Shonda Rhimes’ Scandal is an undeniable hit thanks to the cast’s star-power, a killer wardrobe team, the salacious and secretive backdrop of Washington, D.C. politics, and perhaps most of all, the steamy, high-stakes relationship between President Fitzgerald Grant and Olivia Pope. While I’ve participated in the edge-of-my-seat, self-fanning, “OMG!”tweeting that predictably follows each sexy encounter between the two lovers, the portrayal of this relationship has become increasingly uncomfortable to watch. Fitz and Liv’s relationship is looking a lot less like porn for women (horrible stuff, btw) and more like a textbook unhealthy relationship. Yes, yes y’all. Pull the fabulous cream-colored pantsuit from your eyes and see that what Fitz and Liv have isn’t something to be emulated, but something to be eyed with caution.
I know what you’re thinking, Scandal’s main couple is just passionate and when people love each other that much, it manifests itself in crazy ways. It’s not uncommon to romanticize unhealthy behaviors in a relationship so that they come to represent “real love” as opposed to real trouble because society has been sanctioning and promoting such beliefs since forever. Let’s take a look at the signs of an unhealthy relationship from the Department of Health and Human Services to see how the Leader of the Free World and Mrs. Fix It stack up.
- Control & Intimidation – One partner makes all the decisions and tells the other what to do, or tells the other person what to wear or who to spend time with.
Fitz, repeatedly referred to on the show as “the most powerful man in the world” by his wife, his chief of staff, and Olivia, has no problem exercising that immense power to exert control over his mistress. Since the very beginning of their trysts, romping around on the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office, the Secret Service has been privy toall of their “intimacies.” Taking it a step further, President Grant ordered the Secret Service (taxpayer money!) to put Olivia under surveillance. Not because she was a terrorist or traitor, but because he needed to see what she was doing, who she was doing it with, and why the heck she wasn’t returning his phone calls. Extra.
- Dishonesty & Disrespect – One partner lies to or keeps information from the other. One partner steals from the other.
There’s no stealing going on here unless you count Liv’s panty-drawls every episode, but lying is definitely on the table. Olivia lies to Fitz regularly from her role in fixing his election to teaming up with his wife behind his back, to manipulating their relationship and her access for the benefit of her non-White House clients. Fitz lies to Liv whenever it suits him in the interest of foreign policy, when he’s having her stalked, and when it comes to his wife.
- Physical abuse – One partner uses force to get his/her way (for example, hitting, slapping, grabbing, shoving).
While we never see Olivia Pope’s face splashed across TMZ like Rihanna’s, this relationship is very hands on. Even allowing for some latitude for those of you who “like it rough,” I submit that what we’re seeing is aggressive, not sexy. Hit up OnDemand and see how many times Fitz has Olivia gripped up by the shoulders. He’s slammed her into a tree. Summoned her to the woods where he brandished a hunting rifle. Held onto her tightly while she tried to pull away, crying.
- Dependence – One partner feels that he/she “can’t live without” the other. He/she may threaten to do something drastic if the relationship ends.
The moment when I could no longer deny that Fitz and Olivia were in an unhealthy relationship was, oddly enough, the same moment when so many people on Twitter seemed to be falling in love. I’m talking about the scene in S2E8 when, thanks to a flashback, we see “secret” lovers shouting loudly in the White House Rose Garden. Cue a creepy soliloquy from the President:
Do not swoon!
Olivia Pope is standing (in a fierce coat) in front of this man all quivery-lipped and teary-eyed saying, “I wait for you. I watch for you. My whole life is you. I can’t breathe because I’m waiting for you. You own me, you control me, I belong to you …” and he counters with more of the same only to leave her alone in the garden to bear the weight of all that dependence and manipulation he just dropped. No swooning allowed!
Ask someone who committed a so-called “crime of passion” whether they loved the person involved and I bet you’ll find that they’ll claim the love was all-consuming… so much that it consumed their common sense and self-control. Both Fitz and Olivia are consuming one another in a way that’s unhealthy for them personally and for the entire freaking country. God forbid that President Obama is sitting in the Oval Office anger-flipping through illegal surveillance of his side-boo while we dangle on the edge of the Fiscal Cliff. Woe to America should the POTUS be making policy decisions about Syria based upon whether his honey bunch is replying to his iMessages.
If you still think Fitz and Olivia are living out the most romantic relationship since Titanic (dude froze to death at the end, BTW), I offer you the sage words of Oda Mae Brown, “Molly, you in danger girl,” and more seriously, if your relationship exhibits any of the signs laid out above I implore you to visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline site for more information. *shakes fist at Shonda Rhimes*