Nothing seems more primed for viral domination than a TGIT series taking on the #MeToo movement and D.C.’s real-life problems with sexual harassment, marking one of television’s first-ever responses to the actual sexual misconduct reckoning that began in October 2017. This is especially true when the show we’re talking about is Scandal, which is speeding towards its series finale in a matter of weeks. And, yet, the Shondaland series’ latest installment, “The List,” barely made a blip on the pop cultural radar.
This is a real crime against television, as the Thursday night episode grappled with the worst-case scenario of sexual harassment and the show's own murky history of possible misconduct with the kind of complexity of a peak Scandal installment.
Congressional aide Alisha Francis (Marquise C. Brown), who opens “The List” by buying a gun, is our way into Scandal’s #MeToo exploration. First, viewers are led to assume the 21-year-old needs the weapon to protect herself from some violent stalker (or, at least, that’s what I initially thought). When Liv finds out Alisha was fired from her dream job and then subsequently purchased a firearm, she assumes the young woman planned a deadly revenge scheme. But, it’s eventually revealed Alisha bought the gun to commit suicide after her life’s goal was thwarted. Police find Alisha's body about a week after her disappearance.
The tragedy of Alisha comes down to a “Fresh Meat” list that details all the “attractive female interns on The Hill,” as Marcus Walker (Cornelius Smith Jr.) explains to an aghast Olivia and in-no-way-shocked Fitz Grant (Tony Goldwyn). D.C.’s most powerful men use the list to “review” the young women and what kind of sexual favors they’re open to giving, which therefore makes and breaks reputations. Alisha is listed as “GFV,” or “gluten-free vegan,” by her former boss, Tim Waterbend (Mark Jude Sullivan).
As Marcus explains to Liv, the already creepy-sounding ranking “means she won’t put out. And if you’re one of the guys on this list and you get her resume…” Unable to complete such an awful thought, Fitz cuts into say, “You won’t hire her.”
While a lot of the news about sexual harassment in Hollywood and beyond has rightly focused on the most brutal forms of sexual violence, “The List” shows the ways sexual misconduct can ruin lives without laying a hand on someone. Alisha didn’t sleep with Tim, who propositioned his employee, and was never forced to. But, her decision to turn down such sexual coercion ended any dreams she had about following in her heroine Olivia Pope’s footsteps. Not only was Alisha fired after her internship ended, but every single man who has access to the “Fresh Meat” list was encouraged to turn her down for a job. In one single moment of standing up for herself, Alisha's professional reputation was decimated.
In a world where women are being raped by studio executives and D.C. staffers are harassed by congressman, it’s easy for certain people to write off such a “hot list” as harmless fun. Alisha’s boss and “reviewer” Tim certainly does, telling Olivia, “It’s not my fault. If she didn’t want to play the game, that’s on her, but I’m not responsible … I never told anyone not to hire her.” But, “The List” proves how wrong Tim’s line of thinking is.
By simply putting Alisha’s name on that database, Tim signaled to his fellow power players the Georgetown student wasn’t the kind of young woman they would want on their payroll — especially when there are “prime ribs” and “flank steaks” available. We know this is true because Alisha applied to a whopping 28 government job listings the day after she was fired. She received absolutely no responses, despite her recent prestigious internship. Considering the fact Marcus was sent “the list” anonymously the moment he began working in the White House, it’s more than likely all the men in charge of filling those 28 jobs also have the list. Fitz is right when he says the dreaded “GFV” is the career kiss of death.
This kind of systematic sexism is equally damaging to women who do “play the game,” to use Tim’s words. Olivia figures out Alisha’s co-worker and roommate Meghan (Solea Pfeiffer) was also propositioned by Tim, and decided to sleep with him to ensure her future. “I figured it would be easier to just put up with it,” Meghan, ranked as a “prime rib,” explains to Liv. Meghan, was given a permanent position when her internship ended.
But, “The List” isn’t about vilifying Meghan. The young woman was also a victim of Tim’s harassment, since she slept with him out of fear and had a “couple of drinks” just to deal with the coercion. “You know these guys — if you reject them, they get so… butt hurt about it,” Meghan complains to Liv. The young woman's sexual encounter with her boss clearly isn't one she would have agreed to under fair power dynamics. That’s why it’s so cathartic to see Meghan expose Tim, and the systems that support his disturbing behavior, during a press conference criticizing a culture where women are “judged by their attractiveness and their sexual compliance.”
In a nod to the real world, the episode ends with an outpouring of women’s stories, dating as far back as the 1980s, that echoes both Meghan’s and the late Alisha’s experiences. In a nod to what the future could hold, President Mellie Grant (Bellamy Young) swears to fix sexual harassment on a national level, even if it hurts her politically.
While that is all very Scandal Best Case Scenario, Mellie’s most important contribution is subtly explaining to the millions of viewers at home why ending D.C.’s misconduct problem is so hard: passing punitive legislation against Capital harassers would punish many of the very people voting on a prospective bill. As we saw over the last few months, such bad behavior isn’t exclusive to one side of the aisle. So, very few lawmakers are going to purposefully shoot themselves in the foot.
While we don’t get a perfect policy fix for harassment in “The List,” we do get a straightforward conversation about whether Olivia and Fitz’s relationship crossed the line into harassment. After all, Olitz did begin when Liv was the former president’s employee. Yet this coupling was always very obviously mutually obsessed with each other, and Liv was the one to actually begin their sexual relationship.
Season 1’s “The Trail” proves as much, giving us a look at the first time Olivia and Fitz slept together. In the episode, we see the pair’s countless weeks of flirting during Fitz’s original presidential run, which culminates in their hotel room hookup. But, before the couple ends up in bed together, Fitz urges Olivia to go into her room solo and forget about their boundless chemistry. She responds by ignoring that advice and walking to the future president’s hotel room, thus beginning their very sensual evening. The entire encounter was Olivia's choice.
That’s why when Fitz asks Liv, amid the Alisha tragedy, if he “crossed a line,” she responds, “That was different, we crossed that line together.” If you take one thing away from “The List,” it’s Liv’s portrayer Kerry Washington’s Twitter response to the scene, “Consent is sexy y'all.” And, as the career-ending monsters of the episode prove, basically nothing else is.
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