Like I promised before the start of the season, I have been watching Scandal in a valiant effort to become a Gladiator. The conversion isn’t really happening. I mostly enjoy reading tweets about the show and commenting on the flavor of Harrison’s gingham shirt (last night’s was purple Popsicle. yum.). I have yet to truly love the show, but I’m trying to have fun trying.
Last night, I had an epiphany about Olivia Pope. Yesterday’s episode saw her digging through a trash can for her discarded phone so she could make a late night call to her married lover. She later invited her sometime Navy ex-boyfriend to accompany her to a White House dinner hosted by her married ex-boyfriend. I fussed at Liv and told her how messy she was being. She ain’t hear me, though.
That’s when I realized what bothers me: Olivia Pope needs a girlfriend. And not just any girlfriend. Liv needs a girlfriend from Girlfriends. She needs Maya, Joan, Lynn, or Toni to swoop in and confiscate her phone on nights where her Vickies are itching to be peeled off. She needs Toni to critique her dress (which was dope), Maya to riff on her date (which was desperate), and Lynn to comically tell her that two exes in the same room is a bad idea because Lynn’s done that before. And Joan, well…Joan was never my fave.
Girlfriends, by design from even the title, superbly captured the bond between women that provides support, critique, and companionship. But Olivia Pope drinks alone. If she’s not at work, she’s in her apartment solo or with a man. For a black woman in DC, which is a Mecca of black women, I find it odd that she has no black female friends in her circle. The show is too fast-paced to portray her in relaxed, girlish scenes; unless, of course, she’s getting the slow wind from her boo. Liv is all woman with her men. But someone with an XX chromosome had to help her pick out those fly pea coats. IJS.
Scandal is far from a black-centered show (think Living Single or movies like Waiting to Exhale), but more than one black woman on a show does not a black cast make. A black female friendship would give Liv’s character a different dynamic: interaction with a person she doesn’t pay, give goodies to, fix or “handle.” Someone of equal standing she respects and trusts. Her lack of a confidante makes her a study in loneliness.
The absence of female camaraderie on the show brought to mind a larger point about portrayals of strong female leads in dramas. It seems conventional to write these women as loners with few (female) friends, to deepen the contrast between isolation and strength. Anna Torv’s character (also named Olivia) in Fringe was a solitary, all-business woman who only let down her shields…for a man (her partner). Brass knuckles Detective Olivia Benson of Law and Order: SVU (portrayed by Mariska Hargitay) is also attached to her job and her male coworker. (I only just realized all three characters have the same name. Eerie). The Olivias are powerful, yet vulnerable women.
Journalist Gene Demby tweeted this about the show last night:
#Scandal is fundamentally abt two powerful women who demean themselves and sublimate their desires for a mouth-breathing child of privilege.
— Scream Deadby (@GeeDee215) November 1, 2013
I initially agreed with him, but now, I have a different perspective. It’s not demeaning to be human in the face of complicated emotions. I can understand Liv’s merry-go-round of lovin’ that keeps her circling back to a man she doesn’t need. That’s Womanhood 101. What I don’t understand is why the most interesting woman on television has no female friends to shake sense into her. Or at the very least, shake up and help her toss back a martini. A woman with that many man problems shouldn’t have to drink alone.