The Scandal Roundtable 2.11: A Criminal, A Whore, An Idiot, And A Liar

Hosted by Joe Lamour and Kendra James

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Well, what a difference a day (or a few hours) makes. I really want to jump right into this weeks discussion with my fabulous Scandal roundtablers, but here’s the short of it: as we saw last week, Edison in one day implied that Olivia was, as the title of the episode indicated, a criminal, a whore, an idiot, and a liar, and then backpedaled so far into “I love you!” within an hour that he should really contact The Guinness Book of World Records.

Kendra James, Jordan St. John, T.F Charlton, Johnathan Fields, Zach Stafford and Loree Lamour join me to dissect what in the world is going on.

T.F.: Can we talk about the recent discussions about Olivia Pope as a fictionalized reality TV star? A lot of people in my Twitter feed have been discussing this–sparked by this article claiming Olivia’s “no different” than the women on Love and Hip Hop or Real Housewives of Atlanta (whom the author calls “reality show chick[s]”. Setting aside for the moment the implicit respectability politics being imposed on reality TV stars who are women of color, and the serious slut-shaming of these women and of sex workers…I think this is a very, very odd comparison. It seems to not take into account at all any of Shonda’s other work, or perhaps more importantly soap operas as a genre. Olivia isn’t “just” a black “chick” behaving badly–secret affairs are a trope in soap operas, regardless of race, and in Shonda Rimes’ work specifically, she has lots of female and male characters who are cheaters. It seems to me that the only reason Olivia Pope sparks this comparison is because she’s a black woman–Meredith Grey and Addison Montgomery don’t spark the same comparisons to “reality show chicks” for similar behavior because they’re white. Male characters like Derek or George don’t get shamed at all for cheating on their partners. The whole discussion seems to me to speak to anxieties about being seen as respectable under a white gaze: no one is calling it “hypocrisy” to enjoy a character like Meredith Grey but, because of respectability politics, it becomes hypocrisy to root for Olivia Pope. (For the record, I hate Fitz and do not in any way, shape, or form root for his toxic relationship with Olivia, but again, their relationship isn’t particularly unusual for the genre).

Joe: To Mo Ivory (the writer of that article): First of all, lady, Olivia has a job. I know some of the housewives do, but implying that she is one of those ladies implies that she is like most of them and not the (very) few in those franchises who run a successful firm, or didn’t marry into money, or aren’t arrogant or entitled. I should know: I have watched every single Housewives franchise. Even the horrible DC one. I’m a terrible person–I know. At least I don’t watch any of the Kardashian shows. We’ll have to agree to disagree on the Olivia and Fitz thing, T.F., as I slowly hide away my Olitz t-shirt and red, white, and blue sparklers.

Loree: OMG Joe, Olitz. I love it! I will use it henceforth. Now back to what T.F. was saying–categorizing Olivia in the same department as the stereotypical portrayal of the Real Housewives. I have one thing to say to Mo Ivory: Haters gonna hate. To categorize a whole race of women according to what reality television deems them to be is ridiculous. Any of us are proof of an anomaly in that respect.

Joe: Maybe I’ll design some t-shirts for real, Loree! Craft weekend!

Kendra: Phaedra Parks wishes she had half as much going on as Olivia Pope. Beyond everything else, the author of this article diminishes each character/trope example she gives to its lowest common denominator. Beyond a gross mischaracterization of Olivia, Huck is not just a “thug,” and her team aren’t just “Yes Men.” The argument falls apart if one actually sits down and watches the show. And why is she acting like the reality television genre created the powerful-woman-sleeping-with-a-married-man-for-benefits idea? Has she never seen Dallas?

Joe: Or The Graduate? Or Mistresses? Or any soap opera in the past 40 years?

Zach: Also, my mouth dropped when she drew the comparison between the White House and a strip club, followed by this lovely line: “A hooker provides the same service as an escort…they just cost more and are found in different locations.”

Joe: Me…

Zach: The last time I checked, Liv isn’t summoned to the White House (well maybe a few times), but in the most part Liv takes her happy self across those gates whether she is wanted or not. This, to me, is powerful, especially since she is a black woman. She not only takes up space in places where she is told “no,” she also runs these spaces with confidence and authority. If anyone was the “hooker” in this show it would be Fitz or his staff or the White House–if we are going to look at this in stereotypical power relations and tropes of sex worker to sex buyer. And, even then, I still take offense.

Jordan: I gotta say, I get a little annoyed when people look too far down their nose at reality stars, which I felt was at the heart of this article.  As someone who works in reality TV, at this point in the reality craze everyone wants to be the biggest, loudest “character” to score their own spin off, product line, magazine cover, etc. The idea that you have any sense of what the real human being is like based on the series of produced events and interactions you see is ludicrous. Also, although I understand the point, I would argue that each one of the reality ladies has a job–being on a reality show. I would further argue that if you know her face, and certainly if you know her name and what she’s supposed to be up to–she’s actually top of her field. I’m not saying I have to like her or her chosen profession, but those women can be extremely savvy about themselves and their image. I give credit where it is due. All of that said, putting Olivia Pope in the same sentence with them is foolishness. They are different women with different hopes, dreams, methods, and aspirations. All they share is a skin color. Olivia Pope minus all her shenanigans would lose her prime place on my DVR. Also–let’s be honest–reality shows minus all the drama would fall off my DVR as well, so I don’t pass judgment on those chicks and their “performances.”

Joe: I get your point, Jordan. I apologize. However, you have to realize while reality stars do get paid to portray an over-the-top version of themselves–and, therefore, are fictional characters themselves–there’s a real person, name, and face associated with Kim Zolciak, Phaedra Parks, and company that constitute in headline after headline in real life. Comparing a “real” fictional character to a “fictional character” in a reality show is kind of like comparing apples to oranges. Are we confused yet, everyone?

Johnathan: The most prominent scene of last week’s episode for me was when Olivia brings her “countdown” realness to Edison after he calls her “the President’s mistress.” Beyonce better watch out for Olivia because she was counting down pretty hard! I started thinking about how Olivia is saved by elitism and trapped by the politics of respectability. I enjoyed @Anti_Intellect’s timeline as the show aired. He asked why some people see it as okay for Olivia to sleep with the President but what would those same people say about Joseline Hernandez? Why are certain people given exceptions because of how they present themselves or how much power they have?

T.F.: That countdown was epic. Epic! It’s been nice to see Liv get back to being fierce for a change–there’s been a lot of lip quivering and doe eyes lately.

Joe: Seriously: She really was turning into Claire Danes for a minute. I’m glad Fitz is awake now.

Zach: Johnathan, I am really glad you brought this up. I ran into a friend last night on my way to dinner and we started gushing over the show, and she told me about how excited she is that Liv, Fitz, and Mellie may be the first time we see a polyamorous relationship not shunned so quickly on mainstream television. I loved this idea because, for all intensive purposes we saw in earlier episodes–and even now–Mellie and Liv working together with Fitz in ways that challenge what we usually think of when talking about “relationship.” (Remember Mellie being “OK” with Fitz being with Liv because he slept better? She knew the T!) But, I think why we don’t automatically put a stamp of approval on Joseline Hernandez like we do Olitz has to do with context. These are wealthy, politically powered folks who already transcend how most of us imagine life. They inhabit a kind of subversive space that we can’t really see ourselves occupying in a real way (most of us, probably) which allows for these, in some ways, transgressive relationships to be fostered. The reason why Joseline is not seen the same way is because she is on a reality show where people are meant to see themselves or know someone in Joseline’s circumstance.

Shaming Joseline also has more power because she is “real,” while shaming Liv does nothing but make you look out of your depth while shouting at a fictional character. Also, the overarching difference between Joseline and Liv is racial proximity. Liv is surrounded by and within a very, starkly white setting. Joseline, not so much. Thus, that privilege is running the gamut, even for Liv.

Jordan: I do enjoy the complexity of their relationship and dynamic because we don’t see that played out often, and as stated above, when it is involves people of color it is often dismissed. It seems Mellie sees marriage first and foremost as a partnership. She and Fitz work together to accomplish their shared goals and, if another woman helps them to further those goals, Mellie is OK including her in the relationship. I think that was also part of my issue last week with Olivia’s reluctance to talk to Mellie about the man they share. Mellie was comfortable acknowledging the connection and that there was someone who was in the same boat as her in that moment, watching the man she loved and worked to support clinging to life. Olivia just shot it down. Maybe next time.

Loree: Also, sometimes I wonder why people hate Fitz so much. It must not just be because he’s cheating on his wife because as they say, “it takes two.” I’m, of course, not condoning cheating on your spouse but, if we could control human attraction and lust, then we wouldn’t have congressman leaving their seats monthly for cheating on their wives.

Zach: Amen! *claps and fans self*

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Johnathan: Immediately after Edison called Olivia “the President’s mistress,”  someone asked how that was sexist on Twitter. The term “mistress” is filled with judgment and contempt.  It makes Olivia an object: his object. Yet, I might have argued before that Olivia is the subject of this show, what do we really know about her? We’ve met Fitz’s family. Where’s Olivia’s? I have questions, Shonda!

Joe: Seriously, we haven’t heard anything about her mother, father, or any siblings–does anyone remember a quote in passing of her talking about where she’s from, or what college she went to, or anything? (If you do, leave it in the comments!) I’m drawing a complete blank.

Johnathan: Nothing!

T.F.: I think we got a little background info in whatever episode in S1 that had flashbacks to Fitz and Olivia’s first meeting. She was Cyrus’s protege. But absolutely, there’s way less personal information about Liv than about almost anyone else on the show…except maybe Harrison. Sensing a bit of a pattern here. (Shonda, give Harrison more to do!)

Joe: Columbus Short is the best at speaking really fast and therefore I cannot stand it when Harrison talks. Shonda. Please stop making people talk so fast all of the time.

Kendra: After this episode though, I think it would be fair to say this relationship goes beyond the cheating. Fitz showed some pretty despicable behaviour with the drunken elevator assault.

T.F.: And to go back to Loree’s statement that it can’t just be the cheating that makes some people hate Fitz –I agree. I hate Fitz because I think he’s abusive and has zero respect for the women in his life or their physical and their emotional boundaries. We’ve already seen him ignore Liv multiple times when she’s saying no to his sexual advances. The elevator scene just took that same behavior a step farther.

Johnathan: This episode changed the game for me. Whatever romanticized ideas I had about “Olitz” quickly ended with the sexual assault in the elevator. Prior to last week’s episode, I was unsure about the nature of Olivia and Fitz’s relationship. When did they “fall in love”? How? Were they one another’s confidantes? I was Team Olitz. After seeing how much sex (I’m sorry, some people might call this passion) drives their relationship, eh.

Joe: Pretty much for me too, Johnathan. I’m holding on for dear life to my Olitz t-shirt, but I might have to take it off and burn it if this is how it really is. I wonder if Shonda really knew the gravity of that elevator scene, considering their romantic relationship is the basis of the show. And…I know that people make mistakes but–even at their most inebriated–if one hears “no,” they should stop. This says something about the inherent nature of Fitz that really makes me uncomfortable.

Kendra: That’s one of the reasons I was so glad to see Mellie’s reaction to catching Fitz and Olivia in the elevator–was it the reaction I was expecting? No, I thought Mellie was going to deck one of them. But it was a much needed reminder (for me, at least) that Mellie used to be at least somewhat in love with Fitz. Her decisions may not have been the best throughout the episode, but they seemed to come from a good place. I feel like the show hasn’t given enough reasons for the various relationships on the show, and sometimes I find myself wondering why Mellie and Fitz are together at all. Olivia and Fitz having sex drive their relationship is more than most characters have between them.

Loree: I used to despise Mellie because Shonda basically portrayed her as a the stereotypical politician’s wife who wants her own power in the beginning–and yes she may be that–but I think she is also a victim to her environment. This episode shows us how much she loved her husband before he was elected. It also showed how Mellie trusted Olivia to the point of apologizing for Fitz’s behavior for getting handsy with Olivia in the elevator.

Joe: This definitely paints Mellie as more than “the wrong girl I met first.”

Loree: Well, call me cynical, but when I saw her “defend” Fitz I didn’t see it from a place of love for him but rather a love for winning. That’s why she goes into her little monologue about how much Fitz and she need Liv to win. Plus, connecting to my earlier point, I think this scene shows us the beginning of a polyamorous relationship between the three.

Joe: Fitz wanting a divorce is the end of that triangle, however.

Loree:  Mellie no longer has a hold of Fitz’s heart, so she wants to hold on to her power as First Lady at any cost, it seems. Also, none of the other scenes into the past made me like Mellie anymore or see her as anything besides someone who is power-hungry. She knew how much Fitz dislikes his father, but yet she still allowed him to come onto the campaign–even brought it up!–while knowing the emotional assault it would have on him.

T.F.: I’m a bit uncomfortable with calling their relationship polyamorous, given that the relationship exists against Mellie’s preferences. It’s definitely unconventional and challenging easy assumptions about monogamy, but it’s still cheating.

As for Mellie being power-hungry, Olivia also pressured Fitz to bring his dad on board despite knowing how he felt about it. So did Cyrus. I think part of the point is the deeply dysfunctional culture around Fitz’s campaign and presidency (despite all we’re told about how noble and white knight-y Fitz is). I mean, Olivia is the only one on the team who really objects to rigging the election, and even she gives in ultimately. Mellie isn’t any different; like everyone else around Fitz, she’s smart and ambitious and wants to be a player. I think Shonda has done a good job of showing the jam she’s in. FLOTUS/candidate’s wife is an incredibly restrictive role under the best circumstances, much less when your politician partner hates you and is cheating on you. (In case it’s not obvious, I’m kind of Team Mellie.)

Joe: So this episode made everyone seem more terrible than usual, basically.

T.F.: Speaking of everyone being terrible, it’s interesting that we got to see some of the campaign that so broke Fitz’s opponent, supposedly, that he turned into a man who would kill his wife’s lover under false pretexts for political gain. It didn’t seem like the campaign was that devastating!

Joe: Yeah, he just… like… lost. ::shrugs::

Johnathan: I’m dying to see what’s going to happen after Fitz asks for the divorce. #WWMD=What will Mellie do? Oh, wait. Olivia’s engaged? Drama…

Jordan: Yes I was intrigued by the proposal but felt far more receptive to it than I would have been last week. At the top of the episode, Edison does make a number of true, perceptive remarks about Olivia–despite the fact they aren’t the most flattering–but what I found an interesting choice, one that he also calls out, is that she doesn’t lie to him. She points out that he is fixated on a conspiracy and would have never thought this if she was a man. She also points out the president is awake and talking–which is now true–but she does not say, “I didn’t sleep with the president,” and she makes a point not to. Edison is also not fooled by it for a moment which says more about their relationship than anything I have seen so far. In one conversation, Edison establishes that he knows exactly who Olivia is and what she has done. Especially after looking at the flashbacks, for the first time, I think I actually understood their relationship. This was the man who reminded Olivia that he’s seen her press her hair. Edison Davis is not dazzled by fast talk and fabulous coats. He’s known this chick since back in the day, and he sees who she is–not who she wants to be perceived as. He sees she’s in deep with the president, and he’s trying to help. By the end, he’s willing to look past all that he knows happened and wants to stick by her side. Edison may not be lost in my book. I hope she really considers that proposal.

Joe: It’s observations like this that make me happy that these roundtables exist. I love you people!

Zach: I want to be flower girl at the wedding! Dibs!

T.F.: Olivia shouldn’t be marrying nobody before she learns how to love herself. Call it a bit of cheesy Iyanla wisdom, but there you go.

“I should have got it before, and I would have if we weren’t–” – I keep saying, “love” makes these people become utter shit at their jobs.

Joe: If there were this many abs (link SFW, sort of?) at my day job, I wouldn’t get anything done either.

  • stilladyj

    I KNOW. I just don’t get him. He’s a sleezeball, and not a good president at all. He’s all weak and whiny and just a creeper.