Why Last Night's Major Scandal Death Is So Controversial

Photo: ABC/Richard Cartwright.
If there's one thing we know about Shonda Rhimes' TV shows, it's that they definitely keep us on our toes. And last night's Scandal is certainly no exception. (Spoilers ahead!)

This week, we saw Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) learn how to get away with murder — and a murder in the White House bunker, no less. After undergoing severe PTSD about her kidnapping, Olivia snaps, violently beating Andrew (Jon Tenney) with a chair until he's dead.

The controversial episode has sparked discussion about the effects of PTSD and self-defense. Even if Olivia's actions aren't justified, the way Scandal presented her confrontation with Andrew was delicate and well thought-out. It's not every episode that we see Olivia's vulnerable side, and in yesterday's Scandal, we saw more emotion from Olivia than we have in the rest of the season.

In last night's pivotal scene, Olivia visits Andrew, who's being held in the White House bunker, alone. Presumably, she wants to talk him out of a deal he made with Abby (Darby Stanchfield), where he planned to tell a reporter about his affair with Mellie (Bellamy Young). But despite the fact that the former vice president is still recovering from his coma, and has difficulty speaking, he still has a tremendous amount of power over Olivia.
Photo: ABC/Richard Cartwright.
Andrew may not be able to walk, but he can still verbally torment Olivia. He calls her a slut, and his words echo Tom's (Brian Letscher) designation of Olivia as "Helen of Troy," hearkening back to the West Angola plotline. Andrew is responsible for Olivia's kidnapping, and Fitz (Tony Goldwyn) went to war with West Angola because of it — even though many top White House officials agreed that saving Olivia wasn't worth the risk.

It's clear that Andrew doesn't regret what he put Olivia through, but there's also a more personal issue at hand. Earlier in the episode, Andrew attempted to reconnect with Mellie in the hospital, asking her if she was disgusted by him. She blames Andrew for "choosing" Fitz by remaining vice president, instead of pursuing a relationship with her. But the reason he did so was because of what Olivia said to him about the affair, before the kidnapping took place.

Andrew's statements are horrible — and extremely triggering for Olivia — but Scandal makes it clear where they're coming from. Andrew still feels Olivia had no right to lecture him about his relationship with Mellie, given her history with Fitz. Plus, his connection with Mellie was hardly a fling — he saved her life when she attempted suicide after being raped.

Of course, there's also the question of whether Olivia was triggered by Andrew's statements, or whether she went to the bunker with the intention of killing him. I lean toward the former, but my colleague, Rebecca Smith, suggests that this was actually premeditated murder. Over at Entertainment Weekly, meanwhile, Amanda Bell suggests that Olivia "has her fight or flight response reawakened" by Andrew's statements, which leads to her striking him with the chair.
Photo: ABC/Richard Cartwright.
The scene also resembles another pivotal moment in Scandal history. In Season 3, Fitz held Rowan (Joe Morton), in the same bunker. Even though Rowan was theoretically Fitz's prisoner, he had all of the power in their discussion. It's also no coincidence that immediately after leaving the bunker, Olivia goes to Rowan's house.

Scandal
's fifth season has seen plenty of discussion about power — at this point, it's more important to Olivia and Abby than justice, romance, or anything else. Using the bunker as the setting for both of these scenes emphasizes the fact that power, even in Washington, doesn't just come from the office you hold, or how much money you have. Scandal is no stranger to graphic violence and torture — but words, even from the mouth of a paralyzed man in a wheelchair, or a man in handcuffs, have an incredible amount of weight, too.

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