While other shows desperately attempt to capture the hearts—and most importantly the views of audiences as soon as possible—”Scandal” has blossomed as beautifully as a bottle of fine Pinot Noir, developing more body and flavor with each episode. Partially based on the real life of D.C power player Judy Smith, the political drama centers around Olivia Pope—a highly successful and influential problem fixer played perfectly by actress Kerry Washington. Equipt with a formidable shot of tenacity and a dedicated team of five exceptionally scarred, yet devoted souls, Pope leaves a highly-esteemed job as the White House Communications Director to set up her own crisis management firm, Olivia Pope and Associates. New television shows often have very short shelf lives, yet when you’re Shonda Rhimes—the brilliant creator behind the ABC hit drama “Grey’s Anatomy”, your show is probably given a bit more room to breathe.
Last Thursday’s mind blowing episode “The Trail” clearly demonstrated just how spectacular a show can become if given just a bit of time and patience. But, what exactly is it about “Scandal” that has made this highly-anticipated drama so damn intoxicating?
For one, Kerry Washington has been cast perfectly for the role of Olivia Pope, the first Black female protagonist to lead a major network drama since 1974’s Blaxploitation crime-series “Get Christie Love!,” starring Teresa Graves. Gender and race both take center stage in “Scandal”—albeit in very different ways. Similar to “Grey’s Anatomy,” race plays second fiddle to sex and gender in “Scandal,” as the racism that the exceptionally brilliant characters of color like Pope and Dr. Bourke undoubtedly faced on their rise to the top is never mentioned. Rhimes prefers instead to leave this glaring omission as is, making race the obvious elephant in the room. This omission seems to be more true to real life than any explicit discussion on racism and institutional racism that were to take place between characters. On the other hand, being that “Scandal” is, in fact, a television show, there is much more opportunity for innovative explorations into matters of race—which we will hopefully see more of in the series’ second season, recently renewed by ABC.
Then there is also the matter of sex. Rhimes’ greatest claim-to-fame might be her knack for creating electrifying chemistry between two star-crossed soul mates. First came Meredith and McDreamy, the breakout relationship in “Grey’s Anatomy,” and now we have Pope and Fitz, the married President of the United States of America. One of the few interracial relationships on television—particularly in which a Black female is paired a White male—Pope and Fitz create such radiating sexual tension that their blatant yearnings alone buoyed the series when the series proved to get a bit out of hand in terms of over-the-top storylines or writing. The presence of the First Lady—an aggressive woman who seems to want the best for her husband in one moment and herself in the other, only makes the guilt of rooting for Pope and Fitz’s impossible relationship all the more pleasurable.
Without giving too much away, last week’s episode—which focused primarily on the history of Pope and Fitz’s relationship seemed to tip those viewers still unsure of series onto the side of complete fascination with the series or complete skepticism. Ultimately, perhaps what makes Pope and Fitz so great to watch is their blatant disregard for political and social realities when it comes to matters of the heart. They simply seem to float away into their own stratosphere where only they exist, providing one of the best escapes on modern television.
As for the entire cast of “Scandal,” inner conflict is key. A story is only as great as its characters, and characters are only as great as their human flaws—and there are plenty in this series. Pope’s razor sharp intellect and accurate gut often lead her to taking on questionable clients that others wouldn’t dare to represent—like D.C’s most reputable brothel owner—a ruthless South American dictator, and an ultra-biased conservative army veteran. When the perpetually perplexed newcomer Quinn asks whether Olivia Pope and Associates are the “good guys or bad guys,” Harrison promptly responds that Pope is neither, but instead “the best guy;” and herein lies the brilliance of “Scandal.”
There is no good or bad, no black or white, just a messy gray area filled with people doing what they believe is best for themselves and their country. Imperfections run wild amongst the characters in “Scandal” and yet each individual illuminates their scene, not in spite of their scars but precisely because of them. Hating any of the characters proves difficult even when they behave in ways that make our skin crawl or tempt us to cast the first stone in judgment. They show us that nobody is perfect, not even Olivia Pope, and that we all could use a little fixing.
Patrice Peck explores the complex intersection of culture, entertainment, race and gender as a freelance writer and multimedia maven. Follow her words, flicks and pics on Twitter @SpeakPatrice and visit her Tumblr for more of her work.