Author: Morgan Williams
*Disclaimer: TV show, Scandal, spoilers are ahead!
Do you ever wonder what makes for a compelling character in a TV show? Specifically, what makes for a compelling female character? I mean, why do we loathe the April Kepners, but love the Blair Waldrofs? What is it about the Jessica Days that is so much more appealing than the Annalise Keatings? What do you like to see women doing on TV? Do you like to see women like you or the women you want to be? All of these questions are ones I want us all to delve into and consider when we are binge watching our latest TV series craze. This is important because we can all agree that the media is a massive influencer in society today. So the question I want us all to keep in mind while reading this is, is this who we think women really are? In addition, how do we want other people to see women? What I think is so amazing about television is that it generates real emotions and opinions over such a produced medium. It makes us question our values that we would, in any other situation, firmly stand by. It can even make us go against everything we believe in without even noticing, and I want us to ask ourselves why.
This week, the characters I want to analyze are Mellie Grant and Olivia Pope from the very popular ABC TV series, Scandal. I would, at this point, like to note that I have not finished the show yet (I’m only on season 3), but that should only play a small role in this analysis since the basis remains the same. Now, for those of you not familiar with the show, I will try to give you an unbiased description of the characters (keyword: try). Mellie Grant is a brilliant, yet diabolical, wife of the President of the United States, Fitzgerald Thomas Grant III (Fitz). She has a law degree and planned to use her degree to enact change before she became the First Lady of the United States. Calculated career move? Maybe. Her relationship with Fitz started long before he was the President and while they were happy at one point in time they no longer are. Season 1, immediately shows how loveless the marriage between Fitz and Mellie is from constant fighting to lying to betrayal on both sides. Trust me, behind closed doors these guys are a nightmare, but throw a camera in front of their faces and they look like a picture perfect couple.
Olivia Pope is another brilliant woman who has the occupation of a “fixer”, which is someone who literally fixes any and all problems people need done (from a false murder accusation to a leaked affair scandal). Basically, she is everyone’s first pick when choosing teams. Prior to her occupation as a “fixer”, Olivia was a media relations consultant on Fitz’s campaign, and later promoted to a more powerful role as his campaign manager.
Both of these women are brilliant, strong, independent, and opinionated; yet, they have one weakness. They are both in love with the same man, Fitz. Now I feel as though many, if not all, women would side with Mellie at the mention of an unfaithful Fitz. That’s just ya know, the morally correct thing to do. Right? Unfortunately for me, this show makes me feel anything but morally correct. In watching this show, that I have become so emotionally invested in, I have found myself rooting for Olivia. I have found myself rooting for the woman having the affair with this married man over siding with his clearly heartbroken wife. When I had this realization, I was shocked. I mean, I am a firm believer in fidelity and the respect you have for the person you are supposed to be in a relationship in, let alone married to. So I had a serious moment where I asked myself why I was on the side of the “other woman”. Why was I completely ok with this man blatantly cheating on his wife to a point where she has to think of these completely manic, yet genius, plans to try to get him to be faithful. I spent a full 2 seasons hating Mellie because I was so invested in this love that Olivia and Fitz had, this love that the writers and actors make so likeable, that I disregarded Mellie and her feelings entirely. Until I decided to put my foot down and attempt to see Mellie’s side. And that’s when I realized I’d been tricked. I’d allowed myself to be tricked by the amazing writers behind these characters. You see, when you are introduced to Mellie you only see her as the hardened wife of the President. You only see her post affair. Until the show continues on and flashbacks are shown of Mellie with a faithful Fitz. She is incredible. She’s smart, she’s supportive, she kind! (shocker I know) You also see what she has given up. You see her come to the juncture between her choosing the career she worked so hard to educate herself for and the more submissive, patient, “lady-like” role she would have to take on to be a politician’s wife. You see her silence after Fitz’s father rapes her. You see her endless support for Fitz as he tries to run for re-election, while still having an affair with Olivia. You see her bravery. Noted, Fitz is unaware, if not oblivious, to all the things Mellie has given up for him, including her body, but how often does the man we love not acknowledge the sacrifices we make for him. For his happiness. How often are we the bigger person, the compromiser, in the relationship. It’s both heartbreaking and inspiring. While you are seeing the true Mellie, the crazy, but somehow, completely sane Mellie, you are also seeing Olivia. Olivia, this woman that demands so much respect. A woman who many people expect so much perfection out of, and she delivers. Her flaw though, her only flaw, is that she is having an affair with a married man. It is confusing at first, why this strong woman would do an action that so harshly puts down another woman. (where’s the girl power?) How this woman who is respected by so many would compromise her integrity for this man. Then, consider Mellie. This woman who seems to be incredibly self-sufficient and incredibly put together is staying in a marriage with a man who not only treats her with enormous disrespect, but also unashamedly breaks the vows of their marriage time after time.
What do I think? I think it’s love. I think love causes us to do so many things that are so out of character for us, so out of our comfort zones. But we do it anyway because when it’s good, it’s good. Does love make it ok though? To take it further, consider if this a heartbreaking love story, or if it is another story about two women fighting over a guy and doing everything in their power to get him, including betraying each other? Personally, I think the writers of this show do a fantastic job of making Fitz look just as guilty as he should. They show his uncontrollable emotions towards Olivia, showing that he is just as powerless to his love in this situation as she is. I want to hear your opinions though! Who do you think is in the right? Is there even a right side? Lastly, do you think these women are properly portrayed or do you have issues with the way they are perceived by the public?