Recently, I’ve been thinking about secrets — about how they, sometimes, end up keeping us, instead of the other way around. We often guard our truths for unknown reasons, usually predicated on some kind of fear. Fear is a strange, but universal, motivator.
So, imagine that you had a secret. You haven’t murdered anyone — it’s nothing that grave. It’s just…an omission. You have your reasons, such as they are. One might guess that it’s an issue of privacy. For instance, for the longest time, I didn’t post of picture of myself on the internet. I never used my name. I was more of a snarky asshole blogger then. But I was also private. That didn’t stop from wanting to talk about things, because that’s one of the awesome things about the world wide web: there are so many people out there who love the hell out of the same things you do.
Granted, at the time, I was angsting over Buffy (and Angel), and a show that too few people watched (Once and Again — I’m still bitter that season three appears to be in DVD limbo). But, like most people, I had my reasons for not revealing all of myself. Did that mean I was less me? Did that, somehow, make me less genuine? Was a fraud simply because the handful of friends I found on the interwebs had never seen my face? In short: no.
But this raises an interesting question, doesn’t it? If you withhold something on the internet, why do you do it? The why seems to matter, sometimes. It doesn’t make someone less who they are. After all, that which we call a rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet, Shakespeare. So, why, exactly would that matter?
The great thing about the internet is that you can make a thousand connections. Some of my very best friends live in other countries. Some live in different states. I’ve had them to visit and/or I’ve been to visit them. When we first started talking, they only knew me as Ali. Now, we exchange Christmas cards. In any relationship, in the beginning, caution is called for. You don’t invite some guy you just met at a coffee shop over for Thanksgiving dinner. You don’t find a random stranger at the DMV, exchange small talk about a favorite book, and then ask them to accompany you to the doctor. You let people in gradually, if you’re smart.
If you hadn’t already guessed, this whole is leading up to something I want to say about the whole @Scandal411 debacle. Because I’ve thought about it for a while, and I find it particularly ironic that a great deal of people are pissed about the revelation. Why? Because she works for ABC? Does that make 411 any less herself? I interacted with her quite a bit. I didn’t feel like I was being sold anything. I felt like I was having a conversation with a friend about something we both loved.
It’s ironic that the thing that brought us together is a show, basically, about secrets. It’s about hiding pieces of ourselves and the danger of revelations. While we can sit around and root for Liv and Fitz, master secret-keepers, 411’s name makes it out into the world, and people grab torches and pitchforks.
Everyone has a right to be a fan. Everyone has a right to love what they love. I don’t think that 411’s place of employment matters. I valued what she had to say. I valued the humor in which she said. I valued her ability to tell everyone to calm the fuck down, when it was warranted. So, in the absence of her: calm the fuck down. (I say that with love.)
Olivia Pope shows up on a person’s worst day. I’ve often posed the question: imagine your worst fear, your biggest mistake, being dragged out into the light. Imagine your worst day. Imagine being judged by your secrets. We all have them. We are all flawed and imperfect. That doesn’t make us any less awesome. It doesn’t make us unworthy. It doesn’t make us any less period.
So, you didn’t ask for my thoughts on the 411 debacle, but there they are. This week, we’ll return to our regularly scheduled Scandal television blogging. But I simply felt compelled to say something, since keeping silent about it just didn’t feel right.
UPDATE: Scandal411 wasn’t even an ABC employee folks. So, that’s that.
I know what I can live with. And I know what I can live without. I know where the shadows of these two things intersect and how to cut across that kind of dark. Lately, I have a lot to be grateful for. Lately, I have fewer things I am afraid of. My heart is full of fire, and there is nothing to do but love the burn. Some moments are like that: a flame that does not scorch, but sings. The song is infinite and intimately familiar.
The thing about a fire is that it is exactly what it is. Ice, on the other hand, may hide as water. It may escape as steam. It is indifferent to its circumstances, flowing or stopping as dictated by its surrounding. But a flame is one thing, until it is something else and cannot go back. And still, some things burn forever.
Vulnerability is strange flame. Some people wear it like a scar. Others, like a shadow, something that trails behind without thought to what it means. Others, still, wear it as a reminder of bravery – an armor that is not armor. A thing that says I have stood in the middle of it and thrived. Not, it should be noticed, merely survived.
What is a knight without its armor? What is a person without pretense? The answer is singular: his or her heart. Armor may keep out a weapon, but it also keeps away a loving touch. Pretenses keep up appearances, but it holds reality at arm’s length. It is ice, pretending to be something it is not – running like water, a current that’s dangerous to cross.
All truths can be found with a deep breath and a glance skyward. All fire warms. All flames devour. But every now and again, we find something worth burning for.
This is how a fire, caught within four chambers, learns how to be itself. This is how a heart, offered, learns to leave itself behind. This is how ice becomes stardust, and everything falls – only to fall into place.
Listen: can’t you hear the song?
Sometimes, we build things out of nothing,
ripping absence from the air, tearing
at restlessness like a river current, while
the moon dances a tango
with the stars – sometimes, we are lucky
enough to know what comes from nothing,
and that everything begins
out of emptiness, a space
that needs filling,
like a hand always reaching.
Sometimes, we construct our hearts
out of stuff stronger than we are,
iron and steel, surrounded by glass,
like a bird preparing to drown
with all the best intentions.
Sometimes, the moon is sick.
Sometimes, shadows feel like knives.
Sometimes, we run.
But this is a version different from that,
wings spread in defiance of gravity,
a challenge to the storm,
a full-hearted song
that shatters fears like weak bones.
The world is a cold place,
and things are always broken
and breaking –
but we are not that,
and this is more than nothing,
it is something out of nothing,
a tiny-chambered miracle
of a love so dizzy
that it has turned itself to stardust –
it demands more than innocence,
more than a quiet fall,
more than a landlocked moment.
Some things come from nothing, spiraling
into new light at a gallop, a rhythm
that is, and is not, something else.
Somewhere, there is a question
being asked, and the heavens themselves
Some situations are more like a chess game. We all have choices, moves to make, and power struggles. Everyone wants to win. Everyone has a strategy. To an extent, everything is a power struggle, a continuous renegotiating of space, a tipping of the scales. All relationships have a power dynamic, where you make a move and see what happens. Some are on relatively equal footing, while others are a permanently offset see-saw. In others, one person cares more than the other – one bends more than the other. Some people are victims, others villains.
In this week’s Scandal (Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner), we flashed back between the past and present, getting a look at Olivia Pope’s father. For a relationship built on lies (she didn’t know he worked for the government until she figured it out, because of Huck) and a rigid dynamic bordering on abusive, it is no wonder that Liv has issues with authority and wants to save everyone. Liv, I think, rescues other people, saving them from the worst day(s) of their lives, because after her mother died – leaving her alone with a manipulative, unyielding father – no one rescued her. She endured it, made a life for herself. But sitting through Sunday night dinners, for Liv, was nothing more than a painful business arrangement. Rowan Pope sees himself as a king – someone whose orders are obeyed.
We get to see a very emotionally wounded, yet still adorable, flashback of Huck – Huck who save Liv from being mugged – or worse – revealing that he isn’t who she previously thought. He’s not just a homeless guy, sleeping in the metro. He’s had training – and perhaps, continuing the chess metaphor, is a knight. But this revelation of Huck’s skills comes at a price. More on that later.
Fast-forward to the present, and Liv has taken on Jeannine as a client. Jeannine, by the way, would be a pawn. Liv talks to Fitz, a somehow arranged phone baton toss with Tom. There’s a tenderness about this conversation, an easy ebb and flow of truths. She warns him of her intentions to fight for Jeannine. This is a king and queen who are currently on opposite sides through circumstance. As well, the audience gets a glimpse not only of the couple they are but of the couple they could’ve been. They have a very sweet conversation about what their lives would’ve been like in another time another place – and they both participate in this fantasy of Vermont, where he’s the mayor and she makes jam. This is a stark contrast to her revelation to Edison Davis, when she turned down his marriage proposal for the second time, last season:
“I could marry you. I could be a senator’s wife. I’d probably be happy. I could probably give all this up and live in a country house and have babies and be normal, I could. But I don’t want to. I’m not built for it. I don’t want normal and easy and simple. I want… I want painful, difficult, devastating, life-changing, extraordinary love.”
For Fitz, she would’ve been normal. She would’ve been happy. She would’ve been that woman and lived that life. There are a few great loves that you lie down and be still for. But it has to be with and for the right person. And in Liv’s case, the right person is Fitz. And the circumstances are what they are. What is interesting, though, is that in this phone conversation, we also witness that the power dynamic between them is one of equality. She warns him of her intentions, and he backs her up. This is a different Fitz from the wishy-washy, no backbone, face-in-his-scotch of yore. (Yes, I said yore. Deal with it.) His whole attitude has changed. His power dynamic with everyone from Mellie to Cyrus has shifted. This is Take No Shit Fitz. And I have to say, it’s a welcome sight.
“It’s funny…the things people forget. Things you think would be staring them smack in the face. Like the fact that I am the president of the United States, and I call the shots.”
Speaking of Cyrus (a rook, if ever there was one), the power dynamic between him and Rowan (Poppa Pope) is interesting. Rowan urges Cyrus to solidify the Jeannine lie – make the president confirm the affair. His entire tone is not that of someone used to hearing no or having his suggestions disobeyed. Rowan, as we see, operates outside the bounds of pretty much everything, especially pesky things like basic human decency and compassion. If Cyrus is a political monster, then Rowan is the thing that monsters are afraid of. Think Grendel, except invisible – which makes him even more dangerous. After all, as Huck can tell you, you can’t fight what you can’t see.
Flash back, again, Olivia (thinking her dad works for the Smithsonian – which, hi, Covert Affairs called: they’re like their plotline back) told her dad about the mugging and about Huck. Huck promptly vanishes, and Olivia goes hunting for the truth – only to discover her father is pretty much morally bankrupt and stricken with a slight case of EVIL. In a brilliant move, Olivia brings Edison to dinner, having accepted his proposal. We learn that Edison is in a position to basically ruin Rowan’s life – as the head of a special committee. There’s an undertone, here, that Liv is using Edison – that she accepted his proposal as a necessary move to back her father into a corner and get Huck back. To me, this speaks volumes about the true nature of Liv’s feelings for Edison, and that they were never really genuine enough to begin with. She just happened to accept his proposal when it would benefit her the most. Yeah, I’m calling bullshit with that. It was a manipulation of a piece on the board – a pawn. (Poor Edison.) No doubt, Liv learned from her father, but tends to use her powers for good, not evil.
We see Rowan’s manipulations, again, in the present – when Rowan visits Olivia at work (brilliant bit of dramatic irony, because the audience KNOWS that Huck is saying hello to the man who threw him in a HOLE, stole his life, and separated him from his face). Brilliantly orchestrated, this scene appears to be all smiles from the outside, but the words Liv and her dad exchange are anything but pleasant. Rowan tells Liv that either Jeannine takes the fall or Jake Ballard will vanish forever. Jake, once a knight, has become a pawn.
Liv calls Fitz for help in finding out if Jake is alive. For Olivia, Jake is like Huck: another soul in need of rescuing. Another victim, stitched together from a hero. He saved her life, and now she needs to save his. While Fitz previously stated that no one pushes him around, all Liv has to do is ask and he does what she requests. The circles around to the whole, “You give for what you love” revelation from last season. And Fitz does – he goes to Cyrus and does all he possibly can to get Jake released.
Meanwhile, Huck and Baby Huck (aka Quinn) have a poignant heart-to-heart moment in which Huck expresses his concern for Quinn – namely, that she is becoming too much like him, and that she should try to be more like Liv. This scene is brilliantly played by both Guillermo Diaz and Katie Lowes; their performances are nuanced perfectly, from wide-eyes to slightly shaky, obsessed gestures. Huck recognizes the slippery slope that Quinn is own, and while he cannot rescue her from herself, he is looking out for her.
Which brings us to someone who is only looking out for herself: Mellie. (While Mellie would be considered Fitz’s queen, there’s no hope of her sacrificing herself for Fitz or the greater good.) Mellie goes behind the scenes, in a fit of Minor Evil (if we’re comparing her to Poppa Pope), and bribes Jeannine to say that she did, indeed, sleep with Fitz. Jeannine is nothing more than a pawn who wishes to be otherwise. When Liv confronts her about her plans, it becomes clear that she’s trying to reap a benefit from a bad situation. Jeannine is a pawn who has accepted her fate, straining to at least get something out of the deal.
Concurrently, though, Fitz goes on live TV and confesses his (fictitious) affair with Jeanine. This is the only way he knows to get Jake back for Liv. This isn’t done to save his own ass. He’s giving for what he loves, even at the detriment of his own image. This is the move of a king, sacrificing himself for the other side. He’s tipped himself to end the game. While Sally Langston sure as shit doesn’t believe him, their exchange in the hallway was brilliant. Her freakin’ face when Fitz said, “I had her six ways to Sunday all over this White House,” was brilliant. Slow clap for Burton. Also, slow clap for Tony Goldwyn for the awesome delivery, “How presidential are my balls now, Cy?” I spit out my wine.
Unfortunately, Liv gets tricked back into Sunday night dinners with her father. Liv’s approach to this situation is exactly like when she rescued Huck. Jake has become her people. She protects her own. She especially protects them from her father. But Huck learns the truth about Liv’s dad and had a MOMENT. Notice, though, that Liv never ran away from him. Even after he choked her. Even after his poor broken face flooded with disbelief. She didn’t run. Huck knows the truth. And it’ll be interesting to see how that plays out, knowing that a) Liv is the daughter of a government sanctioned monster – and that she kept it from him. Although, I cannot blame her, because how do you tell someone that you love, who is your people, that your father ruined his life? Ummmm, awkward to say the least.
In the end, a bloody Jake appears on Liv’s doorstep. We will have to see how that plays out. There’s talk that Jake may have turned back, being locked in a hole, and subjected to hell knows what. But I think that wasn’t enough to turn Huck into an evil asshole. I don’t think that Jake will be a mole for Rowan, if that’s the thinking that some people had.
In the end, Liv and Fitz are playing a chess game – supposedly against each other. But it must be hard to strategize when you, in your heart, want the other side to win. Everyone has a different endgame, loyalties scattered and varied. But make no mistake: everyone is a pawn when you think yourself a king. Trouble is, I count at least three kings – and only two can own the board.
We like to pretend that war is simple. Black and white. Good and bad. Two clearly opposing sides, without any carryover, any bleed. Sometimes, that’s true. Sometimes, a battle is easily discerned. But when there are no declarations, nothing written in stone or blood, there is another kind of fight – the one waged in secret. Carefully behind the scenes, like a game of chess that only one person is even aware of. To win that game, you must know your enemy. You most surprise your enemy.
And we are, all of us, fighting some kind of war. In last night’s episode of Scandal, everyone was fighting a battle. Some battles were old. Some were new. And some were a bomb, dropped from a clear sky, while someone else held their breath. The episode, interestingly titled, “It’s Handled,” (Olivia’s, for all intents and purposes, catchphrase) is not about handling a situation. It’s not about fixing a problem. Instead, I believe it’s about handling people. Managing them, in the various wars that our characters find themselves.
When Olivia is confronted and whisked away by her father, you no longer see Olivia Pope. You see Rowan’s daughter. You see her, initially, slip off the white hat and become less of herself, because she falls back (one can only assume) in their usual power dynamic. He shouts, and she listens. (Oh, the irony.) She caves in. She gets on that plane. She wears the gift of her father’s disappointment like a bad haircut. Head bowed. Then, she talks to Cyrus — the political monster. He utters a brilliant line and brings her back to herself. “I may be a monster. But honey? I’m your monster.”
In that moment, Cyrus chooses Olivia’s side. And then Olivia chooses her own side, not content to run away and hide. Because we all know that Liv doesn’t hide. She goes to war. She gladiates. And Poppa Pope has kind of meltdown, and it is clear that while he is trying to protect her, they are one two opposing sides.
Meanwhile, Olivia’s clients are fleeing in droves, because no one is more fickle than a political in Washington, when someone is thrown to the wolves. Liv, who protects and rescues people on their worst days, is pretty much abandoned by the very clientele she has struck her neck out for, routinely. Who is left to go to bat for Liv? Liv. Her team. Cyrus. (In his way. We’ll get to the kill file in a minute.) Fitz. (We’ll get to that bomb. YES, WE WILL.)
Liv does a thing. She pulls an emergency bat signal and ends up in a bunker, with Fitz. (Hi. –Hi. Annnnd, I’m DEAD.) Fitz’s face throughout that whole scene was naked and vulnerable. And then Mellile shows up, at Liv’s invitation, calls Liv a whore — which doesn’t sit well with Liv. She tells Mellie that in order to fix things, she might need to stifle herself slightly, at least in Liv’s presence.
But here’s the trouble: Mellie doesn’t want to admit that her husband is in love with another woman. An affair is one thing. But these two, Fitz and Liv, can’t stay away from each other. They broke up, reunited, broke up and reunited — in a way that only speaks for love. Not just sex. Sure, that was part of the equation. But Mellie isn’t willing to admit that her husband loves someone else. So, in order to “fix” things, Fitz and Mellie agree to give a press conference about how he had an affair with Olivia, which she—sacrificing herself, like a Roman on his sword—consents to. A narrative is crafted, out of half truths, one that one paint Liv as a whore, Mellie as a saint, and Fitz as nothing more than a man who has committed ill-timed indiscretions. Which is not the same animal as a relationship.
The Gladiators, obviously, have Olivia’s back. But they are also, honestly, a bit on the outside. They are scrambling to figure out how to help her. Liv’s name is out there in the worst, you-can’t-avoid-it, just-as-bad-as-a-blue-dress way. Scrambling to figure out what to do, they eventually reach out to Cyrus, who gives his best, “Bitch please — I don’t know you. Goodbye.” Until, of course, Cyrus needs their help. After Mellie struck a deal with Liv and Fitz, she runs straight to Cyrus with a HELL NO, and tells him that she and him have to fix things — they need someone else to blame. The Gladiators give Cyrus a target, someone who works in the White House. Thus, Cyrus puts aside his kill folder, which he couldn’t stomach. You want to know why Cyrus had that put together? He had no intention of using it. It was merely to keep up appearances. If anyone else but Liv had been The Other Woman, making a kill file would’ve been his first move. He had to keep up appearances, not show favouritism, and buy himself a little time in order to figure out what to do. It was a show, a brilliant show, so that Cyrus could figure out how to handle the situation and all the players involved.
You see, this episode was all about appearances, about navigating. You have to navigate your allegiances in order to win a war. And everyone is fighting for something. Mellie is fighting to keep her position, her status, her prestige. She is clinging to the illusion. Cyrus is fighting for Fitz, but he is also fighting for Liv. He was her mentor. He is her friend. He is torn by both sides of the battle. By placing the blame elsewhere, sure it looks like he’s throwing his lot in with Mellie, but, really, he’s just doing his best to protect those he loves.
Then, of course, Liv is furious with her team for leaking the name of an innocent woman. And, good lord, if all of us could get into trouble for calling someone hot? I’d be in every single headline, ever. (Because, Tony Goldwyn, you’re hot. And I am pretty sure I’d be utterly shameless telling you that to your face. But I digress…)
But that’s not the best bombshell. In the last few minutes, the audience learns a thing. Fitz has been deliberately playing Mellie. He has, after Liv and him broke up, crafted a plan. He pretended to go to Mellie for comfort, when it was nothing more than a show. It comes out that it was all a clever show, because when he choose Olivia last season, he really meant it. And it was FITZ who leaked Liv’s name to the press, to get things out on the open, to try and navigate the situation as best he could, by putting the truth out there. And Mellie realized it. Mellie found herself in the role of pawn, instead of queen, and basically said hell no.
But for Fitz? The gloves are off. He finally reveals his hand — that he has been navigating his allegiances, choosing Liv — fighting for Liv. If Fitz isn’t a Scorpio (who can, very patiently, wait and wage a quiet war — when a Scorpio goes to battle, he’ll walk into a fire without so much as a sigh, stand in front of a bullet, and dance in the middle of a hurricane), I’ll eat my hat. My non-white, many shades of grey hat. Fitz threw down a gauntlet. He is done with Mellie and her shit. In that moment, a new war was revealed, one with clearer sides than how to fix the Affair Situation. It is a war that has been going on since Fitz fell in love with Olivia. It has morphed and changed shape over time, but when Fitz sat with Liv and watched the clock run out on his marriage? There was no going back from that. Fitz has an endgame. And that’s Liv.
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. But woe to the idiot who stands in the way of a love like that.
*title is a line from Doctor Who.