I first started watching Scandal last summer when I discovered the first several seasons were available on Netflix and after reading multiple recommendations online. (What finally sealed it? Seeing this clip of Lisa Kudrow killin’ it as a presidential candidate.) I love this freaking show. It’s frequently ridiculous and over the top and characters spout out top speed monologues at least once an episode. I just could not stop watching the madness. It served as a sort of balm as I packed up my entire life and prepared to move across the country. Olivia Pope wouldn’t flinch in the face of such a paltry task.
The only thing that really bothered me was Abby and Olivia’s friendship. Olivia Pope, resident badass, is a woman who sticks up for her friends and will go to extremes to help them. Abby Whelan works on her crack team of lawyers because years ago Olivia got her out of an abusive and potentially fatal relationship. This act dedicated Abby faithfully to the cause and she started working for Olivia. I like this. I think it’s great that Olivia stands up for women in hard positions and that Abby admires her for it. But in the first couple seasons, there was a power imbalance. Olivia confided in certain designated male colleagues but never really in Abby. And as for Abby, she betrayed a man she really loved in order to help Olivia out.
Then, season four happened, and while the show might be even crazier than it ever was before, it has latched onto something that I absolutely love: the Abby/Olivia friendship. After Olivia disappears and finds refuge on a tropical island for a while, Abby becomes press secretary at the White House. Abby gets constantly shat on for not being as good as Olivia by the men around her. Then Olivia returns and something glorious happens. Abby finds it in herself to start standing up to her shitty coworkers, who include the President. That’s some serious guts.
Then she tells off Olivia for abandoning her. This is the point where I think their friendship takes it to the next level. Rather than admiring Olivia and dedicating herself to the cause, Abby stands up for herself. She stays at the White House instead of going back to Olivia. She says everything she needs to about how Olivia was a shitty friend for abandoning her. She doesn’t back down. We’ve seen Abby have similar tirades in earlier seasons, but never before at Olivia. The best part? It works. Abby breaks down those barriers and Olivia finally allows herself to cry on Abby’s shoulder. The two become equals.
The real point that solidified all of this is later in the season after Olivia is kidnapped and put into a mysterious prison. She tries to break out a couple times but no luck. So, she decides to fantasize about the life she could be leading. Fitz is there, as always, to provide the sex. But Abby is there to bring her crashing back to reality and deliver the truth: “There is no man to rescue you. Do you hear me? No one. No one is going to help you. You are the only gladiator in the place. You are all you’ve got. You’ve got to rescue yourself.” Then, as she walks off, message delivered, she mentions, “You dropped something.” This something is a metal cuff that turns out to be the key to Olivia engineering her escape. I find it telling that in Olivia’s subconscious, Abby is her voice of reason, the voice propping her up and telling her that she has it in her to find her way out. That the men her life can’t help her. When Olivia can’t find the strength in herself, she finds it in Abby first.
That’s what I think is great about these women. They clash, they misunderstand each other, and sometimes they don’t stand on equal footing. But intense loyalty holds them together until they realize that the wild circumstances around them are bearable through their friendship. Or to point out harsh truths to each other and say, “You’re screwed and you’re the only one who can fix it.” They’re blunt when they have to be and supportive when they have to be and while all the men disappear or disappoint, they can count on each other. And I think that’s pretty damn awesome.
Header image via ABC/Elle UK. Image of Abby and Olivia hugging via spoilertv.com.