By Tom Gliatto and Emily Strohm
Updated November 18, 2013 12:00 PM


ABC, Thursdays, 10 p.m. ET/PT |


The political melodrama Scandal is almost a relief in the second term of the Obama Administration: The historic policy debates now rocking Washington, D.C., are not only complicated and technological (crashing websites!) but also couched in a stillborn language that makes the concepts harder to grasp – “sequester”? Hello?! The third season of Scandal, on the other hand, is built on a solid, instantly graspable strategy of triangulation: Political consultant Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) is in a wearying, never-ending love-hate relationship not only with her own presidential Mr. Big (Tony Goldwyn) but her dangerous father (Joe Morton), a supersecret power player. (As used to be said of Sinatra, it’s Eli Pope’s world, we just live in it.) New episodes have lost a little of the show’s sexy, racy fizz, even as the actresses have returned with the glossier, tressier hairstyles that signify a hit series. Perhaps fatigue is setting in from all the whiplash plot reversals. On the other hand, I still adore Kerry Washington’s performance: In one seemingly endless moment of erotic agony, Olivia was in the middle of a kiss (with Scott Foley) when her cell rang: Her eyes widened, almost painfully so, as she tried to swivel her gaze so that she could check caller ID. (It was the Prez.) I have seen Renaissance paintings of Mary Magdalene with just that expression.