Scandal's Olivia Pope Is Many Things, But She Is NOT A Role Model

The star of the runaway hit show Scandal is brilliant, dynamic, sleek, chic and discreet - but I don’t look up to her. You shouldn’t, either.
Publish date:
October 3, 2013
unpopular opinion, scandal, olivia pope

Confession: I’m addicted to "Scandal."

And not just ‘cause I’m a Black woman, aged 18-45, in America, and it’s, you know, the law. I’m a snob with my pop culture intake, so when I say that something on that flailing medium dinosaur that we call network television is a good show, believe it. It is a really, really good show.

I expected no less from television genius (and fellow Capricorn) Shonda Rhimes. Everything she touches turns to entertainment gold, and "Scandal" is no exception: Set in Washington, D.C., the critically-acclaimed drama is centered around the character of Ms. Olivia C. Pope (exquisitely rendered by the very talented Mizz Kerry Washington), her crisis management firm Olivia Pope & Associates (where everyone’s a lawyer, but no one practices law - more on that later) and the firm’s well-financed ongoing battle to keep the messy and often tawdry lives of important and powerful public figures unharmed and untarnished.

The dialogue is everything I like my shows to be: smart, sharp, fast-paced and engaging. The plots are absorbing and believable, and the subplots are just as interesting and textured. The ensemble cast’s performances are tight; everybody consistently hits their marks, and owns their characters. It’s the most gorgeous kind of entertainment synergy, and thanks to all that snap-crackle-and-pop there is not a single episode of the show that is boring.

Did I mention Ms. Pope’s sexing Fitzgerald Grant, III, the current President of the United States... who she helped steal an election for? It’s worth noting!

Also worth noting: The (White) President (who is White) is married (and very White). To this chick.

Shades of Sally Hemings, right? And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, folks. Scandal is a vast, intricate, churning morass of lies, conspiracies, plots, intrigue, lies, cover-ups, blackmail, murders, and then some more lies - with Pope & Associates always smack dab in the middle of it all. Is your head spinning yet? Hang on. Behold the walking, impeccably turned-out contradiction that is Olivia Pope.

1. She’s sleeping with a married man. Not just a married man, but arguably the country’s PREMIERE married man. Now, it’s not exactly an illicit affair - First Lady Mellie is fully aware of what’s going on between her husband, Fitz, and Olivia. In fact, from time to time she is unsettlingly enthusiastic about the arrangement, rationalizing once to Olivia (!) that they are all on “Team Fitz” and everyone - herself, Olivia, and Cyrus (the President’s Chief of Staff and sometimes friend and confidante), has a role to play.

2. She does drunk (on red wine and feelings) dialing like nobody else. Olivia’s a competent, confident, blazingly intelligent, supernova of a woman. She didn’t get to be where she is by being anybody’s damn fool. Right? Right. Then HOW come every time we turned around she was on the phone with the President? Late night calling, snuggling under the covers, teenage bullshit? He is the leader of the free world! The last thing we all need is for him to be crafting policy and writing speeches with a boner!

And can we discuss how the late night chitty chats continued, even after we all learned that the phone in the Oval Office is bugged? Olivia. OLIVIA! Girl. Get it together!

3. She has no clear set code of ethics. She states, from the outset and periodically throughout the show in case we all forgot, that she is apolitical. Now, as I am passionately political and very invested in social justice, I’m not sure how that works, but I’d be willing to accept it. I mean, if Pope’s behavior wasn’t so often completely divorced from any real, basic understanding of right and wrong, and if her ethical compass didn’t shift so abruptly depending on who the client of the moment is.

In two seasons, I have watched Olivia and crew clean-sweep murder scenes, rig a presidential election for her lover, ruin political figures, and otherwise destroy lives - all in service of a Bigger Picture that only Olivia can see, and that no one ever gets a clear explanation of.

Doing the “right thing” - the just, correct, fair thing - isn’t her primary concern. In fact, when a crisis is wrapped up in a morally satisfying manner by episode’s close, it’s a happy accident that Olivia somehow maneuvered into existence - with her brilliant mind, incisive vision, and...apolitical vagina.

I’m a person of action, so there is always a part of me that admires Olivia’s commitment to her job, but a lot of that job is just sickening. Like, it’s literally gross. And having watched her wrestle emotionally and morally with both her job and her love life, I know it’s not just me.

4. What’s with the “no crying” policy? Olivia has a strict “no tears” policy for her staff at Pope & Associates (and they REALLY have some things to cry about), but every time I look around, she’s fighting crying? I Olivia. Girl, if you want to go ahead be contrary for fun and for cardio, do you, but try not to be a hypocrite. Dang!

5. Everybody at Pope & Associates is a shelter rescue. We’ve got a former inside trader who Olivia got out of a long prison term by the skin of his teeth, an escaped former battered political wife who was similarly swooped off to safety, a chick with two names running from the law who Olivia gave a new lease on life for reasons that only now are clear, and...Huck.

Mind you, I love Huck, but he’s the scariest office mate ever. Huck has been described as someone “you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley.”

I wouldn’t wanna meet Huck in broad daylight for coffee. Can you imagine accidentally taking his lunch from the fridge? *shudders* Nawl. Someone’s gonna have to have a serious sit-down with Ms. Pope about her hiring policy.

6. Olivia goes with her heart at all the wrong damn times. There’s no denying that Fitz and Olivia love each other. Passionately, deeply, painfully. Against all odds and frequently, as Cyrus is fond of pointing out, against all sense.

But hey, don’t take it from me. During an off-again period with Fitz (there’s a lot of those), Olivia rekindles a romance with ex-boyfriend (Senator!) Edison Davis. I’m a sensible girl, so as far as I’m concerned, Edison’s pretty much got it all together in the relationships department. He’s smart, sexy, sincere, straightforward, sweet, stable, solvent, steady and SINGLE.

We have a clear case of “Winner Vs. Chicken Dinner” here, and any girl with half the sense God gave a pair of elegant daytime gloves would snap this man up in a second. So, Edison proposes. And this is what Olivia says: “I don’t want normal and easy and simple. I want painful, difficult, devastating, life-changing, extraordinary love.” Awww. That’s real sweet, Olivia. Now I need for you to wake up and smell the reality. Puberty ended twenty years ago.

I obviously adore this show, and I’m going to watch until it gets stupid. And I love Olivia because she’s awesome. She is, she’s amazing. Beyond being a powerhouse and an ace in her field, she’s a complex, contradictory character: smart but laughably unwise, young but an old soul, focused but conflicted, strong and yet achingly, heart-wrenchingly vulnerable.

But is she someone to look up to? No. Even the woman she’s based on would probably be hard-pressed to make that argument. But she’s someone you can’t quite get a fix on, someone you wanna watch over and watch out for. She’s someone you never forget. That’s a hell of a thing to be.