Black women, drama, Olivia Pope, Scandal, Shonda Rhimes, television

Scandal’s Olivia: Lost and Turned Out


Olivia the slave, got distracted on her way to grandmother’s house

A wolf in lamb’s clothing came

Blew her mind and changed her ways and now she’s turned out

Lost and turned out, lost and turned out***

I am through with Olivia Pope, y’all. Not done. THROUGH!

I was done last season when Olivia offered herself for auction during black history month. I was done when Olivia tried to kill her father and had him imprisoned. Yes, Rowan/Eli Pope is unscrupulous, but so are the election-stealing, murderous, morally-challenged characters she surrounds herself with. Olivia’s image of herself as the good heroine in the proverbial “white hat” is as hypocritical as it is delusional.  Like her parents, lovers and colleagues, Olivia has blood on her hands.

I was another kind of done when Olivia went to Fitz at the conclusion of last season and made herself at home in the White House. They celebrated their reunion as Etta James sang “At Last” — the undisputed anthem for love triumphant. Olivia is so enamored with political power that she refuses to acknowledge Fitz’s lack of character. He’s an adulterer, alcoholic, vindictive, shortsighted and a murderer.

Their doomed relationship is based on mutual co-dependency. Olivia’s “love” for Fitz is all about his political status and the influence it affords her, which is why Olivia will do anything to keep him in the seat of power. Fitz benefits from Olivia’s wise counsel and strategy. His neediness and sense of entitlement demand complete devotion. Any perception of betrayal or inattentiveness — whether real, misunderstood or imagined — is unforgivable to Fitz.

Nevertheless, I managed to hang in there with Olivia hoping she would regain her sense of self and let Fitz go. Instead, Olivia completely lost my empathy when she proudly identified herself as the president’s sidepiece. Olivia’s spontaneous admission — brought on by her desperate craving for attention and relevance — reignited a crisis that was on its way to being resolved without her. Also, like Fitz, Olivia’s neediness leads her to use others. She selfishly strings Jake along, expecting him to be at her beck and call emotionally and physically.

I am through with Olivia, but I am not finished with Scandal. While Olivia is frustrating, Shonda Rhimes’s characterization of her is brilliant. Her flaws and insecurities are realistic. Olivia is the girlfriend who usually has it all together, but loses her common sense in romance. She’s the friend who settles for unbelievable nonsense, ignoring warnings from genuinely concerned family and friends. I have known quite a few Olivias. Heck, I’ve been Olivia. Perhaps that’s why it’s so exasperating to watch Olivia play herself so cheaply.


What will your kin folks say, Olivia, the slave

It must be breaking their hearts in two

Listen close, they’re calling you 
(Olivia, Olivia, Olivia, Olivia)

Rhimes taps into generational conflicts through the Popes. Olivia represents the post-civil rights, post-racial age. Maya and Rowan Pope came of age during the civil rights movement. Battles fought by previous generations enable Olivia to live a more sheltered and privileged life. As a result, she doesn’t possess the same insights on race and power as her parents.

“I’d rather be a traitor than what you are, Livvie. Cleaning up those people’s messes. Fixing up their lives. You think you’re family, but you’re nothing but the help.” — Maya Pope

“You have to be twice as good as them to get half of what they have!” — Rowan Pope

I can’t wait to see where Rhimes takes Olivia’s character. Will Olivia pause for some long overdue introspection to figure out who and what are best for her? Or will she become a tragic cautionary tale? I hope for the former.

Olivia break the chains
 (Lost and turned out)

Stop using your body and use your brain 
(Lost and turned out)

Yes, I may be through with Olivia Pope, but I’m not finished with Scandal. Yet.


***“(Olivia) Lost and Turned Out” by The Whispers (1978)

Music & lyrics by Malcolm Anthony