink in their faces." And then she will ... basically try to do that.
David Rosen once walked under a ladder while spilling salt and having a black cat cross his path. Rosen is the U.S. Attorney for D.C., and he is, in fact, a halfway decent person. This makes him exactly four times as decent as Olivia and eight times as decent as Fitz. (And 10 or 12 times as decent as Mellie, but far less awesome.) At the close of the second season, he seemed to have gotten a plot of his own to work, but that only means something more miserable is coming for him in the future, because he is simply not a lucky man.
He's in love with Olivia's associate Abby (the redhead), but their relationship is complicated, because she is rotten to the guts and he is a pretty decent guy, meaning that if they ever really made it work, she would eventually ruin his life by getting him involved in something nefarious, and he would inevitably be the one who was done in by whatever bad guys she got involved with. It's his fate. David Rosen: Decent But Doomed.
Cyrus knows how evil people should act, but they don't listen. Fitz's chief of staff had a literal heart attack trying to get Fitz and Olivia to wise up, take the romantic goofballery out of their planning, and act like proper villains. But nobody listens, so Cyrus is doomed to sit around complaining to his awesome husband (whom he's kinda corrupted also) about how bad everyone else is at wickedness. Cyrus sometimes seems kind of tough on people, like when he revealed to Olivia that her beloved Fitz killed an old lady, but you can really argue that if Fitz hadn't killed the old lady, Cyrus wouldn't have had that to use against him. Food for thought!
Everything is a shadowy figure's fault. Whenever you think anything on this show is going to take a turn for the better, somebody you've never seen before (or seen only a little) will glower at the camera knowingly. Tony Goldwyn encounters more shadowy figures on Scandal than he did when they dragged him away at the end of Ghost.
Fitz is the worst. Did I say that already?