Some of my favorite Scandal episodes are the ones in which we dig into the back stories of the characters and find out how they came to be the sick, sordid individuals they are now—like when we found out that Cyrus Beene was once married to a woman, or that Huck had a wife and a son. Well, this week’s Scandal episode could have been titled, “Becoming Jake Ballard.”
Through a series of flashbacks, we learn that Jake was actually born Pete Harris, the son of a father who beat Pete’s mother and raped his sister, who eventually hanged herself after aborting her father’s child. Then Olivia Pope’s father, Rowan, aka Command, coerced Jake-Pete into joining B613 by exploiting his daddy issues and promising him that, unlike his father, Rowan would never hurt him. After a period of breaking Jake down through violence and psychological warfare as well as a stint in “the hole,” Rowan required Jake to kill his father as a final rite of passage into B613. And that is how Jake and Rowan arrived at their twisted, present-day, father-son dynamic.
The latest in a series of burdensome requests that Rowan has asked of Jake over the past 20 years is to marry Washington, D.C., attorney-socialite Vanessa Moss. Olivia, who has been camped out at her father’s house in her childhood bedroom pretending to be recovering from killing Andrew Nichols just a few weeks before, is trying to figure out why, exactly, her father wants Jake to marry Vanessa. Well, Olivia needs to get to the bottom of this quickly because her father has moved up Jake and Vanessa’s wedding to the coming Saturday, inviting 600 people and hiring publicists to tout the event as the “wedding of the decade.”
Olivia knows that she is Jake’s kryptonite, so she, like her father, exploits Jake’s weaknesses. She pretends to be drunk and vulnerable until she gets Jake to confess that he’s only marrying Vanessa because Olivia’s father wants Jake to run as vice president on Sen. Edison Davis’ ticket. His marrying an attractive, well-regarded socialite like Vanessa would help strengthen the ticket’s chances. However, Jake confesses that he doesn’t love Vanessa. He says he’ll never love anyone as much as he loves Olivia.
Olivia tells Jake that he can’t marry Vanessa, and after some momentary hemming and hawing, Jake and Olivia have a hot, steamy romp a couple of nights before Jake’s wedding. Poor Jake. He’s been so icy toward Olivia for the bulk of this season. Yet when Olivia gives him the slightest glimmer of hope, he turns back into her puppy again.
Olivia thinks the best way for Jake to get out of having to run for vice president is to jilt Vanessa at the altar in front of their 600 guests, thereby shattering his image as a man worthy of the White House. Huck asks Olivia if she’s sure she wants to go through with this plan, and Olivia replies, “I want to be happy. I’m ready to be happy.”
Of course, Papa Pope is two steps ahead of Olivia, per usual. At the wedding, he lets Olivia know that he’ll slit Jake’s throat if he doesn’t go through with the wedding. And he’ll slit Jake’s throat again if she tells Jake that her father made her break his heart. Rowan explains, “I will do that because I love him, and I’d rather he be dead than mediocre. I’ve already lost a daughter. To hell if I will let what happened to you happen to my son.”
So Olivia finds Jake moments before the wedding and tells him that he should go through with the wedding after all because she has had a change of heart. Jake is certain that Rowan must have gotten to Olivia, but Olivia insists that she simply isn’t interested in Jake, and she runs down all the reasons why: 1) He was never an option for her. 2) He’s weak. 3) He’s not good enough. 4) She’s in love with Fitz. On and on and on. Her words were as heartbreaking as Scott Foley’s performance in this episode.
With no choice left, Jake says “I do” to Vanessa, and they vow to spend a lifetime together. But this episode’s title, “Till Death Do Us Part,” is not really about Jake and Vanessa’s union. It’s actually about the unhealthy yet unbreakable bond between Jake and Rowan.
Serious question: Why hasn’t anyone killed Rowan yet?
Akilah Green is a recovering Washington, D.C., lawyer-lobbyist-politico turned TV and film writer and producer living in Los Angeles. She currently works for Chelsea Handler’s Netflix talk show, Chelsea. She has also worked as a staff writer for Kevin Hart’s production company, HartBeat Productions, and as a consultant for Real Time With Bill Maher on HBO. In addition, she co-wrote and is producing Scratch, an indie horror-comedy feature film, and is a regular contributor to The Root. Follow Green’s adventures in La La Land on her blog, Twitter and Facebook.