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SCANDAL - "Top of the Hour" (S2/Ep17) - 03.21.2013

NOTE: If you haven't seen S2/Ep17 yet, then don't read this and please don't complain because this is a discussion of an episode that has aired already, therefore technically not a spoiler.

Oh, ABC - how long has it been without a new SCANDAL episode? Well, this was worth waiting for, despite the fact that it was short: 58 minutes.

What fun to see HOUSE's uptight Dr. Lisa Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) as Sarah Stanner, the woman with a past who jeopardizes Fitz's nomination of Judge Murray Randall to SCOTUS. Didn't those college Spring Break photos look like outtakes from "Girls Gone Wild"?

That whole concept of "top of the hour" was hilarious. Presumably reporters would be too pre-occupied doing their live-shots to notice Olivia Pope and Associates walking into the Stanner house. Right! That would happen. Dozens of photogs on the lawn with their cameras trained on the house and more eyes in control rooms all across America also watching and yet no one sees anything. Even funnier would've been seeing all those reporters break from their stand-ups and scramble after Olivia, Harrison and Abby in a mad dash for the door.

Dredging up an affair from nearly two decades earlier just underscored how voracious the public's appetite is for even a hint of - dare I say it? - scandal. This episode rang true in showing how dirty politics can tear apart a reputation, a career and a family. Despite the fact that you could see it coming, kudos to Emmett Stanner for tearing up the unopened results of the paternity test.

Leave it to Shonda Rhimes to stick in the knife and twist it, thereby underscoring the wretched double-standard that unfortunately exists IRL. After the Board threatened to fire Sarah for allegedly violating the morals clause in a contract that she wouldn't sign until 15 years in the future, Harrison and Abby marched into the boardroom and promised to dish the dirt on all the directors ("Dirty dirt. Filthy dirt. Some of it is illegal and some of it is just downright disgusting. No amount of Lysol is going to clean that corporate jet. Disgusting.") That was priceless. Despite having nothing in that great big box, it was a classic case of going "eyeball to eyeball and the other guy blinked." Truly Gladiators In Suits.

This episode had some of the best dialogue in the entire series. It's ironic that when Olivia counsels distressed clients, so much of the advice she's giving pertains to her own rather convoluted and complicated life. ("Betrayal always has a price."; "You did what you thought was best at the time.") It was an interesting juxtaposition of the argument the Stanners were having as Olivia and Fitz argued on the phone.

The Cyrus and Mellie scenes were exceptional!
Cyrus: I don't have time to listen to this because I'm back in his good graces, Mellie, so where your husband is dipping his signing pen isn't my primary concern.

When Mellie and Cyrus commiserated over their mutal ouster from Fitz's Inner Circle.
Cyrus: I thought I was back, but I was wrong.
Mellie: Welcome to Siberia. Turns out I was wrong, too.
Cyrus: Oh, yeah. How so?
Mellie: He's not cheating on me. He's cheating on you. (Throws Ballard's photo & dossier on desk.)

It wasn't clear whether the Presidential Address to the nation regarding the successful hostage rescue was pre-recorded (If so, why? They're always live if it's that important.) or whether this was just a flashback as "B"-roll to illustrate what happened.

Exactly how deep undercover is Captain Ballard? Is he like the Watergate plumbers? Is he Fitz's personal one-man Black Ops unit? He freaked out when photographed in the Stanners' yard with Olivia. Did Ballard just beat the photog within an inch of his life to steal the camera or did he kill him? We need Ballard and Huck going toe-to-toe at some point in the future.

Scott Foley as Ballard is cute, but his Creep Factor is waaay off-the-charts. Sitting in Olivia's apartment, smiling for the cameras that he'd hidden, knowing full well he's being watched. What's the connection or endgame with CIA Director Osborne/The Mole (Kurt Fuller) and Ballard? This is so much like Kevin Costner's film, No Way Out.

It's so cute that Huck is mentoring Quinn, his Mini-Me, in their own version of Spy School. She's an adept pupil, except when she had to lose her shirt at the dry cleaners.

Overall, a terrific episode. Let's hope that SCANDAL doesn't take any more long breaks this season because we need our weekly jolt.