The women of Shondaland are a diverse bunch. Usually when people talk about that, they’re referring to the sexual and racial diversity of the cast, and while that’s certainly a strength of the shows, right now I’m thinking more about the diversity of personality types, motivations, and desires. With ensembles as large as the ones found on Grey’s, Scandal, and HTGAWM, one anticipates that there might be some redundancy in the characterizations and interpersonal dynamics, but if there is, I’ve yet to find it.
What struck me as I watched last night’s episodes are the differing ways in which the Shondaland women interact with one another. Certainly, there are clear-cut friendships and rivalries, but many of these relationships fall somewhere in the middle. For all of the implausibility found in Shondaland (monster-sized tumors! coups! murder cover-ups!), the nuanced relationships tend to be the most believable aspects of the shows.
At Grey Sloan Memorial, Meredith tells Amelia, Maggie, and Bailey that she can’t sleep. Derek’s gone, and even though they aren’t splitting up, the days of them sharing a bed every night of the week are over. Amelia points out Meredith probably doesn’t know how to be alone, because if Derek was away before, Cristina was always there. Maggie admits to the opposite problem; as she puts it, “I might be too good at being alone.” She broke up with her one serious boyfriend because he liked to snuggle and she didn’t. (Don’t give up hope, Maggie! I like snuggling way more than my husband and we’re making it work. You can do it!)
So the next night, as she tries to fall asleep next to her 3D-printed tumor (the next best solution if a 3D-printed Derek isn’t going to happen), Meredith FaceTimes Maggie. Historically, they haven’t been great at being sisters — or, really, Maggie keeps being disappointed by how awful Meredith is at being a sister. And they’ve only actually known each other for a short time; compared to Meredith’s long and deeply personal relationship with Cristina, Maggie might not feel much at all like a sister just yet. But Meredith is finally ready to make the effort, keeping their boundaries in check while still fostering an intimacy similar to the kind she has with her other sister-like friends. At the start of the season, I was concerned that Grey’s was going to keep forcing this unnecessary tension between Meredith and Maggie to make them constantly butt heads. It’s refreshing to see that, finally, they are finding a way to have a meaningful connection that is truly their own.
Across the country in D.C., Mellie doesn’t seem to know how to feel about Olivia’s capture. It’s not as if she has any kind or warm feelings toward Liv, so on some level, it must be nice to have her out of the way for a bit. But she’s never really out of the way, is she? The longer she’s gone, the more permanently she’ll be stuck on Fitz’s mind. And even if Fitz were to completely forget about Olivia and move past their relationship, that wouldn’t really work out for Mellie, because she’s fallen in love with Andrew. (Can someone explain to me why all of these Republican women are so mad about the gross Vice President? He is gross and a traitor to his country and a cheating liar. I don’t understand the appeal.) If Olivia was back, she and Fitz could be together and leave Mellie and Andrew to start a relationship…except that Elizabeth’s still in the picture. As usual, there is really no good answer for the First Lady.
Mellie’s internal conflict comes to a head when she meets with Elizabeth. These two are clearly not friends, but they need each other too much to be enemies. They both seem to love Andrew (WHYYYY?!?!?!), but they also seem to be smart enough to know that Andrew is playing them both and probably not a healthy relationship choice. If Olivia’s absence is positive at all for Mellie (and it’s not, because nothing is ever positive for Mellie), the same can’t be said for Elizabeth, who is being tortured and threatened by Huck until she can promise her safe return. Mellie seems to be the only person who Elizabeth trusts in the Fitz Administration, a fact that might seem to contradict their fraught history, but also makes a lot of sense when you consider that their conflicts have made them understand each other better than anyone else could. Moreover, they know that by talking and helping each other, they can get what they want. Or, at least, Mellie can save Elizabeth from Huck’s bloodlust and Elizabeth can restore Mellie’s life to its comfortable status quo. I’m curious to see how this develops in the coming weeks. I see a powerful alliance forming with these women, and I like it.
Then there’s the latest at Middleton University. Marcia Gay Harden is guest-starring as Hannah Keating, Annalise’s sister-in-law. Does Annalise have any friends? Women, I mean. She’s got Nate and Wes and Frank, but the only female “friend” she has is Bonnie, and you just know there is a closet full of drama between those two. So I’m excited by this development, because Hannah is the closest thing to a gal pal that we’ve seen in Annalise’s life so far. Which, granted, is not saying a lot, because they clearly don’t trust each other one bit. But they’re family. There’s something between them worth exploring.
We see the beginnings of it here in Hannah’s introductory episode. She has a feeling that Annalise is hiding something, so she does her own detective work (AKA stalking) to uncover the secrets. She can’t, of course, because Annalise is just that good, but over a fairly uncomfortable yet sweet dinner, they have their version of a heart-to-heart. Annalise doesn’t tell her everything, of course — though she also doesn’t straight-up lie, which is a step-up from what she was willing to tell the police. She admits that she lied about when she found out about Sam’s affair with Lila, and even when Hannah falsely concludes that Annalise doesn’t know where Sam is, Annalise’s answer — “He’s gone” — isn’t exactly untrue. Annalise is a master manipulator, more than any of the other Shondaland women. She’s honest with Wes, but that always has a hint of manipulation, because the power dynamic of a teacher/student, supervisor/intern relationship is so unequal. It’s new and refreshing to see Annalise being so honest with someone who’s actually an equal. It’s clearly self-serving — she’s only going to tell Hannah enough to keep her on her side, manipulating her just enough to distract her from the truth — but this also doesn’t seem to be new for them. I want to be a fly on the wall at a Keating family Thanksgiving dinner, is basically what I’m thinking.
This was a week of new relationships forming and strengthening, some out of genuine care and affection, some out of manipulation and strategy, but most fall somewhere in between. It might be a little more complicated than we like our female friendships on television, but there’s an honesty to it that I appreciate. I’ll be watching closely as the seasons continue to see how, exactly, these relationships continue to develop.