Scandal : The Romanticization of Dysfunctional Relationships

SCANDAL - ABC's 'Scandal' stars Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope. (Craig Sjodin/ABC via Getty Images)
SCANDAL - ABC's 'Scandal' stars Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope. (Craig Sjodin/ABC via Getty Images)

With Season 4 of Scandal soon coming to a close, I have some thoughts to share. Let me start by saying, I'm a big fan of the show and an even bigger fan of Olivia Pope -- I love her intelligence, her strength and her outfits, among many other qualities. And I'm not even going to get started on my love for Shonda Rhimes, because I could go on and on. However, in the first half of the season, which I will call the "pre-abduction" half, I found myself feeling really disappointed in the show as a whole. Season 4 started with some bad writing and acting for all of the characters (mainly Abby and Quinn), some pretty lame plot twists (which improved drastically "post-abduction"), and worst of all: example after example of dysfunctional romantic relationships.

First, there's Huck and Quinn -- In episode two of this season, we're presented with a scene filled with sexual tension between them. Quinn reminds Huck of the time he pulled her teeth out as an act of torture (for the few of you who don't watch Scandal -- she was the enemy at that point, but they've hooked up many times since then). He responds by saying: "I pulled your teeth out because you couldn't mind your own business. You can never mind your own business, Quinn. And if I had to do it all again to teach you that one valuable lesson, I would." This leads them to almost kiss before they get interrupted. Right... because remembering torture is something that leads to kissing? Okay.

Next we have Quinn and Charlie -- In episode three, we witness their creepy reunion as Jake commissions Quinn for the night to retrieve information from Charlie. Jake tricks her into spending a night locked in a cage with a man who used to keep her trapped in their relationship. Charlie greets Quinn by trying to kick and hurt her. Now, while Shonda gives Quinn kick-ass dominance over Charlie as she avoids his attack, pinning him down instead, by the end of the night, she ends up making out with her aggressor on the floor. You might think to yourself: "Okay, so Quinn just has issues," and she does, but she's not the only one.

Then we have the romance that the whole show revolves around, Olivia and Fitz -- I've been sick of them and their background music since last season, to be honest. Fitz often pursues Olivia and grabs her, even when she asks him to stop; he also somehow feels that he owns her, and cannot handle the idea of her being with another man. For instance, in episode four, after telling Fitz that she left with Jake, Olivia tries touching him, and Fitz responds by grabbing her arm violently and pushing her back. Fitz is an extremely aggressive individual, and I often get scared watching his interactions with both Mellie and Olivia, but somehow the show still paints him as the victim, the "good guy," and I really don't think it is okay.

In episode eight of the season, we progress to blatant sexual violence when Cyrus discovers that his lover, a prostitute named Michael, has been using him to gain secret information on the president. In anger, Cyrus cancels his next date with Michael only to find him at his doorstep later on. Cyrus is obviously upset -- he tells Michael to bend over, and proceeds to forcefully penetrate him while pushing his face down. It is horrifying to witness. There has been discussion on fan sites as to whether or not this qualifies as a rape scene, since Michael agrees to have sex by bending over, but I believe it should be apparent to viewers that this is most definitely an example of forced and aggressive intercourse that Michael was not anticipating, and did not agree to.

The final example I want to discuss is the sex tape scandal with Fitz and Mellie's daughter. In a dramatic scene where Fitz asks his daughter if she was raped, his daughter replies by what I at first considered a sexually empowered answer: "What they did to me? What about what I did to them?" but as the episode progressed, I developed a discomfort with this as well. We later find out that his daughter is so intoxicated during the taping of the sex video that she cannot even remember who she slept with; meaning, she was far too intoxicated to give consent. So, how's about we find other ways to empower these female characters that do not perpetuate rape culture?

The examples I've posed are only a few of the many -- there were also weird things happening earlier on with Jake constantly saying: "I'm not your boyfriend, Olivia," and disrespecting her, or Fitz's overall treatment towards Mellie (don't even get me started on these two). So overall, I was extremely disappointed in the "pre-abduction phase," and I hope that some of these relationship plots begin to change. I mean, Columbus Short was fired for being allegedly abusive to his wife, and even though his character is now dead, these episodes are in bad taste.

It also concerns me that because these moments of tension are subplots to the larger narratives, they can often go overlooked and simply accepted, but they shouldn't. While I am very aware that the whole show is messed up, and that it isn't meant to be reality, I believe viewers should be aware of the potential consequences of constantly seeing such dysfunctional relationships and coming to accept them in the show, and maybe even in real life. Having said all of this, the "post-abduction" phase of the show has at least brought back the intriguing plot twists that have kept me watching, and has reduced some of the control the male characters have over some of the women, with Olivia declaring she is on her own, for instance.

So, I will end by saying that I'm still a fan of the show because I still believe Shonda Rhimes to be an incredible creator, writer, director and producer who often disrupts the norms and challenges her viewers. I just think she could do a better job with this problematic pattern moving forward.