Olivia Pope helped the father of an unarmed black teen shot by D.C. police
Credit: Nicole Wilder/ABC

In its first episode since Olivia Pope’s (Kerry Washington) escape, Scandal didn’t pull any punches.

The ABC drama doesn’t openly discuss race often, but when it does – from Olivia’s searing “I’m feeling a little, I don’t know, Sally Hemings/Thomas Jefferson about this” jab to her father’s mantra that she had to be “twice as good” – it’s a raw reminder that, even in Shondaland, America is far from color-blind.

Thursday night’s episode handled the shooting of a young, unarmed black man – a clear statement on Ferguson’s Michael Brown – with profound grace, exploring police brutality, racial identity and grassroots activism from all sides.

Most Scandalous Moments

• Olivia – lying to Jake (Scott Foley) about working instead of resting – arrived at a crime scene where a black teen, Brandon Parker, had been shot dead by a police officer who’d stopped him because he matched the vague description of a cell phone shoplifter: African-American, young, tall … you know how it goes. The cop, Officer Jeff Newton (Michael Welch), claimed Brandon had reached for a knife during their confrontation, so he had to shoot to protect himself. Sound familiar? But as Olivia started to “fix” the situation as usual, Brandon’s father, Clarence Parker (Courtney B. Vance), burst onto the scene with a shotgun and fired into the air, demanding justice.

• Olivia convinced the police not to shoot Clarence because a crowd of witnesses recording everything with cell phones had formed, and she promised to get Attorney General David Rosen (Joshua Malina) there to oversee the investigation fairly. But David was busy with White House matters, so Olivia became embroiled in the negotiation, clashing with a local activist, Marcus Walker (Cornelius Smith Jr.), who brought Clarence a lawn chair to sit on while he guarded his son’s body.

• Meanwhile, Fitz (Tony Goldwyn), David and Cyrus (Jeff Perry) decided they could likely use the 25th Amendment to replace Andrew (Jon Tenney) without having to impeach him. Fitz promised Mellie (Bellamy Young) he’d choose a weak, boring VP so she could shine while running for president next term, but Cyrus steered him toward the New Mexico governor, a Republican Latina who posted a video online denouncing Brandon’s murder and the police stand-off with Clarence.

• After Marcus leaked the identity of Jeff to the media, the police chief cordoned off the press from the crime scene and the cops put on riot gear. Infuriated, Olivia quit the job and crossed over to the other side of the yellow tape, joining the demonstrators to chant, “Stand up, fight back, no more black men under attack.” In other words: Black lives matter.

• Marcus and Olivia convinced Clarence to let them touch his son’s body to see if he really did have a weapon in his pocket when he was shot, and, sure enough, they discovered a knife lying beneath his corpse. Clarence broke down, aiming his rifle at them and shouting, “He doesn’t carry a knife! He doesn’t carry a knife!” Sure enough, Huck (Guillermo Déaz), Quinn (Katie Lowes) and Jake discovered the shadow of a man sitting in Jeff’s patrol car before the shooting.

• Olivia accused Jeff of finding the knife on that suspect and then planting it on Brandon’s body, and he cracked, confessing that he did it in a frustrated, impassioned and truly terrifying monologue about risking his life to protect “those people”: “Questioning my authority was not his right!” he bellowed. “His blood is not on my hands.” Oh, but it really, really is: Brandon was simply reaching for a receipt proving he had bought, not stolen, the cell phone when Jeff pulled the trigger. He got charged with perjury and conspiracy to obstruct justice, and David launched an independent federal investigation into the D.C. police department.

• Cyrus became furious with Mellie, thinking she’d leaked the vetting of the New Mexico governor to The New York Times after the paper called for comment on the fact that she owned a prison in her constituency. Total Mellie move, but nope: Fitz admitted he’d sabotaged the plan to please his wife, who ultimately chose former Pope & Associates client and new Virginia Senator Susan Ross (Artemis Pebdani) – a passionate, rambling politician with a big heart but bad foot-in-mouth syndrome – as the new VP.

• In the episode’s most poignant scene, Olivia took Clarence to the Oval Office after he could finally leave his son’s body and was promised he wouldn’t be charged with any crime. The grieving father collapsed in the president’s arms, crying; Fitz was probably thinking of his own child, little Jerry, who was torn from the earth too early simply because of who he was.

Best Quotes

• “You’re not getting your black card validated today.” –Marcus, to Olivia

• “The fact that they stand in groups and say things you don’t like does not make them a mob. It makes them Americans.” –Olivia

• “… Take genital warts.” –Susan
“Let’s not.” –Mellie

• “I mean, no offense, but your job is the worst job in the entire world.” –Susan, to Fitz

Questions for Next Week

• Will Fitz successfully replace the VP, and could Susan steal the spotlight from Mellie in the end?

• How will everyone’s actions while trying to free Olivia come back to haunt them?

• Is Olivia really over her trauma?

This Thursday, We’re Team …

Jake. Fitz and Mellie were on the same page for the first time, like, ever, and it’s nice to see them working as a team. Olivia didn’t really have time for either guy while fixing this week’s incredibly dark crisis, but Jake seemed genuinely concerned about her going back to work too soon and being overwhelmed by the intensity of the case.

Scandal airs Thursdays (9 p.m. ET) on ABC.