Television crossovers tend to have all the hype of something truly great, with absolutely none of the follow through. Think of last year’s New Girl-Brooklyn Nine-Nine collaboration, which sounded amazing on paper, but was immediately forgettable once it was over. So, considering the generally rocky roads both How To Get Away With Murder and on-its-final season Scandal tend to be on recently, it was fair to assume their big ABC crossover would end up falling apart by the end. I mean how many Scandal loose ends have taken viewers to Nowhere Town? How many viewers has Murder lost thanks to baffling, alienating mysteries (this writer included)? Legion; the answer is legion.
But, the perfectly nicknamed “How To Get Away With Scandal” extravaganza was actually a stunning two hours of television filled with red wine, popcorn, shade, ambition, and tough discussions on what it means to be a Black woman in America. “HTGAWS” — whose episodes were actually called “Allow Me to Reintroduce Myself” and “Lahey v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania” — was perfect because it reminded us how special it is to see messy, complicated Black women like Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) and Annalise Keating (Viola Davis) as network leading ladies and forces of nature.
Right now, powerful, unforgettable Black women are taking up space all over television. On HBO there’s Issa Dee (Issa Rae) and Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton). On Netflix there’s the entire female cast of Dear White People and the standouts of Orange Is The New Black. The CW has two young Black superheroes in the Pierce sisters, Jennifer (China Anne McClain) and Anissa (Nafessa Williams), on Black Lightning. Lee Daniels has created an entire mini-empire on FOX, and it’s anchored by ladies like Cookie Lyon (Taraji P. Henson) and Carlotta Brown (Queen Latifah). Zoey Johnson (Yara Shahidi) was such a black-ish breakout star, she now has her own spin-off series, grown-ish.
But, here’s an important fact to remember while enjoying this rainbow of the televised Black experience: absolutely none of these series or characters existed before Olivia Pope entered the world in 2012, marking the first time in over 40 years a Black woman was allowed to lead a network drama. And, all of those shows save for Orange came after Annalise Keating started swigging vodka and covering up murders, leading Viola Davis to become the first-ever Black woman to win an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series… in 2015. The television was invented in 1927.
Olivia and Annalise aren’t simply TV characters, they're mold-breaking, history-changing icons.
That’s why the pair’s first meeting in Scandal’s “Reintroduce Myself” will give you chills. Not only is the tension electric as Annalise asks for Olivia’s help in fast-tracking her passion project case to the Supreme Court, but there’s years of unspoken dark history sitting between these two women. Olivia has murdered foreign heads of state and vice presidents. She has fixed elections and had wars waged on her behalf. Mere weeks ago, she was the head of America’s leading black-ops spy ring. Annalise has covered up more murders than anyone can properly count, cheated on her terrible husband, and manipulated everyone within a one-mile radius of her.
Even with all of this bad behavior, it’s impossible not to root for either woman, even at their darkest points. This kind of push-pull audiences feel for Olivia and Annalise is usually saved for white man doing dastardly things, and has been since the dawn of time. It’s why murderous mob boss Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini), actual serial killer Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall), and literal terrorist Nick Brody (Damian Lewis) are all beloved ne'er do wells with the Emmys nods, and wins, to prove it. Yet, Olivia and Annalise are right there with them, outdoing these men in the anti-heroics department at every turn. It’s not like Nick Brody ever managed to murder two vice presidents in cold blood from inside the walls of the White House.
Although Liv and Annalise are just as bad as their white, male counterparts, their crossover illustrates their unapologetic Black womanhood as well, something that can sometimes go overlooked on their respective series. Their explosive showdown over who is truly the “hot mess” in the situation — spoiler alert: they both are — goes down in a Black hair salon. Liv’s relaxed hair is in rollers as Annalise gets a wash and press. Words like “siddity,” which means bougie, are thrown around as the pair debates colorism and classism in the community.
We might take a conversation like this for granted as the Insecures and Dear White Peoples of television rule the world, but, quite literally, this kind of conversation is lightning in a bottle. There is only one other plausible network crossover where this would be possible, and it’s between FOX’s Empire and Star, which did have a mini collaboration at the start of the 2017-2018 season. There was no such important conversation between Cookie and Carlotta.
In the same way Liv and Annalise’s blowup is emblematic of how Scandal and HTGAWM can be great, their eventual resolution is equally special. Seeing these two women joke about “Megabus specials” and “siddity snacks” over popcorn and pricey wine? Perfect. Watching the pair proudly stride down the stairs of the Capitol Building? Even better.
The cherry on the sundae arrives in Murder’s “Lahey v. Commonwealth,” when Annalise, in the middle of a panic attack seconds before arguing her first case in front of the Supreme Court, begs for vodka despite her history of alcoholism. Fixer Liv procures a bottle, but tells her new ally, “Whatever you think is at the bottom of this bottle is already in you. I know that, but I don’t have time to convince you … So if you think you need a drink, drink.” The world cries and Annalise turns down the bottle. Instead of getting drunk, she gives a dazzler of a closing argument in front of the Supreme Court, connecting Jim Crow laws, the current public defense system, and civil rights in a speech that’s one for the books.
It’s a moment only Annalise Keating could pull off, and only Olivia Pope could push someone to create. That’s why #HowToGetAwayWithScandal proves these two hot messes are the real GOATs.
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