The Fall of The House of Pope

“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

Look how innocent she was

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.

 

Weasley Is Our King

So, I recently reread the Harry Potter series, which is one of those, things I like to do from time to time, also because after The Cursed Child I felt the need to find my way back to The Wizarding World.

But this time, I really found myself focusing on Ron Weasley.

I’ve always loved Ron, and spend a lot of time in Harry Potter fandom defending him because he’s actually quite unpopular. But I relate to Ron and to the Weasley clan in general.

Like Ron, I tend to feel like a sidekick in my own life (ESPECIALLY in high school) at times, I have more popular and conventionally successful siblings, and a big loud, loving family with a tendency to adopt strays. (WHAT UP ALESS & JAIME!) I also get hangry (in a pouty shouty mood when I’ve not had enough to eat!) which is basically Ron’s entire plot line in The Deathly Hallows.

And much like Han and Leia, I appreciate the love story between Ron and Hermione, because as neither of them are our main protagonist, they’re on a narratively even playing field. Also, I love the idea that this totally average dude not only gets the smartest and most talented magical person in his age group but he’s always in total awe of her, but also calls her out on her arrogance or occasional ignorance. It’s a really great love story and a very fun relationship to track, that’s more complex and layered than I think anyone gives it credit for.

It was one of my main criticisms of The Cursed Child that Ron is just a side character while Harry and Hermione get significant action. Even Rowling doesn’t quite know what to do with him, which suits the character quite well. Though defining Ron as “a really good dad” is such a delightful turn, that it’s hard to over complain about it. And my main criticism about Cursed Child is that they went back in time to save Cedric Diggory when REMUS LUPIN IS A PERSON WHO DIED AND ALSO PROBABLY THE BEST PERSON EVER…but I digress.

Anyway, I just wanted to give Ron some love you guys. Because he’s always been my favorite of the main 3 characters. Though not my favorite character.

That’s Lupin. Did I not make that clear? Maybe in the coming weeks I’ll write about that.

Something They Can Never Take Away: Hamilton: The Revolution

Welcome to the first post of The Hamilton Reading List.

We begin our exploration with the purest distillation of Hamilton-ness, with Hamilton: The Revolution or as Lin-Manuel Miranda, it’s co-author, and the Internet are calling it #Hamiltome. The book consists of the full libretto of the musical, featuring informative and entertaining footnotes by Miranda. Also featured are a series of analytic and informative essays by Hamilton ally and theatrical critic, Jeremy McCarter.

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One of the first things that I want to discuss is the book itself which is gorgeous. Leather bound, aged pages and full of stunning pictures of the production and back stage and the size of a text book, I was very glad I picked up the physical book rather than read it digitally. It’s worth it.

One of the things that’s been acutely fascinating as Hamilton exploding is how documented this phenomenon has been, thanks to the internet and the relative youth of it’s creators, so between the amazing early leak on NPR of the cast album, the #Ham4Ham shows, the fan art, the endless pairing of lyrics with other forms of media (#Force4Ham and #Parks4Ham being my favorites, of course.), we get a level of engagement that I only could have dreamed of when I was a dreamy twelve year old playing the London Cast Recording of Les Mis on my discman curled up in a corner of my middle school band room.

The Hamiltome chronicles this, as well as the show’s unique evolution from Miranda’s daydream of “The Hamilton Mixtape” initially meant to be a concept album chronicling the life of the ten dollar founding father to the full blown theatrical phenomenon it is. And it is a journey, an excellent and interesting and tortuous one.

What I love about back stage looks in general is that they demystify the magic of theater. There is magic in it, that spark that ignites is real, but before you can get to that spark there’s hundreds of hours punctuated by sweat, tears and a ton of work and The Revolution gives us those moments in often excruciating detail. It would have been easy to keep Hamilton mythic, birthed like Athena, fully formed from the mind of Lin-Manuel Miranda, but that isn’t how theater works, and McCarter makes it clear that Hamilton had many fathers, going in detail about direction and costume design, and set design and choreography and even, bless my heart, what a producer does. (Most people don’t understand this. Hell, I barely understand it and I am a producer.)

The one thing that the book doesn’t get into, or at least not enough, is why this show? I mean as much as you can explore why pop culture phenomenon happen, but I do wonder. We were long overdue for a Broadway block buster and even longer overdue for a mainstream crossover success. Were we primed for it? Young people are hungry for revolution in every generation, but seem particularly vocal about it in the moment. So is that it? Broadway music hasn’t incorporated pop music in a new way since 1996, so is that it? (Well, actually since 2008, but you know, everyone seems determined to ignore In The Heights, so I guess I will too.)

But this is a phenomenon and it’s worth exploring.

Next up on The Hamilton Reading List:

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow which is the book that Miranda read that inspired him to write this musical, which then inspired me to write this series of blog posts. So in a way, I’m also a genius who is changing the face of pop culture.