Scandal, America’s favorite political drama, is back and off to an auspicious start, but this viewer is perturbed. At the close of season 3 last April, I expressed my grave disappointment in how the unmasking of First Lady Mellie Grant’s (Bellamy Young) rape by her father-in-law was written. In short, my opinion and grievance was that Mellie’s story was made about Olivia Pope (the lead character and her husband’s mistress) and that President Fitzgerald’s response was nonsensically contradicting and unfeeling. Given the sweeping finale (a lot went down), I had hopes that this plotline would be fleshed out in season 4, but after Thursday’s episode, “Like Father, Like Daughter,” I’m not as optimistic.
After the death of their son, Jerry Jr., both Fitz and Mellie suffered emotional breakdowns. Fitz (Tony Goldwyn) had a failed suicide attempt, but eventually buried himself in presidential duties to stay afloat. Mellie began over-eating, became an alcoholic and stopped showering, grooming and caring about White House affairs. She’d visit Jerry Jr.’s grave wearing a bathrobe and Ugg boots and lay in the grass. Their teen daughter, Karen, was quickly sent back to boarding school to resume her life. When Mellie tries to assert her position as a mother and fumes that Olivia (Kerry Washington) was the first called to handle Karen’s sex-tape drama, Fitz snaps, “I have dealt with drunk Mellie and smelly Mellie and screw-everything-to-hell Mellie and crybaby Mellie and eat-everything-that-is-not-nailed-down Mellie and I have not complained. But I will not put up with whatever righteous, history-rewriting Mellie you have going on…This is not your family, you are not the mother…since Jerry died you have abdicated your role; you have mothered no one…Olivia Pope is fixing this mess, this mess that you made…we made…I know I share some guilt in all of this, but you want to know the difference between you and me?...All day, every day…I’m grieving the loss of my son, but I am also running a country!”
Fitz is such a disgusting, impudent, ungrateful creature with too much nerve. How dare Fitz go on about how he’s had the strength to continue running the country, when his wife is the one who got him in office, rigging elections and supporting his political career to the point of forfeiting justice for her rape and raising the child whom she thought was the product of said attack for 15 years. That same child died right before her eyes and instead of clinging onto her in his anguish, Fitz begged for his mistress. A mistress that Mellie had to sit back and let Fitz have because she knew she couldn’t stand to be intimate with the man she loved after what happened to her. She had to sit back, feel, breed and watch Fitz’s resentment of her unfurl and fester, while harboring a burdening a secret. She sacrificed her marriage, justice and sanity to preserve Fitz’s spirit and dreams. How dare he call her a “crybaby” and criticize her for crumbling; it’s a wonder she didn’t snap earlier! You want to know why Mellie isn’t holding it together anymore, Fitz? She’s been doing it for the last 15 years! That’s why, you piece of crap! How dare he ridicule her parenting when he has never parented his children! You didn’t have that very necessary and consoling talk with Karen about grief, notoriety and sexuality--Mellie did! “I’m running a country!” Oh? Well, who helped you run it while you were in a coma and sharks were circling to take your place? Mellie. There was a half-hearted, rushed scene where Fitz tells Mellie he knows about her assault in season 3. We have yet to see a thorough moment of acknowledgement, sensitivity or gratitude from Fitz. Don’t say, “What about his give-her-what-she-wants attitude?” He canceled all that out with his little “Smelly Mellie” speech and his tries at shirking responsibility. He had to correct himself when he said “the mess you made” and followed that with “I know I share some of the guilt in all of this, but…”
With things being written this way, it adds to the continual and problematic practice of using rape as a quick, sensationalist plot device (especially to propel other characters), instead of something to help give a voice to the voiceless. These kinds of stories should be teachable moments to reduce the callous and avoidant ignorance on the topic that results in sexual attacks in the first place and lack of proper support for victims. It’s a disservice to our society when characters like Mellie are disenfranchised. There are hundreds of well-written articles and blogs describing the various ways in which media mishandles rape, from using it as a way to soften characters or make them more endearing, to explain brokenness, advance plots or gain ratings. Perhaps Fitz’s behavior and response, if you could call it that, is supposed to exemplify how much of a selfish person he is, but I doubt there’s a method to the madness of dropping this ball. Justice for Mellie!