It's #ScandalThursday! The third season of ABC's Scandal, a Shonda Rhimes-produced drama starring Kerry Washington as a Washington crisis fixer, returns tonight. Which means your Twitter feed is about to explode. People you otherwise admire and respect, people who usually have intelligent things to say about pop culture and foreign affairs, people who just the other day were saying insightful things about the Breaking Bad finale, will start tweeting nonsense about gladiators in suits putting on white hats. Meanwhile, you'll just sit there wondering why people are so obsessed and, more importantly, how you can get in on the action.

As the Los Angeles Times said, "This is the show that Twitter built." Scandal went from a tepidly reviewed, underwatched midseason dud to one of the most popular shows on ABC, and the highest rated scripted drama among African Americans, thanks in part to the rabid fan base tweeting about the show. If you've spent that last year and a half hiding from Twitter on Thursday nights, then this guide — to Scandal and how to tweet about about it — is for you.

First things first, what is Scandal?

Scandal stars Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope, a D.C. fixer and former campaign manager for the current president, Fitzgerald "Fitz" Grant (Tony Goldwyn). It's loosely based on the life of Judy Smith, who was former President George H.W. Bush's Deputy Press Secretary, and went on to form her own consulting firm. (Some of her past clients include Monica Lewinsky, Kobe Bryant and Paula Deen.)

Olivia runs Olivia Pope & Associates, a team of lawyer types with murky back stories and questionable morals. They call themselves gladiators, because that's what you are when you work for Olivia Pope, a warrior in a suit. She hires people she's saved, who are all emotionally damaged and indebted to her. When Quinn Perkins, whose shady past eventually inspired the #WhoIsQuinn hashtag, is hired to join OPA, her future co-worker Harrison gives her the gladiators speech

Is Scandal based on real-life events? Is the president based on Obama?

Kinda. The show draws from a lot of familiar political scandals, but President Fitz is a white Republican (and his wife, Mellie, is nothing like Michelle). Though Republican, he's moderate — his chief of staff is a gay man, for example. Kerry Washington only agreed to do the show if there was no similarity to Obama, whom she campaigned for. That's because — and this isn't really a spoiler — Olivia's been having an on-again-off-again affair with Fitz since she joined his campaign. 

Then again, Olivia — along with Fitz's wife Mellie, his chief of staff Cyrus Bean, a Supreme Court justice and a crazy Texas big wig named Hollis Doyle — rigged the presidential election for Fitz. And a presidential election being rigged for a Republican candidate is something we've heard before.

WHAAAAAAAT?

See, look, you're already talking like a Scandal fan. 

This show sounds crazy!

It is! It'd be impossible to tell you about every storyline, even just the major ones, but here's what you absolutely need to know for tonight: 

  • Fitz, as in the President of the United States of America, smothered a Supreme Court justice (one dying of cancer) in her hospital bed, to keep her from spilling the beans about the election rigging. 
  • Olivia and Fitz broke up (hopefully forever, because they're kind of annoying at this point), partially because she found out he's a murderer (though that wasn't the deal breaker).
  • The last time Fitz and Olivia broke up, Olivia briefly started seeing a Pentagon employee named Jake, until she found out he was spying on her (and had a creepy wall of TV screens showing scenes from her apartment) and was only there because the president wanted him to protect her. There's more to his story, but just know he's the Jacob to Olivia and Fitz's Bella and Edward and the fans don't like him.
  • There's also an Olivia/Jake sex tape out there. The President has seen it.
  • Someone (possibly, but most likely not, Fitz's wife) outed Olivia as the President's mistress at the end of the season 2 finale.
  • We found out that the head of a super secret government program called B613 — a guy who's been trying to assassinate Olivia — also happens to be her father
  • Defiance — the county where Olivia and co. rigged the votes, and also the code name for that debacle — has been "handled." That's a Scandal phrase, by the way, "it's handled." 

Okay, I feel kind of caught up. But how do I tweet about all of this?

Hashtags, hashtags, hashtags.

There's #AskScandal, which is the main "OMG let's live tweet Scandal" hashtag. The cast uses it to answer questions about the show, and also just fawn over it. Kerry Washington is very into #AskScandal:

Yes, acclaimed actress Kerry Washington uses multiple exclamation points and says "LOL" on Twitter and it's great. You can subscribe to the entire Scandal cast and crew here.

#Gladiators = People who watch and are obsessed with Scandal

#ScandalHeads = Another term for Scandal fans. Sounds even dumber than Gladiators.

#TheSecretIsOut = Everyone knows Olivia is the President's mistress. Think about it. How well did that turn out for Monica Lewinsky?

#ScandalThursday = When Scandal shows it's a live event. Use this the way you'd use a major holiday. As in "I already know what I'm having for #Thanksgiving dinner." But:

(Some background: Olivia Pope only consumes popcorn and wine.)

As you watch, also be on the lookout for plotline related hashtags, like #WhoIsQuinn, or tweets of "ZOMG" lines, like #youwantmeearnme. If all else fails, tweet about how gorgeous Olivia's outfits are. There are entire slideshows devoted to her suits.

This seems like too much work. But someone did tell me that famous people tweet about Scandal.

Yes. Retta from Parks and Recreation is a big fan:

So is Girls creator is Lena Dunham:

Even CNN's Don Lemon:

Well, as I always say, if Don Lemon is on board, I should be too.

Welcome to the club.

(Photo via ABC.)