“I don’t know…every hero has one. If you don’t find it and learn to control it…well, they don’t call it fatal for nothing.” – Annabeth Chase Percy Jackson and The Olympians: The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan
Back in my former life, as an English literature student, my fellow lit majors and I would sit around and analyze things. Sometimes, this was for our homework, sometimes, it was for fun. Often it was pop culture. When it was for fun, the stuff we were analyzing tended to lean more “pop” than “culture.”
I was thinking about this last night as I watched the end of Scandal season 6, and wishing that any of my lit major friends still watched Scandal. (Crystan quit when Olivia had her Christmas abortion and Beth didn’t watch at all, I don’t think?) because as I stared in horrorjoy (an emotion I have coined specifically for the work of Shonda Rhimes.) at Olivia Pope as she smiled coyly at Cyrus Beane when he asked her how it felt to be the most powerful person in the world, I realized that we’ve been watching a tragedy, in the classical sense all along.
Olivia is ready for a fall and we know that Scandal is ending in 2 seasons, which gives Shonda and Co 40-ish episodes to end this right, with our once white hatted heroine completely and utterly destroyed.
Let’s talk about Olivia Pope, and why I think she’s actually a perfect tragic hero. We first met her six years ago, and she was uncompromised. She was the good guy, the white hat, (literally, she was melodramatically dressed in white most of the time.) ever fighting for the underdog, tortured by a love she couldn’t ever have, sure, but her conscience was clear (OR WAS IT?) but as that first season unfolded, we learned that she’d chosen, along with Mellie Grant, Cyrus, and some other people who don’t really matter now, to rig an election so that her lover could become president.
Olivia Pope loves power, and she will do what she needs to do to grab it. Of course lots has happened since then. She’s broken up with Fitz maybe seventy times, Jake Ballard became a thing (TEAM JAKE!), she was kidnapped, she beat a wheelchair bound man to death with a chair, and she once again ascended to the White House on Grant coattails, even if these are the much more stylish and competent tails of Mellie rather than the boring and useless ones of Fitz.
But this finale. Here, she allied with both of her parents, her father, who is, in D&D terms, lawful evil, and her mother, who defies classification beyond, BATSHIT LOONY TOONS, in order to save Mellie’s presidency, which was never really in trouble, since it turns out Cyrus was manipulating everything. (Mary: He’s literally the devil. I’m surprised they haven’t just given him horns…) AND THEN she reinstituted B-613, and made herself Command.
She is no longer uncompromised. She is no longer the white hat. She is now the thing that she used to fight.
Which means she has to go down.
You might think it’s this lust for power that is our tragic hero’s flaw here, and it’s not. No, there are plenty of power hungry people in the Scandal pantheon and except perhaps for Elizabeth North, who was an idiot, it didn’t cause their downfall.
No, Liv’s flaw is her guilty conscience. She founded OPA to atone for Defiance. She pushed Mellie to the White House to make up for that whole stealing her husband thing. She forgave her father, well, mostly because the plot needed it, but I think it had something to do with beating Andrew to death with a chair. Hell, she missed Cyrus’s masterminding of the whole “killing Frankie Vargas,” because she felt so guilty about putting him prison (FOR A THING HE DID).
Running B-613 is going to destroy Olivia. She killed Luna Vargas (well, convinced her to commit suicide, but it amounts to the same thing.), she threatened David Rosen’s job. (IF THEY CORRUPT DAVID I WILL BE SO SAD. He is the only main cast member who has not committed murder at this point.) The guilt will eat her from the inside out and it will be her undoing.
So, I hope that this is the direction the show is going. Olivia is on top the world now, and for this show to maintain any of the goodwill it won back this season, it needs narrative direction, and the only logical narrative direction is a tragic fall.
Scandal should end with Olivia broken, possibly dead, certainly powerless.
And to give it the kind of Irony that all Tragic Heroes deserve? Huck should pull the trigger.
Or Fitz, but I think I’d rather it be Huck.