Warning: Spoilers for the seventh season of Scandal ahead.
The winter finale of Scandal went off without hitch on Thursday night — by Scandal standards at least. Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) and her gladiators spent the entire episode racing to find a kidnapped and very pregnant Quinn (Katie Lowes). It appears they may have found her kidnapper, Olivia's father Eli Pope (Joe Morton). This was who I suspected all along, as the former B613 head has reached an all-time low. He's resorted to such extreme measures because Liv took away his collection of dinosaur bones. I’m not sure where the writers' room is headed with that, but Eli deserves better. Anyway, in the harrowing final moment of the episode, Eli appeared to have shot Quinn. Because Scandal loves to dangle imminent death over its viewers heads, I kind of saw this shocker coming, too. Here’s what I did not expect, however, from the midseason conclusion: the return of Maya Lewis (Khandi Alexander), Olivia’s mother. But it was a welcome surprise, since Maya is the character that I always wish Liv could be more like.
By now everyone seems to be in agreement that Olivia Pope has a Black woman problem. She doesn’t have any homegirls who are Black and rarely interacts with other Black people. Part of this makes sense. Her calculating father sent her to the best boarding schools and universities, places that are elite, expensive, and not usually host to a lot of people of color. She is used to being the “only” one. You’re never going to get a “sister girl” moment from Olivia Pope. But when she is the room with her mother, Olivia has no choice but to step into that mode because Maya is very committed to her Black womanhood.
You may recall the epic speech that Maya gave last season about the burden of being a Black woman. It was one of the strongest feminist monologues that the series has ever delivered. And it marks a trend in Maya’s relationship with her headstrong daughter. Despite the means with which she achieves it — including high profile assassinations — Maya has always prioritized her own autonomy and freedom over anything else. This has been juxtaposed against Liv’s blind allegiance to the Republic to make her out to be the villain. But as the seasons go on, I find this to be more of a credit to Maya’s character. Audre Lorde famously said that, “Caring for myself is not self- indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” I think that Maya is a shining example of that in Olivia’s life. After all, the crisis manager is in a constant state of stress and trauma as she tries to make decisions about what is best for everyone except herself.
Not to mention the fact that so far, Maya has been the only person able to check Olivia. Speaking to her in a way I would never try with my own mother, Olivia demanded Maya’s help with an ultimatum: “You can either be my mother or you can be a bitch.” I’m still shook thinking about how my own mother would respond to such disrespect. Anyway, just when I thought that Maya was going to let Olivia walk away after such a burn, she coldly responded to her child, “sit your dramatic ass down.” And Liv actually sat. Maya got her together in a way that only Fitz (Tony Goldwyn) has been able to do in the past. Everyone needs someone to hold them accountable, and Maya has been that person for Olivia, even if the latter is holding her captive in a lush apartment complete with cable.
But most importantly, Maya has a certain down-to-earthness that I have always craved in her daughter. Her feminism shows in the choices she makes, not with a bunch of motivational catch phrases and clichés. And I dream of the day Olivia Pope can relax in silk pajamas, unbothered, the way her mother does.