What’s next for Season 3 of ABC’s hit drama Scandal? We don’t really know but by now for those in the reality construction business; fiction writers, film-makers, television producers, aspiring and veteran actors, culture journalists and viewing audiences too, whatever’s in store is going to continue a dialogue with Americans about who we are as a nation, a people, community and will offer edgy entertainment too. Emmys anyone?
Maybe the ancient Greeks knew best; that the most important ingredient for a thriving democracy is skillful drama. Too big of a claim for a weekly one hour drama on a commercial network? The show’s writer Shonda Rhimes and her writing team are on a roll and it’s just what writers wish for, especially when the business of art-making for post-modern television is so precarious. Historically in the business you really are no better than your last rating.
The drama is a mega-hit for more than a few reasons. Mostly because its brilliantly written and acted and the cast has ingeniously captivated much of their broad crossover audience through twitter. There are celebrity tweeters too; like Debbie Allen and Samuel L. Jackson. Former President Bill Clinton also watches the show. The drama’s season finale is the icing on the cake–lots of it and a veggie salad on the side too. It seems to capture the nation’s morale better than any single political journalist or White House analyst can these days. And too, we’re just exhausted by the daily news and especially news from the real White House. For most Americans times are shifting pretty fast and by contrast the President’s gladiatorial struggle to get critical policies moving for a final vote is revealing itself for what it is: political warfare.
In the season’s final episode as Fitz (Tony Goldwyn) and Olivia (our beloved Kerry Washington) physically, lovingly and joyfully plan their lives together as a couple (despite all the complications and implications of a President in the White House with a First Lady (Bellamy Young), they are confronted with some harsh realities about themselves. It’s the truth about others in their orbit too; who Olivia says in the final spoken scene to Fitz (the scene that breaks our hearts) those that she’s “taken too far.”
The character’s words speak volumes about where we are as a nation now. Everything has been taken too far. The economy is abysmal, our critical public education system is failing millions of kids, the country’s war budget is shameful, home-grown terrorism is surreal and climate change (all us gladiators should now have our armors on and swords in hand for this one) is a reality that’s being reported almost daily.
Yet, we watch a drama (a conflation of all our fears– our redemptions, our anger, our pleasures, our hopes, our curiosity) to ease the weight of it, the insanity and pain of a nation in crisis. We do it together and we’ve got good fighters in real communities too. And dramatically like those of the loyal gladiators (Katie Lowes, Columbus Short, Darcy Stanchfield & Guillermo Diaz) at Pope and Associates and Olivia Pope herself who at the end of this season’s run is the sacrifice for the many despite thriller genre spying, torture, mayhem and murder.
It’s also about characters who step up to their personal, civic and political responsibilities for the good. It means accepting one’s shadow and having faith that all will ultimately serve the right Goddess. This is the fixer Olivia Pope’s core character; a shining start-up with love of country, a job well done and the good guy.Yet, she’s surrounded by characters who believe that they know the world and its true workings and that any other notion is naive. Cyrus, a true political animal (Jeff Perry) says to Olivia after revealing to her the darkest of all secrets about the man she loves, “this is no romance novel.”
Remember, it’s a political thriller but is romanticism and its broader meaning as a way of seeing the world, our saving grace at the end of the day? It’s useful. Because of it, the world looks brighter, people do their jobs better, emotional intelligence really counts and children grow up and plant gardens with a respect for the arts and beautiful, active local communities. As the character Phaedra in Plato’s famous work Symposium argues about love and the benefits of a lover in all of her/his glory,
“Anyone who wants to live a good life needs to be guided throughout his life by something which love imparts more effectively than family ties can, or public office, or wealth, or anything else. Phaedra goes on to assert that because of a lover we are imbued with “the ability to feel shame at disgraceful behavior and pride in good behavior, because without these qualities no individual or community could achieve anything great or fine.” I know, this is a pretty broad definition of a lover that truly speaks to the thinking of the ancient Greeks, but is useful in perhaps understanding Scandal’s core premise: all for my lover, for the one I love. Very romantic.
But, it’s not over until the fencing gladiator puts down her sword. Reflecting on the season’s final scene as Olivia Pope emerges from her apartment ready for a morning run( in workout attire fashioned like that of a fencer), we figure the leader of the gladiators is taking a respite– gearing up for the next battle. She is. We all are.