Oh, Scandal. What a dramatic, addictive, twisty, turny and flat-out bonkers soap operatic thriller of a TV series you are. Over the course of four seasons, the Shonda Rimes-created show has hit an obsessive nerve with TV audiences, topped Nielsen’s Twitter rankings many times over, made a superstar of leading lady Kerry Washington (Olivia Pope) and sex symbols out of onetime Ghost villain Tony Goldwyn (President Fitzgerald Grant) and Scott Foley (Jake Ballard).
If you’ve never tuned in before and want to — or just want to be able to sound like you watch it — check out these 10 episodes to get caught up on all the crazy, sexy, murder-heavy drama before you settle in for Season 5.
1. “SWEET BABY,” SEASON 1
A.K.A.: The one where you meet Olivia Pope and her team of scrupulous lawyers/crisis managers
In the series’ pilot, the audience is introduced to Olivia and her “gladiators” — Pope’s affectionate term for her will-not-take-no-for-an-answer/morally questionable employees — through the eyes of new recruit Quinn (Katie Lowes). This episode sets the stage for all the lying, dying and crying there is to come. Seriously, these people will do an-y-thing to “fix” their clients’ various problems, questionable situations and scandals.
2. “THE TRAIL,” SEASON 1
A.K.A., The one where you find out how Olivia and the President met, started banging
Olivia used to work for President Fitzgerald. She is having an affair with President Fitzgerald. This episode takes the audience back in time, two years to be specific, to trace how Olivia came to work on Fitz’s campaign and how they fell in love. It is one of the series’ most sexually-charged, satisfying episodes.
3. “DEFIANCE,” SEASON 2
A.K.A.: The one where you find out how the President really won the election, ends in a shooting
Hoo boy, this episode is a delightful doozy. Like all episodes of Scandal, there are a dozen different things going on (Olivia worries about appearing in public with her new boyfriend, Quinn keeps investigating why she might be a government threat, etc.) but the big reveal here comes via intrepid reporter James (Dan Bucatinsky), who is also husband to Fitz’s chief of staff Cyrus (Jeff Perry). During an intimate, inner-circle-only dinner at the White House, Fitz recalls how his Presidential campaign took a turn toward victory after beating the poll odds in a little Ohio hotspot: Defiance County. James, following a tip about potential voter fraud, lies to his husband, visits Defiance and finds the evidence of his career: the rigged voting machine. Oh and the President gets shot at the end.
4. “WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT,” SEASON 2
A.K.A.: WTF, a.k.a., the introduction of worthy love interest Jake Ballard, Olivia’s friend/nosy former assistant U.S. attorney David Rosen is framed for murder
David Rosen (Joshua Malina) used to be a well-respected assistant U.S. attorney, until he started investigating that pesky voter fraud incident in Defiance and attracted the attention of very powerful people who silence him by getting him fired and frame him for murder. Olivia Pope to the partial rescue! Plus, we meet the mysterious Jake Ballard (Scott Foley), a man who will become a very worthy rival to Fitz for Olivia’s romantic affections.
5. “GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER,” SEASON 3
A.K.A.: The one where you learn all about Huck’s darkness and Olivia’s daddy issues
This one really has a little bit of everything: intrigue, anger, sexy times and a whole heap of emotional baggage. Worth watching (and revisiting) for a visit to the past, four years to be exact, to see how Olivia met and befriended Huck and how she’s still trying to help tame his demons. Also, you take a walk through the effed up layers of Olivia’s tumultuous relationship with Daddy Pope (Joe Morton) — lethal, too powerful and responsible for almost killing Jake — who is unceremoniously dumped on Olivia’s doorstep, all battered and bloody.
6. “EVERYTHING’S COMING UP MELLIE,” SEASON 3
A.K.A.: the one where you learn about the tragic skeleton in Mellie’s closet
Another excellent flashback episode in which you learn a harrowing secret about Mellie’s past: Fitz’s father Jerry Grant (Barry Bostwick) raped her. Adding to that shock: Olivia tells her team that Fitz is responsible for shooting down the plane her mother was on, Fitz finally finds out that B613 leader Rowan is also Olivia’s father and, gasp, that Mama Pope is very much alive and being kept in a holding cell by her husband.
7. “KISS KISS BANG BANG,” SEASON 3
A.K.A.: the one about James’ death and Cyrus’ first love
An episode that hits you right in the feels, we see the softest side of Cyrus in the wake of his partner James’ murder — at the hands of Jake Ballard, no less. (We said this show was crazy, right?) The episode’s most tear-jerking moments come from a flashback to Cyrus’ emotional coming out story and in his dealing of losing his first love. Also: Quinn and Huck’s deranged, dangerous relationship continues and David joins the effort to bring down B613.
8. “THE STATE OF THE UNION,” SEASON 4
A.K.A.: the one where Fitz, still reeling from the murder of his son, goes off script in his State of the Union speech
In the wake of the very bloody Season 3 finale, more characters than usual are dealing with the death of loved ones: Mellie and Fitz are grieving for their son, Cyrus for James and Olivia’s team for the sudden loss of one of their own. This episode is all about relationships and shifting alliances. Jake takes a stand with Olivia, refuses to wait around for her and books a hotel suite for “booty calls,” the fallout from Huck and Quinn’s brief affair continues to be chilly and the President’s still needs Olivia’s opinion for his State of the Union speech on gun control.
9. “NO MORE BLOOD,” SEASON 4
A.K.A.: the one where Olivia is kidnapped, bought and sold
This episode is an hour of intense, drawn out attempts to rescue Olivia from her kidnappers. Woah, why was she kidnapped? Watch the episode and you’ll find out, along with the fact that Liv speaks Farsi (?!). There is Huck-dealing-with-demons drama, Cyrus endorsing the go-ahead-and-kill-Olivia Plan B and unsurprisingly a dramatic rescue, which leads to a heated exchange between star-crossed lovers Fitz and Liv.
10. “YOU CAN’T TAKE COMMAND,” SEASON 4
A.K.A.: the one where a whole jury dies, Olivia chooses between Fitz and Jake
So many loose-ish ends are tied up — at least until Season 5. At long last, B613 dissolves and with it, an entire Grand Jury — the latter of which were brutally murdered, by Huck. Olivia’s team cleverly puts Daddy Pope in jail. Fitz kicks Mellie out of the White House in the midst of her victory party over winning the Virginia senate seat and finally fires Cyrus. Jake says a sweet, heartfelt goodbye to Olivia complete with “I’m in love with you but you’re in love with him,” and the episode ends with Olivia on Fitz’s balcony.