Scandal: A Game Changer For Black Heroines

Kerry Washington and her fly trench coats returned last night to ABC in Season 2 of Scandal. Besides being well-written and one of the most addictive shows on television (7 million viewers are hooked), Scandal is trendsetting because of the molds it breaks in the real world. Shonda Rhimes, the black female executive producer who also brought us Grey’s Anatomy, shows the range of her brilliance and that sitcoms by black folks do not have to include buffoonery, coonery and self-demeaning images of black people.

In a beautiful example of what diversifying the cast behind the lens can do for a show, having a black producer spawned a lead black actress with Washington as Olivia Pope. She’s not just any lead actress either; she’s smart, witty, relatable, displays no cliché black women traits  and keeps her clothes on while doing her job (except for that steamy sex scene in season 1). Pope is light years ahead of any role that currently exists for a black actress in commercial entertainment.

“For a business largely populated by liberals, commercial entertainment is quite conservative,” Joe Halt, an actor who has appeared in Grey's Anatomy, N.C.I.S., Law and Order, Prison Break, told the New York Times. There might be a black doctor on the show, but the black doctor will rarely be the lead, unless it’s a black show.”

Rhimes also gives us a breath of fresh air by having Washington step out of her and society’s comfort zone. Washington usually plays the wife, girlfriend or sex kitten role, but this time she plays the role of Olivia Pope, a professional problem solver, who refers to herself as a gladiator in a suit, based on real-life celebrity and political crisis handler Judy Smith (also a sister).

Scandal is one of those shows I want to tell my children changed my generation. I want trench coats to be known as gladiator suits and the sexy lip twinge Washington does to be known as Pope-ing. She’s that good. (Full disclosure: I’m a contributing writer to ESPNW, which is owned by the Walt Disney Company. Scandal airs on ABC, also owned by Disney)

After watching just sports and ratchet reality television for about three years, Scandal has saved my television soul and brought me back to scripted television. 

In the first five minutes of Season 2 I knew a break from reality television was a wise choice.

The show jumps off by scanning back to last season where we learn that the sweet new girl, Quinn Perkins, is not who we thought she was.  She’s actually Lindsey Dwyer, aka the “Molotov Mistress”, a woman wanted by several governmental agencies for blowing up a building. Now, she is on trial facing the death penalty. The girl with the innocent intern role is just as troubled as the rest of the team.

Before Perkins/Dwyer came to the Pope Agency, she left a threatening voicemail for her boyfriend, who was messing around with a coworker. Days later, his office building blew up, killing seven employees. She wants to take a plea deal because, with the evidence stacked against her no one could win this case. Pope thinks differently.

In between the main story is the token case to keep us, and Pope’s gladiators, busy throughout the hour. Like most of the proceedings on this show, it deals with a powerful man in Washington D.C. who couldn’t keep it in his pants. This time it’s a congressman from the great state of Rhode Island who had relations in his office with a Capitol Hill hottie. Surprise! There was a spy camera in his office recording the entire ordeal. In typical fashion there’s also a multitude of other women lined up to tell the tale of sleeping with Rhode Island’s best. But in 60 minutes, Pope handles this, ties a bow on a sex scandal and makes the congressman look like a model citizen, by releasing the sex tape before the gossip web sites and instructing the congressman to use his new spotlight in the press to push his political agenda and appeal to the humanity of his constituents.

Then there’s also the matter of the annoying First Lady who is using her pregnancy to push the country and her husband to war. However, POTUS grows a pair and delivers the line of the century, telling his insanely pushy wife  “You’re opinion doesn’t matter… you’re ornamental, not functional.” Checkmate!

Going back to Perkins/Dwyer, Harrison Wright (Columbus Short) tells Pope he overheard a juror say they were going to give her the death penalty. At this point, it looks like Pope has failed and Perkins/Dwyer is going to die. However, Pope apparently has Jesus on the main line, picks up the phone (who did she call?) and everything changes.

The next day Perkins/Dwyer is acquitted on account of circumstantial evidence. Pope used her magic and once again made everything OK. The phone call she made the night before saved Perkins/Dwyer’s life but no one knows how. The sudden change of verdict even has Pope’s team giving her the side eye and suddenly not trusting her leadership.

The next scene is a flashback where we learn that Pope’s team is right to be suspicious. We find out that Pope and Huck (Guillermo Diaz), the mentally unstable hacker on Pope’s team, had something to do with the bomb. As well as Perkins/Dwyer being drugged, kidnapped and waking up in Washington D.C. with a new identity. Viewers are left guessing what is Pope’s tie to Perkins/Dwyer and the bomb. Like most things in this show, it probably has something to do with covering up her affair with the President.

After a four-month hiatus from Scandal and countless hours, and brain cells, wasted watching Love & Hip Hop Atlanta, it was nice to spend an hour with intelligent characters and a plot that stimulated my senses rather than numbed them. Shonda: thanks, girl.

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