Huck is in a hole, Hollis is in the crosshairs, and Harrison is a gladiator in a suit ““ this is how you resume a show after a holiday break! – Scandal Recap: Letters, Ligature Marks, and Liars [New York Magazine]

THE DISHY D.C. political melodrama “Scandal” is back and this week’s episode was a guilty pleasure filled to the brim, even if some of the scenes were enough to make you choke along with Huck. “Scandal” was up 17% this week from its last show before Christmas.

Olivia Pope, played by Kerry Washington, who is one of the strongest, most powerful female characters ever created for television, is just one reason why. That she’s in love with a married man who happens to be the president is a mere inconvenience. After all, he loves her, too. Their dialogue has finally gotten to the stage of salty sparring this season, complete with references to Sally Hemmings and Thomas Jefferson, just in case you thought Ms. Pope wasn’t aware that loving the man she does isn’t a bit ludicrous for a woman of her magnitude.

The heart wants what the heart wants and doesn’t much care for propriety, let alone sanity, and the characters in “Scandal” aren’t exactly known for discipline. You also won’t find any Aaron Sorkin platitudes here. “Scandal” is the anti Sorkin TV drama.

Nobody is talking about the very graphic torture scenes the former C.I.A. operative Huck was put through on the air last night. The torture was a result of the attempted assassination of Pres. Grant, because Huck was believed to have orchestrated it. New York Magazine has all the details.

During the torture and intense beating of Huck, while he was being waterboarded, the conversation outside the room went like this…

U.S. ATTORNEY DAVID ROSEN: “…It really doesn’t [look like he can] take much more of the waterboarding–the interrogating. And I’m wondering maybe if we might want do a little less interrogating and maybe start thinking about his civil rights. I’m a U.S. attorney, gentlemen. I represent the United States of America. The United States of America is in this room with you. So you need to watch how you treat the prisoner on American soil.

PENTAGON SPOKESMAN: “I represent the C.I.A., the Department of Homeland Security, the Patriot Act and all the men and women who ever fought and died for your right to stand in this room with your glasses and your briefcase and spout your crap. We’re not on American soil. This is not America. This is the Pentagon and that is an enemy combatant. Son, I represent the United States, you understand? The United States of America’s in the room with you. You’re a guest here. Shut your mouth.”

Now, you can obviously argue about the caricature the conversation depicts, the stereotypical language, as well as wonder about the actual feasibility of the scene taking place as and where it does. But this is network TV that doesn’t shirk from showing the ugliest Americans. The graphic torture scenes depicted on a primetime ABC show like “Scandal” come as “Zero Dark Thirty” is released in wider distribution this weekend.

TV and the cultural response to reality is finally colliding to become an important magnifying glass on who we have been as a country in our most gravest hour and its aftermath. The verdict is ugly. That it took so long for America’s torture policy to make it into widely watched dramatic and critical relief is unsurprising since our politicians didn’t even want to deal with it when it was happening, with neither political party, Congress or President Obama interested in holding the previous Administration accountable for their policies.

Showtime’s “Homeland” has been hailed, because it is a groundbreaking cable drama about subjects our political commentators, political parties and politicians can only talk about on ideological terms, because political self-examination is not in their collective best interests.

Examining our behavior by looking at it through dramatic affect is what culture is all about and why what we see on TV, yes, that much maligned medium, TV, and in film, theater and through music, is so important.

As far as guilty pleasures go, “Scandal” delivers, and this past episode more so than usual, because it offered a glimpse in primetime of the U.S. sadist, melded with political treachery and treason. The marketing of American purity and might equals right blown to smithereens.

How they’ll deal with general election voter fraud should be a doozy.