Scandal makes marriage look horrible — and I love it
Shonda Rhimes, the creative powerhouse behind Scandal, is anything but shy about her unconventional views on marriage these days. She admitted to Oprah that she really wasn't feeling the whole "till death do us part" dream. "I was able to finally stand up and say, 'I don't want to get married.' At all," she said on an episode of SuperSoul Sunday. "It's never been a dream of mine."
So it should come as no surprise that marriage isn't exactly presented in a picture perfect light on Scandal (the wonderfully soapy political thriller Rhimes created and now writes and produces, for those of you who've been living under a sad, Shonda-less rock). And despite the fact that I'm a sucker for a good love conquers all romance story (who may or may not have cried the other day while watching Patrick Swayze trying to communicate with Demi Moore from beyond the grave in Ghost), I'm really into how dark and totally twisted Scandal's relationships are. In an age when fewer and fewer people are getting married, it's refreshing — and validating for anyone who's ever had a less than rosy love life — to see a TV show embrace the dysfunctional side of relationships, showing that maybe being alone is the way to go for some.
So what does Scandal think about marriage? The show seems to stick to these rules (spoilers ahead) when it comes to characters' relationships:
1. Everyone keeps secrets from their spouse
Did your husband ask a psycho hit man to kill you then have a change of heart à la Cyrus Beene? Did your wife go behind your back and indirectly cause the deaths of 16 innocent grand jurors like Mellie did? Is the man you love actually having kinky submissive sex with a blonde Amazonian woman you think is your friend, like David was doing? On Scandal, the characters in relationships almost always seem to hide something monumental from their sig other, which makes for exciting TV because the characters never really know the people sleeping beside them in bed.
2. Both men and women cheat, but we judge women more
In Scandal's universe, both male and female characters are cheating on partners and spouses left and right. But Mellie Grant smartly points out that women are unjustly penalized for their affairs, while we tend to be more forgiving of men and have a "boys will be boys" attitude about male infidelity. "America can forgive a man a hundred infidelities, but they will never forgive a woman even one," she says.
3. The other woman isn't the enemy
Though Mellie and Olivia seem to be at odds when we're first introduced to him, it quickly becomes clear that the relationship between the president's wife and the other woman isn't at all black-and-white. In fact, Mellie even begs Olivia to come back to Fitz at one point, telling Olivia that Fitz doesn't have the will to do his job when she's not around. "He needs you, so I need you to come back to us," she says. And seeing these two strong, smart and insanely complicated female characters working together as Olivia heads Mellie's campaign this season has been one of the most enjoyable parts of Season 5.
4. The fantasy doesn't exist
Remember how empowering that scene was when Olivia refused Fitz's romantic advances, saying, “I am not the girl the guy gets at the end of the movie. I am not a fantasy. If you want me, earn me!” And as we see Vanessa's dream of a perfect Vogue-worthy wedding crumble as Jake doesn't behave like a proper fiancé, it's clear that in the Scandal world, we're probably not likely to see characters get the happily-ever-after dream anytime soon. After all, there never was any Vermont for Olivia and Fitz.
5. Marriage holds back women's careers
When both Olivia and Mellie live in the White House with Fitz, they find it hard to deal with the superficial expectations placed on them. Suddenly, these great minds wind up playing second fiddle to the man they're supposed to be in a partnership with. And who has time to advance their own career when their time gets sucked up by picking place mat settings and tracking down cookie recipes? For Scandal's female characters, relationships with men often entail making major compromises, forcing them to walk away.
6. It's not supposed to be easy
When Jake tells Fitz he's getting married, rather than congratulating him, Fitz demands to know why. "She's perfect. It's easy. That's what I'm supposed to want, right?" Jake responds. But it's clear that to these characters, easy isn't all it's cracked up to be.
7. Sometimes, you're better off alone
One of the most satisfying parts of Scandal is seeing Olivia come home after a day of running around dealing with issues of national security while shouting about gladiators and white hats, take off her shoes and pour herself a glass of red wine in her dazzlingly white apartment. For Olivia, her apartment is a refuge where she can shut out the world. And she sure makes solitude look appealing.
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