Scandal Gets A Little Kinky — & A Little Feminist — With Some Help From Lena Dunham

Photo: Nicole Wilder/ABC.
Editor's Note: Spoilers Ahead.

Last night's episode of Scandal made headlines before its premiere because Lena Dunham and that wig were guest-starring. This morning, "It's Good To Be Kink" is making headlines because the show tackled a topic that always seems timely in Washington, D.C.: a potentially career-destroying sex scandal.

Dunham played Suzanne Thomas, known to friends, loved ones, and sexual partners as simply Sue. She's a young woman who has bedded several powerful men in D.C. (and, of course, loves all things kinky), and decided to release a tell-all book using code names to protect the rich and guilty. If there's something the wonks in Washington like more than a sex scandal, it's decoding pseudonyms. You would think they'd have bigger problems to solve.

Sue comes to Olivia's attention when Abby realizes that her latest love interest, Leo Bergen, is one of several men featured in the book proposal. While Abby's slightly concerned for Leo's career, she's more concerned about her own. She turns to Olivia to help her shut things down. Liv steps in and does a fantastic job of slut-shaming Sue, who comes across as a meek and misguided young woman who's gotten in over her head.

But, this is Scandal, so of course first impressions are usually wrong. Sue is not meek, and she stops by OPA to tell it how it really is: She's not a slut. She's going to publish that book. And, in maybe the best (and most meta) line in the entire episode, she argues that anyone who publishes a memoir is a whore. Ouch. Oh yeah, and she wants a cool $3 million not to talk. To make things even worse, David Rosen, our white-hat-wearing Attorney General, was one of her lovers.

Here we'll take a pause in the recap to discuss the facts of this case. Sue is into kinky stuff in the bedroom. She's had consensual sex with a number of high-powered men. For some reason, what they did in the privacy of their bedrooms is so damaging, it will destroy not only their careers, but Sue's, and Abby's, and the all the women associated with them.

Recaps around the Internet talk about how funny this episode is. Really, there's no humor in Dunham's character's many romantic dalliances. The show touches on a topic (albeit with a bit of a heavy hand) that comes up again and again in Washington and across the country. When men are involved in sex scandals, it's a joke. Rarely, it's completely career ruining (see Bill Clinton, Rush Limbaugh). When a woman's name is linked to the same scandal, though, it can come close to destroying them. Monica Lewinsky is the prime example, but let's not forget Silda Wall Spitzer or Huma Abedin, who publicly supported their husbands as they admitted to extramarital affairs, only to be very publicly dissected for standing by their men.

There's not enough time to get into all the double standards women face. We are criticized when we lean forward, or when we decide we want to lean back. We are criticized when we choose to have children, and we are criticized when we choose not to procreate. We are criticized when we report rapes, and we are criticized when we are afraid to. Our clothes, our hair, our makeup, our friendships, the number of sexual partners we have, our activity on social media — it's all up for public scrutiny, even if we're not public figures.

We live in a fairly puritanical society. We're quick to judge, and sex makes us pretty squeamish. We don't really like to talk about what's going on between the sheets in any way that might normalize it — we usually only bring it up to judge or joke or embarrass the parties involved. 

Sue didn't do anything wrong by having sex with all those men, and Olivia knows that, which is why she ends up helping the young woman. Olivia gets to the real reason Sue wrote the book (she was fired after being sexually harassed by her jerky boss, who then blackballed her from getting any other jobs), and she fixes it. Or, at least she tries to. Huck, who is turning more and more ferrel with each episode, ends up killing Sue because he's afraid that she will talk, and he'll lose the immunity that David Rosen promised him if Rosen goes down because of the book. It's a shocking scene, and points to a bigger plot issue that Shonda and Co. will no doubt have to address in next week's episode. But, now that Sue is no longer a problem, Leo and Abby can go back to banging, both of their careers safe from critique — this week at least.

Scandal
is a show about sex and power, so future episodes will more than likely deal with this topic. There will be more careers destroyed, more slut-shaming, more men and women trying to cover up their sexual preferences. There are many outlandish things about Shonda Rhimes' hit series, but our so-called moral outrage over what goes on in the private bedrooms of this country's most powerful men and women is not one of them. Until we start to accept that sex is a normal part of life, this will always be the case. We will always lose sight of the true narrative, that public people should be entitled to personal lives. Less judging. More acceptance. Love is love. Consensual sex is consensual sex. And, as long as all parties involved want to be there, who are we to stop them?  
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