In Praise of the Messiness of Scandal's Olivia Pope

Olivia Pope Scandal
(WBEZ) Olivia Pope wears a lot of white. She wears white dresses to inauguration ceremonies or lush white coats while running to and from one fire to the next.

She even wears long white gloves that she plucks from her body, finger by finger, to touch her great and complicated love, President Fitzgerald Grant, as he recovers from a gunshot wound in the hospital.

If white is a symbol of purity, from merely a quick glance, Olivia's aesthetics tell a story of a perfect, pristine woman. Her clothes should be the reflection of who she is, or who she projects to the world.

But any fan of Scandal can attest to the simplicity of this image. Audiences this season have witnessed the crumbling of this facade of perfection. This is not just the result of her affair. It is the result of her choices, the difficult decisions she must make in her personal life and the livelihood of those around her. Does she continue her affair with the President? Do we support her decision to break up a budding relationship for one of her staffers? Is it fair for her to keep secrets about the lives of her employees? Can helping facilitate an illegitimate presidency ever be okay?

As in real life, Olivia (Kerry Washington) has had and will continue to face situations that test her morals and ideals. And it is the pressure of these decisions that continues to make Scandal one of the most surprising and compelling shows on television. This gradual turn in character continues to breathe life into the show, making it television to unpack slowly the next day. However, what is important in this slow unravelling is not just that the character of Olivia is more complicated and nuanced than we imagined. It's that she is those things at all.

The first few episodes of Scandal presented a character who was, even with an affair with a married man, too perfect to believe. She seemed inhuman, incapable of bad ideas and bad decisions. Her perfection even allowed audiences to accept her affair. The president's wife must be truly terrible, one would assume, for Olivia to willingly pursue a married man. In many ways, Olivia represented another example of the "Black Boss Lady" television trope. As identified by the website TV Tropes,

[T]he Black Boss Lady is good, or she wouldn't be where she is today. She's not afraid to take some risk if there is a decent chance of a worthwhile pay off … When it comes to drama, her blackness is hardly ever mentioned, her femaleness being the main source of plot. This being so she won't have much of an Urban Accent or have many tropes stereotypically associated with blackness.


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