Last night's episode of Scandal was too much to handle on a number of levels. There was a ton going on, and if you blinked too often you probably missed half of it. But what stood out the most to me this week, was the incremental development of the souring relationship between FLOTUS Mellie Grant, and her husband, POTUS Fitzgerald Grant.
At the beginning of the season, I made a case for why Mellie doesn't deserve the bad reputation
she's gotten, and this week, I think we got a little more information to back up my case. Bellamy Young's fantastic performance gave Mellie an emotional depth that I'm so glad we're finally getting to explore.
Firstly, Mellie still loves Fitz. There is no question about that. It is fact, and it becomes even more obvious as the weeks roll by. For whatever reason, Mellie loves her abusive asshole of a husband, and she wants things to work out between them. To me this episode, specifically her drunk speech in the dining room, shows that Mellie is finally beginning to realize that there is nothing left for her to do. There is nothing she can do that will ever make Fitz love her the way that he loves Olivia, and it's making her bitter and hard.
She's tried everything from initiating sex, to making herself emotionally available to him after his assassination attempt, to confessing her part in Defiance and trying to position herself as an ally, and nothing worked. Fitz has systematically shut down every attempt she has made at extending him affection. She even induced her labour with baby Teddy prematurely because she remembered the delivery room as a time and place where the two of them were emotionally close, and even that didn't work. Mellie knows that there are no more chances for them or their marriage.
To add insult to injury, Mellie has had to endure the humiliation of knowing that her husband has not only been cheating on her, but is genuinely in love with another woman. And to top it all off, Fitz takes every opportunity he can to rub that fact in her face. Mellie is jealous of his love for Olivia. She feels like she was the one who was there when he was nothing; she put in all the work, and yet Olivia gets to reap the benefits. She deserves to be loved by the man she sacrificed her own dreams for, but he does nothing but belittle and devalue her.
Now, some might say that Mellie brought it on herself because she treats Fitz with sharp words in kind, but as I was discussing with fellow Scandal enthusiast Grace on twitter last night, I am convinced that the only reason that Mellie is so vitriolic towards Fitz in their interactions is because she is genuinely hurt that he no longer loves her.
Fitz treats Mellie with little to no regard because emotionally, he is done with her, and he thinks that Mellie wants to take him down out of spite because she can't get her way. What Fitz doesn't see is that she does love him, and has been planning her schemes with a mind to that fact from the very beginning. Just think: Fitz claims that he leaked Olivia's name to the press to protect her from Mellie's maliciousness, but the viewer already knows from last season that Mellie would NEVER have leaked Olivia's name, and adamantly refused to do so, even when it was in her best interest politically. As much as she may have wanted revenge, she wanted Fitz back more, and hurting Olivia would have been unforgivable. Admittedly, Fitz wasn't privy to that information, but he has continually failed to see all the ways in which she has done less than she could have in order to protect him and his legacy.
What I also find so fascinating about Mellie is the brave face she puts on. Not once does she allow herself to falter. As hurt as she is by her husband's betrayal, she never allows him to see that vulnerability, and continues to play for the endgame. She refuses to appear weak to Fitz. She doesn't want his pity or sympathy, both of which she is more than entitled to. She is justifiably hurt, but doesn't want to appear to be anything less than the devious political animal she can be. So she engages him, and she continues the game, because she'd rather have him believe that she was the devil than see her soft spots and exploit her vulnerabilities. She'd rather let the man she loves hate her than pity her.
"Pretending is what's real" as she says.
Mellie's drunk exchange with Fitz also reveals so much about how she sees herself and her position in this ill-fated love triangle. When Fitz hits her hard by saying that she would be happy to see Olivia dead, she counters by essentially saying that Olivia is useless to her dead; alive, she's the tool Mellie can use to manipulate her misguided husband. Because at this point, all bets are off for Mellie. There's nothing left to salvage of their marriage. Fitz not only doesn't love or respect her, he actively thinks the worst of her. So for Mellie, her next move is to make sure that if her won't respect her as his wife, he will for damn sure respect her as a potential threat to his legacy.
That exchange also showed that Mellie doesn't hate Olivia in the way that most people might assume. She's resentful of her relationship with Fitz, but she doesn't hate her. She acknowledges to herself that Fitz is the one who betrayed her, even as she tosses out the word "whore" like it's poison on her tongue. She recognizes that she need Olivia around to mess up and defy Fitz, so that her flaws are revealed and Mellie looks the saint in comparison. It won't repair Mellie and Fitz's relationship, but it would be a well-deserved karmic bitch slap.
And that's not to say that there isn't a selfishness entangled in all of this on Mellie's part. In addition to loving Fitz, I think that Mellie is so desperate to repair their relationship because she refuses to fail. Not at love, not at politics, and not in her marriage. To me, Mellie sees her inability to reconcile herself to Fitz as a personal failure on her part; she thinks she should have been able to keep the situation under control, but couldn't. There's an internal struggle of continuing to try to repair a broken marriage so as to not be a failure, and cutting her losses so that she can move on and fulfill her own true potential.
We're only at episode three, so there's a lot of room for this dynamic to develop over the course of this season. My prediction? Mellie is finally going to make herself a credible and undeniable threat to Fitz's legacy, and maybe even have an affair of her own. Who knows?