Shonda Rhimes is savvy enough to know that merely talking about abortion on TV sets off an explosion of discourse. The abortion storyline is still a nervy move, even today—though it’s becoming less so with shows like Jane the Virgin and Girls having advanced the conversation in recent years. Thursday night’s Scandal winter finale took it a step further.
On a show like Scandal, it’s fitting that Rhimes would opt to dramatize an abortion scene (unlike, say, the chill storyline on Girls), rather than treating it as an aside. While other shows have chosen to broach the topic by way of dialogue or innuendo, Scandal decides to focus on the procedure itself. The abortion is only implied here. But the decision is already made, leaving no room for debate about the morality of being pro-choice.
There’s no discussion of options. There’s no inner turmoil depicted beforehand. Olivia never has a chat with President Fitz about the pregnancy or the abortion. He’s the presumed father, but given Scandal’s penchant for twists, who really knows?
It’s just Olivia on an operating table in a scene that’s interspersed, poetically, with a Papa Pope monologue about family (“Family doesn’t complete you. It destroys you,” he says). Olivia places her feet in the stirrups as a doctor performs the procedure, with “Ave Maria” as the soundtrack. What adds to its intensity is that a few scenes back, Mellie had been filibustering for Planned Parenthood funding in the Senate, with a last-minute save from Vice President Susan by way of Olivia, who felt left out while watching the filibuster on TV, from a distance.
Were it not in the hands of Shonda Rhimes, Olivia’s choice could’ve been minimized as just a twist inserted for shock value. And it’s got shock value, for sure. But it’s also Rhimes using her show as a statement, as she’s tended to do. Scandal has very often been her platform for social commentary on wage equality, police brutality, etc. In this case, the decision to display the abortion, without any discussion of it, is the political act itself.
In the post-abortion scene, Olivia has a blunt convo with Fitz about why their relationship—because her independence is limited in the White House—can’t work. There is no future with Fitz. These two clueless lovebirds seem to have finally realized their bond was always meant to be broken and must go their separate ways. And Olivia’s prior abortion makes it seem like the breakup isn’t just ceremonial this time. Both procedures are a very final decision.
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