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the right thing, for the right reasons

We all try to do the right thing. The good thing. The decent thing. Label it whatever you want, but no one wakes up in the morning PLANNING to be Hitler. I’m pretty sure that’s something most sane, rational people look to avoid. Step one: Wake up. Step two: Don’t be evil.

And yet, what is evil? What is wrong? How, exactly, do you measure such a thing? Too often we fail to acknowledge that goodness is a sliding scale and some things are relative. Villains do not wear black hats. The Good Guy isn’t swathed in white. To quote Wilde, the pure and simple truth is rarely pure and never simple.

Imagine two people fall in love. Not a small, easy love. The can’t eat, can’t sleep kind of love. The consuming kind. The kind that fills you up like a light, struggling to find its way out. The kind of love that is impossible to ignore. These two people complement each other well. They bring out the best in each other. They lean on each other. They are in synch.

Sounds perfect, right? Now, imagine he is married. Imagine she was at one time his employee. This is less clear cut now, isn’t it? It’s less easy to parse out. Some people probably think: well, it’s just wrong. Forget the feelings, right? Cling to the facts.

If you haven’t caught on already, I’m actually talking about Olivia (a political fixer) and Fitz (the President) from ABC’s Scandal. In the last episode, Fitz and Olivia broke up. Granted, they weren’t even technically together. They were doing this awkward dance of love, this I love you, but I can’t really have you THING. It’s not wrong or right. It’s layers, and those layers are confounding.

In the above scene, Fitz says that they’re done. And yet, it’s a soft statement, not a firm one. It’s followed by a question. That question is a hope. That question is a prayer. That question, the presence of it, is a very real plea. It means please tell me no. Please tell me I’m wrong. Olivia, of course, agrees with him. He lets her go, but she does the same as well, by letting him walk away. But not putting up a fight. It is not a one-sided decision, but a mutual thing.

Interestingly, I’m fairly certain that Olivia has never told Fitz I love you. He has said it – to his Chief of Staff and to Olivia. But the closest she’s come is an I hate you, which was clearly a declaration of the opposite. Why doesn’t she say it? Some might call that fear. Some might call it cowardice. I think it’s Olivia’s last wall. If she says that, that’s her last line of defense, gone. Because she may love this man who she shouldn’t love, but nobody knows. And if she says it out loud, that makes it real. That means giving in. Because once you say that, you cannot take it back.

So, these two? Walk away from each other. Hands cleans, so to speak. Nothing else to say. And yet, I can’t help but wonder about their decision. A breakup like that is never clean. It’s not an I don’t love you anymore departure. It’s not based on one person falling out of love – or two people growing apart. It’s this situation is too complicated and/or we shouldn’t do this.

 And yet, as an audience, aren’t we rooting for Olivia and Fitz? Despite the situation, despite the hopeless of this insanely star-crossed love – aren’t we, every week, hoping that something will give? We are waiting for those longing looks, that naked emotion, the passion that burns through time and space, honor and duty? The love that transcends. They are a couple, even when they are apart.

Interesting, too, is Fitz’s relationship with his wife, Mellie. Mellie is always playing an angle. She has aspirations that move beyond being the FLOTUS. She is all image – that is to say, everything is done with calculated precision. Their relationship doesn’t seem like it was always devoid of affection, but neither does it sing with even the hint of old love. This was a relationship of convenience. One that was good on paper. One that wasn’t invalid in the least – but it is not a scorching look across a room. It is not something that keeps a person from sleeping. It is not an unguarded glance or the turn of a hotel key.

Which couple, objectively, would you root for? Neither relationship is ideal. Both ache for different, disparate reasons. One is love, without a foundation. One is a foundation, without love. For me, I’ve always been all about the underdog. I’ve always been one to throw my lot in with the fools. I’ve never been one for goodbyes that stand on ceremony, or love that easily stays between the lines. I think that what Fitz did last week – walking away – was cowardly. It might’ve been the right thing to do, if we’re talking textbook right and wrong. And yet, failing to honor one’s feelings is also wrong. It is also a disservice. There is no easy, simple answer. Olivia let him leave. She didn’t put up a fight. She didn’t run after him. She didn’t even protest. But she did, after he left, break down. Both characters did the right thing, for the right reasons, but it still felt wrong.

That’s good TV. That’s brilliant acting. That’s a realistic portrayal of something between the lines. And damn, man, if that doesn’t pull at your heartstrings.

Categories: Scandal
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