Scandal Season 5 Episode 9 recap

Well. Scandal comes on at 9pm, between Grey’s and HTGAWM. As a block in a night of television, it’s the second act. But last night’s episode was, of course, a showstopper in its own right.

Is there anything as disconcerting as Olivia Pope off the top of the episode? It’s not just that her red dress isn’t like her, it’s little-girly. In fact, this whole opening sequence shows us what a little girl Olivia is being made to be. Her dresses are set out for her, she only talks to nice people about silly things, and she does what she’s supposed to. In fact, her red dress is an echo of the red dress we see on one of the schoolgirls in the previous scene.

Because she lives with Fitz now. That’s what’s required. Sit with that a second.

Now consider Mellie Grant, who lived with and under Fitz for so many years. Consider what happens. After a scant few months in office, she knows she cares enough to filibuster for sixteen hours, in a direct homage to Senator Wendy Davis who filibustered to prevent Planned Parenthood from being defunded.

Now, think about Fitz and Cyrus. They watch Mellie, snorting that she won’t be able to do it – in this case, hold her bladder. They’re expecting her to wet herself. Like a little girl. They don’t expect her to be able to see what she does through. They underestimate her constantly.

But Mellie’s a grown woman. She doesn’t wet herself. She maintains her dignity and her principles, and protects women’s health care, because it’s important to her. As a Republican, as a woman. Unlike Olivia, when Mellie wears red, she’s in control. Did you know that every single figure she cited was real? Like real in the U.S., real.

And so, all on her own, after ‘losing’ everything she had—her husband, the White House, her ‘name’—she becomes a woman who stands on her own two feet. Creating her own place in history. Spending Christmas with her children.

Now, for Olivia. This episode aired on International Men’s Day. Remember that, as you watch Fitz turn on her the second she isn’t what he wants her to be. The identical second he doesn’t get what he wants, it’s all her fault.

“Something came up”, she says, and he screams immediately that she’s lying. Is that how you treat an adult you respect? She takes the words out of my mouth, talking about feeling like a hostage in the White House. He immediately shouts that she’s “worse than Mellie”.

And do you know what Olivia says?

“She did this part. I didn’t have to. I didn’t have to be everything.” This is feminism.  Realizing that you don’t see all of what other women go through until you walk in their shoes. Realizing that what you think you know is so paltry and slim until you’re in it. That all the ‘love’ in the world isn’t necessarily enough – it also has to work in the real world. You can see it in the fantasy Olivia and Fitz used…some place in Vermont where they would make jam…someday. It’s not a realistic dream. It was never coming. 

Part of what was so hard for Olivia is that it wasn’t hard. It was phenomenally easy to move her into the White House, to have her doing interviews and leading tours. It was so easy for her to become the thing she thought she could never be: Mellie. Irrelevant. If you’re the other woman, you get to see yourself as the antidote to all her mistakes and shortcomings. But when there’s no ‘other’ woman, it’s just you. Realizing that maybe you don’t want to be everything to everyone.

So. Knowing what we know.

In an episode about protecting women’s health, Olivia makes a grown woman’s choice for herself. She has an abortion, one of the many services Mellie was fighting to keep accessible for every woman, because it is the right decision for her. She doesn’t explain or apologize, because it is a choice that belongs to a grown woman.

That should be the end of the conversation, but let’s indulge ourselves a little more.
If she’d been pregnant with his baby, her autonomy would be further gone. Because there are fewer choices for a woman who is in an unstable situation, who is a single mother, whose job situation is precarious. Where the father of the child is volatile. All of those qualities apply to Olivia, and that’s before we even consider whether she wanted to be a parent, which she has never indicated.

Shonda Rhimes is such a powerful advocate, a staunch supporter of Planned Parenthood, and one of the many things she has done for the debate over safe and legal abortion is to point out that responsible, well-off, educated people also need access to them. Olivia Pope is this person. Which is precisely the same reason why it’s going to be controversial.

The other thing that will be controversial is the use of ‘Silent Night’ as we watch Olivia, resolute in her decision, getting the procedure. It’s dramatic, but Scandal has been contrasting drama with upbeat music as long as it’s on the air. And there’s the voiceover from Eli Pope that finishes as we begin to understand what Olivia’s doing.

“Family is a burden. Soft tissue. An antidote to greatness,” Eli spits. Don’t take that as what Shonda’s saying here. In fact, hear it more accurately, as the cold way that people who oppose women’s reproductive freedom think pro-choice people talk. Remember that it’s coming from the mouth of the most evil man on the show.

Instead, look more closely at what Huck says, when Eli points out that he’s unstable. “By staying away”, Huck says, “I’ve been a good father.”

So almost everyone goes home to the holidays, alone. Thinking about why they’re alone, and what that means (only Quinn gets a reprieve, from her cute sadist shoplifting boyfriend). Olivia gets a new couch, much more resistant to stains. You might say it’s a more realistic couch. One that understands that things happen.

But she has things to think about, too. “You were unavailable before,” she told Fitz. “You liked me unavailable,” he returns. Maybe that’s true. Maybe screaming that her father loved her is true, strictly speaking, but it’s not an advertisement for anything healthy. And making a decision to end something that isn’t working—that is, her relationship with Fitz—is her prerogative. Her choice to make.

And now we move forward.

Attached - Kerry Washington at the WWD And Variety Inaugural Stylemakers' event last night in Culver City.