We Need To Talk About How Scandal Addresses Suicide

Photo: ABC/Scott Everett White.
This article contains spoilers about the season 6 finale of Scandal.
When Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) completed her transformation into Dark Olivia on last night's Scandal finale, she pulled a Hunger Games-level evil move on Luna Vargas (Tessie Santiago). Olivia forced Luna to kill herself by taking a set of pills that would apparently cause a fatal heart attack in her sleep. To the general public (and to the Vargas children), her passing will either look like a suicide or a death from natural causes. But Luna hardly had a choice; Olivia made clear that if Luna didn't kill herself, Jake's (Scott Foley) henchmen would not only murder her, but they would also reveal that she was behind Frankie's (Ricardo Chavira) death.
The scene was shocking and incredibly disturbing. But it's not the first time Scandal has brought suicide into the conversation. In the very first episode of the show, Amanda Tanner (Liza Weil) attempts to take her own life after Olivia bullies her relentlessly. Then, in the fifth season, Navid Turani (Sammy Sheik) also attempts to kill himself, again because of an error on Olivia's part. The suicide attempts are shocking, though they don't stop Olivia from bullying people again.
Before Luna's death, though, Scandal's most memorable depiction of a suicide attempt came from Mellie (Bellamy Young). After being raped by Jerry Grant (Barry Bostwick), Mellie tries to take her life, but Andrew (Jon Tenney) saves her.
The once-lifesaving Andrew goes on to become a villain who orchestrates Olivia's kidnapping, and his relationship with Mellie is all but forgotten. But the show's sixth season brought up the memory of Mellie's past on several occasions.
When Samantha (Zoe Perry) kills Liz (Portia de Rossi) right in front of Mellie, my first thought was that Mellie would have killed herself after this turn of events. She ran for president because she wanted to make the country better, which isn't something she'd be doing as Samantha and Peus' (David Warshofsky) puppet. I know that's a horrible, dark thought, but Mellie has tried to take her own life in the past, and this isn't an administration she'd be comfortable being a part of. (In a later episode, Samantha makes an unfortunate joke about Mellie, saying she'll be "disappointed" if a piece of paper Mellie's handing her is a suicide note.)
The only thing keeping her alive is her children — Samantha threatens to have them killed if Mellie doesn't comply with their demands. Wanting the best for her kids is what keeps Mellie going.
And, in a strange twist, wanting what's best for her children is what convinces Luna to kill herself, too. Olivia reminds her that if the news about Frankie's death is revealed, her children will know the truth about their mom's plans, which is too much for Luna to bear. Parental love is both life-saving and life-ending on Scandal.
Addressing mental illness has never been one of Scandal's strong suits. Olivia and Huck (Guillermo Diaz) could definitely benefit from therapy and self-care, which neither of them are getting. But every time suicide enters the conversation on the show, it's incredibly uncomfortable. And it's even more uncomfortable that it involves the children.
Scandal already has a problem with how it portrays parenting. The politicians who care about their children's wellbeing (Mellie, Luna, Liz, and Susan Ross) are female, while the show's male politicians (Cyrus, Fitz, Hollis) aren't nearly as concerned with their kids. (Yes, James and Michael both cared about Ella, but they're not politicians.) And Luna's love for her children cost her her life.
It's hard to believe that Olivia will still be Dark Olivia when Scandal ends after its seventh season. But if and when she accepts responsibility and guilt for Luna and Andrew's deaths, she should remember Amanda and Navid, too. Olivia's actions come with a price, and I hope that she'll eventually realize that.
If you or someone you know is considering self-harm, please get help. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
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