Last weekend, a friend of mine came up with a Scandal-specific twist on the Bechdel Test that, for the sake of simplicity, I’ll call the Pope Test. For an episode of Scandal to pass the Pope Test, 1) it has to have at least two men in it, 2) who talk to each other, 3) about something besides Olivia Pope. Now, the Pope Test is intentionally tongue-in-cheek, but it hints at an important truth: the men of Scandal (especially – but not exclusively – Fitz, Jake, and Rowan) are motivated to act because of Olivia, and this isn’t always a good thing. Yes, often, Olivia is the one in power, and she uses the conflicts between her men to her advantage. Arguably, that was even the case this week, when she masterminded the scenario that would entrap her father. But even then, she is constantly fighting against the men who are trying, and failing, to protect her, leading to messy results.
Olivia is not someone who needs protection. Neither are Amelia Shepherd or Rebecca Sutter. Yet, across all of the Shondaland programming this week, we saw the conflicts that arise when men step in and try to shield the women they love from danger. The situations resolved themselves differently, but it was a recurring character dynamic that makes me think that next week’s Winter Finales will be explosive with female empowerment.
The night kicked off with a patient’s daughter – who recognized Amelia from Narcotics Anonymous meetings – blatantly ignoring the rules of NA meetings and outing Amelia’s substance history to everyone within earshot. She demands to have Amelia removed from her mother’s surgery, and Derek steps in to take the surgery away from his sister. He’s motivated by his instinctual jealousy and ambition, rather than familial solidarity, and it’s a bad move that makes him look pretty terrible. And, naturally, Grey’s is spinning it as “that’s not how you treat family,” but really, it’s not how you should ever treat anyone in a professional environment. As Richard reminds Amelia later, if she’s clean, and her history has no direct impact on her ability to do her job, then her history is absolutely no one’s business.
So maybe, then, it would be a good idea for Derek to apologize and agree to follow Amelia’s lead in keeping her private life, well, private. But Derek does not like good ideas, apparently. He makes the situation worse by implying (though not directly stating) to Hunt that Amelia’s not the right person to lead the neurosurgery department, and then positions himself as a savior when he takes over the Board meeting to tell his colleagues that Amelia’s great at her job, and that he should have said so earlier, and that it’s time for him to start protecting his sister.
Even after that knight-in-shining-armor move, Amelia is less than thrilled with her brother at the end of the episode, and who can blame her? She wouldn’t have needed protection if he had just listened to her from the beginning. You can’t protect someone from being outed, and you can’t protect someone from the judgmental attitudes that others feel upon learning someone’s drug history. It isn’t a matter of protection. It’s about trusting that person’s autonomy and allowing them to decide how they want to move forward, and supporting that effort. Derek didn’t get it at the beginning, and he still doesn’t get it now. No wonder Amelia’s ready to move out.
Meanwhile, Olivia is being pulled in three different directions by three different men with three very different ideas of what’s best for her. For the most part, Fitz and Jake work to put their differences aside in a mutual effort to bring down Rowan while keeping Olivia safe and alive. But from where he stands, Rowan sees Olivia’s real need as protection from the men who claim to have nothing more than her best interest in mind. As the most powerful and savvy woman of the Shondaland universe, Olivia is having none of this. While I was watching the episode, her “I’m the shiny object” moment really troubled me, since she is clearly the farthest thing from an object, despite the attempts of every man around her to objectify her, a la Tom’s Helen of Troy speech last week. But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I realize that Olivia understands full well how she’s objectified, and calling herself “the shiny object” was her way of directing the objectification to her advantage.
And just as nothing could have protected Amelia from being outed publicly, nothing could have protected Olivia from Rowan figuring out her plan and having Fitz’s assassins assassinated. Olivia defied Rowan’s protection of her from Fitz and Jake, and she defied Fitz and Jake’s protection of her from Rowan, which lead to the most honest father/daughter confrontation in the history of the series. As traumatic and upsetting as it must have been to hear her father say that she had “forsaken” him, the fact that Rowan has now declared that Olivia is on her own is undoubtedly the single best thing he has ever done for her. This was inevitable, and you can’t protect against the inevitable. It would have been great if Olivia hadn’t ever had to live with a murderous, power-hungry father or a terrorist mother, but rather than allowing the men who love her to protect her from her family, she is confronting her history head-on and choosing control. What Fitz and Jake do next remains to be seen, but Olivia has clearly has enough of their drama for at least a little while.
Now, I’m not even sure why Wes is trying to protect Rebecca anymore, because he clearly does not know how. If he thinks that she’ll just sit on information that Annalise has passed on to him, then he shouldn’t be opening his mouth to begin with. When he tells Rebecca about Lila’s pregnancy, she turns around and immediately tells Detective Nate, leading to her thwarted attempt to get Sam’s DNA. Wes is furious when he finds out what she’s done, and his anger pushes Rebecca away, yet again.
Granted, I don’t know if Rebecca and Nate’s alliance is the best idea. Nate’s one of the most ambiguous characters on HTGAWM – I like him a lot, but we still don’t know that much about him, and the fact that he’s gone rogue and is being pretty vague about his intentions and motivations doesn’t suggest that Rebecca’s in the safest position. Still, like Amelia and Olivia, she is not a woman who wants to be protected. Every time Wes tries, she runs away or creates a problem for Annalise or generally tries to be disruptive enough that he won’t try to protect her anymore. But he doesn’t listen. So, in light of all that, perhaps it makes sense that Rebecca has gravitated toward Nate, who doesn’t necessarily have “protection” in mind as much as “vengeance.” (Sidenote: I am pretty convinced at this point that Nate is Sam’s murderer. We’ll find out next week if that’s true, but he’s the only one who has enough of a motive and an actual ability to pull it off.)
Now that the women of Shondaland have made their refusal of protection abundantly clear, we’re ready for the stakes to build and explode in next week’s Winter Finale. See you th