There is something different about Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) on this season of Scandal. For one thing, she has really stepped into her power as President Mellie Grant’s (Bellamy Young) Chief of Staff. She has made time for casual sex on her terms, even if her methods are a bit impersonal. It seems like she’s even been able to control the reins on her father, Eli (Joe Morton). And on Thursday night’s episode, it looked like she might be doing something that some fans of the show have been waiting a long time for: bonding with another Black person over the experience of being Black.
Marcus Walker (Cornelius Smith Jr.), the activist-turned-gladiator-turned-political-strategist is now working for former president Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn). After laying low in Vermont to give his ex-wife a chance to shine in her first 100 days as POTUS, Fitz was eager to get back to Washington, D.C., and try to win back his ex-girlfriend, Olivia. Marcus went along for the ride, and he stopped by the White House to visit his former boss. After breaking through Olivia’s tough exterior, something that everyone seems to have to do these days, they have a light hearted exchange that meant more to me than any other exchange on the episode.
Olivia: "How’s Vermont?"
Marcus: "Cold. White."
Olivia: "I meant how is Fitz in Vermont."
Marcus: "Cold… White."
Olivia breaks into a smile, and they both share a laugh.
It was cute. To the untrained eye, Marcus’ joke was just clever wordplay. But being Black comes with it’s own set of codes and understanding of race and culture. Marcus and Olivia shared a laugh over the unspoken meaning of whiteness and the way Fitz embodies it every day. Some of these are themes Fitz himself doesn’t easily recognize — mainly his own privilege. It was a joke that only landed because it was shared between two Black people.
It also marks an important moment in Olivia Pope history. The Black woman unofficially running the country is notorious for avoiding Black culture. With the exception of her parents, the two Black men who worked at OPA, and the one Black senator she dated, there are no Black people who are part of Liv’s life in a real way. There are definitely some clues that lend themselves to participation in Black culture. For example, her vinyl collection includes records from Stevie Wonder and other Black musical greats. And if we are meant to believe that her natural hair stays so straight in DC humidity, you can bet your bottom dollar that a Black stylist is responsible. But other than that: nothing. She hardly ever talks about what it means to be a Black woman in her position because she rarely talks to other Black people.
Now we know for sure: She gets it. It looks like show creator Shonda Rhimes has decided to use the final season of Scandal to give the people what they want. Since she’s headed to Netflix, she doesn’t have to be so rigid in pleasing the network heads, whom I can only imagine are stuffy white dudes who don’t get Blackness at all.