Celebrities

Olivia Pope Isnt a Hero—And Thats Been Scandals Point All Along

Scandal, which wraps for good on ABC April 19, has always been a well-dressed primetime contradiction: a high-octane thrill ride and a smorgasbord of inconsistent plotting, an anthem to black female empowerment and a modern harlequin romance. Though it had all the trappings of a procedural—even seven seasons in, clients of the week kept coming across the Gladiators desk—the heart of the show lived in its longer, seedier arcs. The stakes could be as large or as small as the writers wished at any given moment; just one episode after being held captive and auctioned off to the highest bidder, Kerry Washingtons immaculate Olivia Pope could comb her hair and join a mourning father for a Black Lives Matter-themed arc. The show has always lived by its own rules—and when those rules became inconvenient, it simply tossed them aside.

In the end, we may not remember the gruesome torture scenes, or the intricacies of the season-long Rashomon murder mystery that was Season 6. But viewers will certainly remember two things: Scandals signature shutter-flicking cutaways—and the sight of Olivia Pope storming into a room, immediately rendering everyone there powerless.

Shes an iconic character and a subversive one, not because she had an affair with a white president but because shes an unapologetically greedy black woman in a culture that rarely casts people like her as a protagonist. All along, the shows whiplash-inducing twists and stylish mien were working in the service of an antihero in chic clothing. But while TVs Golden Age antihero boom gave rise to plenty of characters like Walter White and Claire Underwood, whose descents were simple and straightforward—without intermission, and without a need to justify their behavior to an audience rooting for them to “just be nice”—Olivia has had to grapple with the expectations of being a black woman, of a black audience cheering for a black woman, and of those viewers who, at the end of the day, still want her and President Fitz to ride off into the sunset together, even if the cost is a trail of carcasses behind them.

This will be Olivias legacy: how she, and the show, have grappled with the pressure to balance everything and to look flawless while doing so. How theyve both managed to be simultaneously political and apolitical, to inspire without rocking the boat too much—and the messiness that results from all these conflicting pulls.

Scandal always luxuriated in the greed and political aspirations of its central characters, none more so than its protagonist: an impeccably outfitted black woman given to glorious orations that have become a canon of their own. The if-you-want-me-earn-me monologue. The bitch-baby monologue. The twice-as-hard-half-as-good monologue. The Im-the-boss monologue.

Theyre key indicators of Olivias fierce competence, which, in Scandals first few seasons, was always presented as a force for justice. While the ultimate D.C. fixer was occasionally willing to skirt the lines of morality, she always earned a metaphorical white hat in the end—and sometimes, a literal one—by serving the greater good.

But as the show got twistier, Olivias résumé darkened, and her competency became more self-serving. She fixed a presidential election; she bludgeoned a paraplegic (and very evil!) man to death with a metal chair; she infamously chose to have an abortion simply because she did not want a child, an enduring television taboo. In the middle of Season 7, she blew up a plane full of innocent people in order to kill the president of a fictional Middle Eastern country—a tough choice for her, though one she carried out with little to no remorse.

Some of the audience that was first drawn in by Scandals original scandal—the forbidden romance between Olivia and Fitzgerald Grant, the married then-president of the United States—has been understandably turned off by this gradual slide into increasingly outlandish moral murkiness. But what those audiences expect from Olivia and Scandal might have less to do with the show itself than with our preconceptions of what it takes for a black female protagonist to be empathetic.

By Danny Feld/ABC/Getty Images.

Olivia Pope isnt simply glamorous, eloquent, and confident, an impeccably tailored mix of Batman and Carmen Sandiego. Shes also a character who constantly hungers—for power and influence, and the freedom they might provide. Pragmatic and cold, shes unafraid to say that shes not just good at her job—shes “better than anyone else. And that is not arrogance, that is a fact.” The show makes it seem like its her right to be greedy; according to Scandal, theres something fundamentally correct about the smartest, most efficient person on the screen running the country.

This is the Olivia we were always meant to admire: a brilliant-but-ruthless anti-heroine who more than earned her seat at the table of power-hungry political players. For further proof, just look at the way that impossible “Olivia & Fitz” romance, the dynamic originally at the heart of the show, has gradually rotted into obsessive dysfunction. While the chemistry between Kerry Washington and Tony Goldwyn remains strong as ever, Scandal seems completely uninterested in wrapping everything with a kiss; just this season, the idyllic Vermont home-away-from-politics that Fitz had built for himself and Olivia morphed into Olivias prison, as Fitz and her friends uncovered her machinations and moved to push her off her perch.

Despite all its fantastical leaps, Scandal has wisely never attempted to promote the fiction that Olivia—a black woman, publicly known as the presidents mistress within the world of the show—could ever be president herself. Olivia instead became a power broker, propping up a more acceptable mother of three and jilted American sweetheart in the form of her former romantic rival, Mellie Grant. For Olivia, true control meant puppeteering a shadow regime under Mellies nose as the next President Grants chief of staff. What many have bemoaned as a slide into the dark side can also be seen as Olivia stepping up to the level of the men around her. Its evidence that Scandal creator Shonda Rhimes never wanted Olivia to be a matronly black woman guardian angel for the power-hungry white guys of Washington; she was writing a power-hungry black woman all along.

As the show inches toward its finale, a contrite Olivia is once again being placed in the more expected role of savior as she teams up with her old crew to neutralize Cyrus Beene, her former mentor and long-term frenemy, who has his own designs on the White House. In the shows penultimate episode, she urged her associates to speak out against Beene even though revealing his crimes will implicate them as well by saying that they must act for the greater good: “This is bigger than us,” Olivia said. “This is about the country. This is about patriotism: the end of politics, the beginning of leadership. It all has to come down, no matter the cost. . . We are not the heroes of this story. We are the villains. This is your chance to be a hero. This is positive change,”

But the idea that a neutered Olivia will end the series by redeeming herself, even in this roundabout way, ultimately seems antithetical to Scandals legacy. Its impossible to know how the show will wrap up its last hour, especially given how unpredictable Scandal can be—but either way, its still safe to say that a competent black woman who dreamed too big, reached too high, and ultimately got put in her place is not the stamp that Rhimes set out to leave on television.

Get Vanity Fairs HWD NewsletterSign up for essential industry and award news from Hollywood.Full ScreenPhotos:The Celebrities Who Have Impressively Kept Their Babies a SecretEva Mendes and Ryan Gosling

Eva Mendes and Ryan Gosling

Gosling and Mendes managed to keep her first pregnancy hidden for seven months. There was no official announcement when their daughter Esmeralda Amada was born in September 2014, although TMZ did obtain a copy of her birth certificate. Mendes gave a low-key interview about motherhood that November.
The couple also managed to keep the impending arrival of their second daughter under wraps almost until she was born. Once again, the news broke when TMZ discovered Amada Lee Goslings birth certificate. Gosling confirmed that he is, indeed, the father of two daughters while doing press for The Nice Guys, but he wouldnt speak about it at length. He also thanked Mendes and his daughters during his 2017 Golden Globes acceptance speech.Photo: By Dave Allocca/StarPix/REX/Shutterstock.Donald Glover

Donald Glover

Glover confirmed that hed welcomed a son during his 2017 Golden Globes acceptance speech for Best Actor—Television Series Musical or Comedy, although he has yet to confirm his sons mothers identity. “I really want to say thank you to my son, and the mother of my son for making me believe in people again, and things being possible,” Glover said.Photo: By Joe Scarnici/Getty Images..Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys

Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys

News about The Americans costars first child broke when sources told various media outlets they were expecting. Russells pregnancy was really confirmed by their co-star Noah Emmerich, who talked to Entertainment Tonight about the show having to shoot around her bump. She also mentioned this in The New York Times. The couple was so low-key about their impending baby, though, that no one really thought to check in to see if it had actually arrived. It wasnt until Rhys and Russell were spotted in Brooklyn carrying their newborn—which is an excellent way for low-key, stealth baby parents to give paparazzi their fill while sending them the message that this is all theyre going to get (see also: Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavale)—that the press thought to check in about that whole “Did she have the baby?” matter. Confirmed: She did.Photo: By Taylor Hill/Getty Images.Vincent Kartheiser and Alexis Bledel

Vincent Kartheiser and Alexis Bledel

If Kartheiser and Bledel, one of the most private celebrity couples out there, had their way, we would have never found out about their baby at all. It only came out when Bledels Gilmore Girls co-star Scott Patterson let it slip during an interview with Glamour that the actress is now a mother. The couple confirmed to People that they welcomed a son last fall, and that “no further details are being released.”Photo: By Jeff Vespa/WireImage/Getty Images.Sacha Baron Cohen and Isla Fisher

Sacha Baron Cohen and Isla Fisher

Spotlight-eschewing couple Baron Cohen and Fisher have three children, and by the time Fisher was pregnant with their third, the only way word got around was when she pulled out of her role in Now You See Me 2. It was only confirmed that their baby had entered the world when the no-longer-pregnant Fisher attended a party in April 2015.Photo: By Samir Hussein/WireImage/Getty Images.Simon Konecki and Adele

Simon Konecki and Adele

Adele was slightly more up front about her pregnancy than the rest of the celebrities on this list. She personally announced she was expecting in a post on her blog in June 2012, most likely to stave off the months of invasive paparazzi and intense speculation. “[P]lease respect our privacy at this precious time,” the singer wrote. She then remained out of the public eye for most of her pregnancy. It was up to a good ol anonymous source to tell the press that shed given birth to a son.Photo: By Richard Young/REX/Shutterstock.Kerry Washington and Nnamdi Asomugha

Kerry Washington and Nnamdi Asomugha

Kerry Washington is amazing at keeping details of personal life a secret. One might even say that theyre . . . handled. She covertly married football player Nnamdi Asomugha in July 2013. Washington kept her first pregnancy concealed until she was about four months along, when a stint on S.N.L. made it hard to hide. She says we shouldnt expect to see pictures of her daughter Isabelle, who was born in 2014, anytime soon.

As of May 2016, its rumored that Washington is expecting her second baby. In her typical stealth fashion, however, shes just smiling and heading out on red carpets with strategically placed clutches.

Photo: By David X Prutting/BFA/REX/Shutterstock.PreviousNext

Eva Mendes and Ryan Gosling

Eva Mendes and Ryan Gosling

Gosling and Mendes managed to keep her first pregnancy hidden for seven months. There was no official announcement when their daughter Esmeralda Amada was born in September 2014, although TMZ did obtain a copy of her birth certificate. Mendes gave a low-key interview about motherhood that November.
The couple also managed to keep the impending arrival of their second daughter under wraps almost until she was born. Once again, the news broke when TMZ discovered Amada Lee Goslings birth certificate. Gosling confirmed that he is, indeed, the father of two daughters while doing press for The Nice Guys, but he wouldnt speak about it at length. He also thanked Mendes and his daughters during his 2017 Golden Globes acceptance speech.By Dave Allocca/StarPix/REX/Shutterstock.

Donald Glover

Donald Glover

Glover confirmed that hed welcomed a son during his 2017 Golden Globes acceptance speech for Best Actor—Television Series Musical or Comedy, although he has yet to confirm his sons mothers identity. “I really want to say thank you to my son, and the mother of my son for making me believe in people again, and things being possible,” Glover said.By Joe Scarnici/Getty Images..

Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys

Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys

News about The Americans costars first child broke when sources told various media outlets they were expecting. Russells pregnancy was really confirmed by their co-star Noah Emmerich, who talked to Entertainment Tonight about the show having to shoot around her bump. She also mentioned this in The New York Times. The couple was so low-key about their impending baby, though, that no one really thought to check in to see if it had actually arrived. It wasnt until Rhys and Russell were spotted in Brooklyn carrying their newborn—which is an excellent way for low-key, stealth baby parents to give paparazzi their fill while sending them the message that this is all theyre going to get (see also: Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavale)—that the press thought to check in about that whole “Did she have the baby?” matter. Confirmed: She did.By Taylor Hill/Getty Images.

Vincent Kartheiser and Alexis Bledel

Vincent Kartheiser and Alexis Bledel

If Kartheiser and Bledel, one of the most private celebrity couples out there, had their way, we would have never found out about their baby at all. It only came out when Bledels Gilmore Girls co-star Scott Patterson let it slip during an interview with Glamour that the actress is now a mother. The couple confirmed to People that they welcomed a son last fall, and that “no further details are being released.”By Jeff Vespa/WireImage/Getty Images.

Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds

Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds

It may seem like we know everything about Ryan Reynolds and Blake Livelys daughter James (both her gestation and her arrival), but we really dont. They only confirmed she was in the works when Lively posted a photo of herself cradling her bump on her erstwhile lifestyle site Preserve. Even that was somewhat cryptic. The Preserve post was a “Celebration of Family,” and had pictures of several pregnant women—Lively being one of them. In the post, she heralded “all the expecting mothers out there.”

They tried to keep their daughters birth quiet. Page Six broke the news of her birth even though Livelys rep “repeatedly declined to comment, claiming the actress and Reynolds could not be reached.” Reynolds finally revealed the precise date she was born on her first birthday. The couple also tried to guard their daughters name like it was a secret of the realm that had to be protected at all costs.

Now, theyre being just as secretive about their potential second child.

By Laura Cavanaugh/FilmMagic/Getty Images.

Sandra Bullock

Sandra Bullock

In January 2010, just before the start of Bullocks awards season run for her role in The Blind Side, which would eventually net her the Academy Award for Best Actress, she quietly adopted a son, Louis. In December 2015, Bullock revealed that she had adopted for a second time on the cover of People.By Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic/Getty Images.

Leighton Meester and Adam Brody

Leighton Meester and Adam Brody

When news broke that Adam “Seth Cohen from The O.C.” Brody was dating Leighton “Blair Waldorf from Gossip Girl Meester,” it was a match made in teen soap heaven. The couple has been fiercely private from the beginning, and when their relationship progressed to marriage, they tried to keep their nuptials out of the press. Then, Meester appeared with a visible baby bump in May 2015, sending the press rushing to confirm her pregnancy. As of today, Arlo Day Brodys birth certificate is some of the only proof that she exists, along with some paparazzi photos of the family hiking together.By D Dipasupil/FilmMagic/Getty Images.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Hilarie Burton

Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Hilarie Burton

Did you know these two were a couple, or that they had a baby? Spoiler alert: They are, and they do.By Jim Spellman/WireImage/Getty Images.

Sacha Baron Cohen and Isla Fisher

Sacha Baron Cohen and Isla Fisher

Spotlight-eschewing couple Baron Cohen and Fisher have three children, and by the time Fisher was pregnant with their third, the only way word got around was when she pulled out of her role in Now You See Me 2. It was only confirmed that their baby had entered the world when the no-longer-pregnant Fisher attended a party in April 2015.By Samir Hussein/WireImage/Getty Images.

Simon Konecki and Adele

Simon Konecki and Adele

Adele was slightly more up front about her pregnancy than the rest of the celebrities on this list. She personally announced she was expecting in a post on her blog in June 2012, most likely to stave off the months of invasive paparazzi and intense speculation. “[P]lease respect our privacy at this precious time,” the singer wrote. She then remained out of the public eye for most of her pregnancy. It was up to a good ol anonymous source to tell the press that shed given birth to a son.By Richard Young/REX/Shutterstock.

Kerry Washington and Nnamdi Asomugha

Kerry Washington and Nnamdi Asomugha

Kerry Washington is amazing at keeping details of personal life a secret. One might even say that theyre . . . handled. She covertly married football player Nnamdi Asomugha in July 2013. Washington kept her first pregnancy concealed until she was about four months along, when a stint on S.N.L. made it hard to hide. She says we shouldnt expect to see pictures of her daughter Isabelle, who was born in 2014, anytime soon.

As of May 2016, its rumored that Washington is expecting her second baby. In her typical stealth fashion, however, shes just smiling and heading out on red carpets with strategically placed clutches.

By David X Prutting/BFA/REX/Shutterstock.

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