Scandal’s third season begins tomorrow night, and so far in its run the show has covered a tremendous amount of dramatic ground in the murder and torture departments as well as the sex and romance ones. The president killed a Supreme Court justice, and somehow that feels like only a minor plot point. Scandal: It has a lot of scandals. The central one, though, is the romance between Olivia and Fitz. She’s the alluring D.C. fixer, and he’s the dashing president of the United States. She rigged an election to get him there; he’s cheating on his wife to be with her. She’s standoffish. He’s a drunk.
And they’re terrible for each other. Just terrible. Which raises the conundrum that Scandal’s going to have to resolve at some point: Are we supposed to be rooting for Olivia and Fitz to be together?
On the surface, yeah, of course we are. Their affair is part of the DNA of the show and is the defining relationship in the characters’ adult lives. Many episodes hang on their will-they-won’t-they-how-will-they shenanigans. They’ve both delivered monologues from the Shonda Rhimes Love Confession Generator, and they’ve had some pretty steamy hookups. The illicitness is part of the draw, though for some reason Fitz has offered on multiple occasions to go public about their affair — an offer the show seems to think is valorous. It’s all very naughty and fraught and agonizing and problematic, thanks in part to the fact that Fitz is married, and in the other part to the fact that he’s the president of the United States. It doesn’t help that Olivia seems if not excited, then at least willing to play along in the mind-fuck of it all.
Shonda Rhimes knows a good affair, though. Meredith started out as the other woman on Grey’s Anatomy, though she didn’t know it at the time. And even when Derek’s wife Addison showed up and was awesome and brilliant and funny and gorgeous, we still knew that Meredith and Derek were the show’s OTP, that they would eventually get together and that would be it, and that Meredith’s “pick me, chose me, love me” speech would go down in history as the bravest kind of pathetic spiel anyone can give. No one ever seemed like a credible alternative for Meredith or Derek, and every character that stood in the way of their romance is no longer on the show. (Adios, hot vet.)
There’s not quite that sense of inevitability to Fitz and Olivia. They don’t seem to make each other happy — not the way, oh, Huck and Quinn make each other happy on the show. Fitz and Olivia’s relationship is so tortured it’s not even fun to watch, and Fitz has been such a sad bag o’ bones he couldn’t possibly be an active, loving partner to anyone. (Love yourself first, dude! Get some therapy ASAP.) Even though Jake turned out to be in with the bad guys, he still seemed like a more viable, worthy romantic partner for Olivia.
Scandal has plenty of other relationships worth exploring: James and Cyrus; the budding attraction between Huck and Quinn; the love triangle between David, Abby, and Harrison; even Fitz’s rocky marriage with Mellie. But Fitz and Olivia are a distillation of the show’s worldview, and sooner rather than later Scandal needs to decide what kind of universe the show operates in. Is it a universe where an emotionally wizened jerk can be saved by the devotion of a woman? Is it a world where love conquers disaster, or a world where mature people can decide to move on? A world where “the one” exists? Everyone on Scandal has done awful, illegal, immoral things, which is often what makes the show so damn sexy. But those transgressions make it hard for the show to establish what love consists of, and how you might show someone you love them or accept the love they’re showing you. For example, if you’re a trained assassin whose bosses keep you literally in a hole for months on end, that might affect your “love language.” With Fitz and Olivia, they’ve both seen the other stray so, so far from their value systems it’s hard to imagine they’d rebuild any kind of trust.
More important, it’s hard to want them to. Fly free, Olivia! And get your life together, Fitz.