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Scandal Making Bold Statements About Women

November 9, 2014

Scandal is making bold statements about women on season four of the hit ABC show from Shondaland, and it is magnificent to behold.

The show has never shied away from sex, but much of the series has dealt with Olivia’s (Kerry Washington) inability to extract herself from her highly emotional and sexual relationship with the President, Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn). This season starts off in a different context, with Olivia and Jake (Scott Foley) on a deserted island beach, where it’s pretty clear that he fingers her. This sexual dynamic continues throughout the season (at least until Jake gets thrown in prison by Fitz), with sex being used playfully and as a powerful tool between the two. There is one moment where Jake balks at the idea of being summoned by Olivia, so she shows up wearing only a trenchcoat and tell him that if she wants to summon him, then she will. She then takes off her coat, standing naked before him and tells him: “Come here.” He does, and it’s amazing.

Sex is power, and even though Olivia stands firm with Jake instead of Fitz, last week’s episode gave us a hint of hers and Fitz’s chemistry as he teases her over the phone. He tells her that he would take off her clothes so that he can see her, then start from the bottom, working his way up until she’s begging to be kissed, and only then would he kiss her, so she could taste herself. It’s incredibly graphic, and incredibly hot, and Olivia feels it too as Fitz essentially leaves her with blue balls when he hangs up on her shortly thereafter.

What is fascinating to me about this is the contrast between women’s sexual issues on the show vs. women’s social issues. In the season premiere, Olivia chose to stay in DC so that she could fight for a woman who was about to be vilified for fighting off her sexual attacker, a senator, starting off the season with a strong statement about what is important to her.

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Then we get to Mellie (Bellamy Young), the First Lady who is doing nothing but walking around in sweatpants, eating cereal and drinking because she’s in mourning. But being the First Lady, it doesn’t take long for the media to start calling her crazy and trying to make her look like she’s lost it. The show makes a great statement about her deserving to grieve in whatever way she sees fit, as she has lost a son. Over the course of the season thus far, several moments lead her back to who she was, including a potential scandal concerning her daughter and the revelation that her son was murdered. The Mellie we knew and loved is back, but while she was “Smelly Mellie”, we got to see a side of her we’ve never seen, an all too honest representation of what grief looks like.

Speaking of her daughter and grief, in the show’s fourth episode of the season, Olivia is called to shut down a scandal involving the First Daughter, Karen (Mary Mouser), who has been filmed having a drunken threesome with two young men after ditching her boarding school. Olivia manages to get the video shut down, but the great conversation that comes out of the situation is that if Karen were a man, people would be congratulating her on having a sex tape with two women, but because she is a woman with two men, she is slut-shamed and chastised. This is a hot button issue in the country right now, as more and more women are speaking out against catcalling and slut-shaming in general, especially surrounding the subject of rape. And it nicely contrasts Olivia’s own experiences on the show, given her very sexually charged relationships with the two men in her life.

Back to Mellie, she is visited by a former First Lady, who complains that while her husband was screwing his secretary for eight years, she was actually the one running the country, but will never be recognized for it. This is yet another step on the road to recovery for Mellie, as she continues to get her fight back, and who knows? Maybe we’ll see Mellie run for the highest office in the land if the show continues long enough to see the end of Fitz’s second term.

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Meanwhile, Abby (Darby Stanchfield) is the Press Secretary for the White House now, but thanks in part to Olivia, she can’t seem to get any respect from her Commander in Chief. He repeatedly calls her Gabby and doesn’t really take anything that she has to say into account. When she confronts him about the Jake Ballard situation, he goes to Olivia about it and calls Abby a bitch. In a moment that could have been hokey but gets turned around really beautifully, Olivia calls him out on it, making a outright statement about the terms used to refer to women. When she gets him all riled up, he asks her, “Why are you being such-” and she cuts him off with: “A bitch?” And then he leaves. Point to Olivia.

But Abby’s story doesn’t stop there. Her ex-husband, Chip (Michael Trucco) gets an endorsement for the Senate from the President, and it nearly shuts Abby down. She vomits on herself, pulls a gun on Chip when he tries to intimidate her, and generally freaks out. When Olivia tells her to tell her story from the White House Press podium, Abby brings up an amazing and articulate point: Then what? She’d become Linda Tripp or Monica Lewinski or any of the dozens of women that have spoken out against men in power, then disappeared forever.

Whether it’s sex, politics, power, abuse, rape, Scandal is speaking out about women’s issues and it is exciting and compelling to watch. Even though the winter hiatus will be soon upon us, I can’t wait to see what other issues show creater Shonda Rhimes is going to tackle as the season continues.

Scandal airs on Thursdays at 9pm on ABC.

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