Shondaland Is Back to Take on Trumpism
The holy triumvirate of TGIT—‘Scandal,’ ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ and ‘How to Get Away with Murder’—returned. And it was about damn time.
Donald Trump has messed with just about every woman in America, from Megyn Kelly to intersectional feminists to pro-choice advocates to Melania. All that didn’t lead the Donald to apologize, and somehow didn’t disqualify him from the presidency. But while November may have come and gone without a visible apocalypse, it appears that Donald J. Trump has finally crossed the wrong woman. The night was January 19th. And the woman was Shonda Rhimes. That Secret Service is cute and all, Mr. President, but only God can save you now (spoiler alert: God is also Shonda Rhimes).
On January 19th, a night that will go down in infamy, ABC aired a special called “America’s First Family: The Trumps Go to Washington.” Now usually, I’d be first in line to watch a 20/20 special shot in Trump’s low-budget Versailles. Trying to make out the Morse Code in Melania’s blinks and scanning picture frames in search of the faintest image of Tiffany Trump is my idea of a good time. Unfortunately, in order to broadcast this pre-inauguration special, the network that shall not be named was forced to bump the slate of shows known as TGIT: Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy, and How to Get Away with Murder. The badass trident of scripted television. The holy Trinity of doctors, lawyers, government officials, and paid hitmen I’d like to fuck.
Naturally, many Shonda Rhimes stans didn’t want to watch people they didn’t vote for occupy primetime against their will. They were probably even more pissed when they realized that this will keep happening for the next four years. In the words of one Twitter user, “This whole Trump thing has gone too far! Eff his inauguration, #TGIT is more important.” First they came for the Presidency of the United States, and I didn’t speak up, because I was too busy watching reruns of Scandal. Then they came for TGIT, and I freaked the fuck out.
When a Shonda Rhimes fan expresses incredulity, shock, or dismay, it’s time to listen up. After all, Scandal once featured a plot line in which the President of the United States suffocates one of his own Supreme Court Justices. Rhimes dips heavily into scenes and subplots that have long been considered network haram. Racially diverse casts? Come and get them. Rich, multifaceted roles for black women? But of course. Hot and heavy gay sex scenes? After every commercial break! In Shondaland, true equality means that everyone can have an Oscar-worthy orgasm set to a Leonard Cohen song, regardless of gender, race, sexuality, or creed.
In Shondaland, women haven’t just broken the glass ceiling—they’ve aced the bar, saved America five times over, and cured cancer (I assume, who watches Grey’s Anatomy anymore?). Every week, Shonda Rhimes produces three hours of the kind of content that makes you feel like living in a screen-obsessed world devoid of meaningful human connection might actually be a pretty sweet bargain. Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy, and How to Get Away with Murder give us everything we’ve ever wanted, and all the stuff that we were too ashamed to ask for: speeches about race and gender inequality. Hot male nurses who love monogamy. Great weaves. Lesbian lawyers. Billy Brown with his shirt off. Jesse Williams with his shirt off. Mary J. Blige. The golden age of television wasn’t Tony Soprano or Don Draper. It’s Annalise Keating asking her husband why his penis is on a dead girl’s phone.
Shondaland may be a fantastical place where people with 24/7 jobs maintain their washboard abs and nothing hurts. But it’s a fantasy that we need now more than ever. As we enter a political reality that could even trip up Olivia Pope, remember that Shondaland is built for adversity, whether that adversity is a red wine stain on your white suit, an unplanned pregnancy, or the convenient mid-season murder of your best friend or romantic partner. Shonda Rhimes teaches us that no obstacle is insurmountable—that laws can be tweaked, governments can be fixed, and that Grey’s Anatomy will never be cancelled. If we’re going to be living in a surreal world no matter what, I’d like to opt for Shonda Rhimes’s specific version of unreality.
Reporters have a proud history of attempting painful and occasionally foolish maneuvers, all in the name of journalism. Elizabeth Cochran got herself committed to an insane asylum in order to report from the inside. Hunter S. Thompson spent a year riding with the Hell’s Angels. And I watched—in its entirety—the mid-season premiere of the 13th season of Grey’s Anatomy. In its prime, this Shonda Rhimes flagship reached ridiculous heights, convincing a new generation of nymphomaniacs to seriously consider med school. But like a collection of near-corpses being hauled into the ICU in the aftermath of a freak natural disaster, Grey’s Anatomy is on its last legs. Of course, Shonda Rhimes knows a thing or two about medicine, and clearly refused to sign a DNR. That’s why, years later and one McDreamy lesser, this show still manages to wheeze out a plot line or two every Thursday.
To be fair, this episode of Grey’s Anatomy was not horrible. The background is that our favorite misfit, Karev, is about to go on trial for beating up a dude who chivalrously walked his girlfriend home. That girlfriend, Jo, is distracting herself with the most depressing girl power road trip of all time, accompanying Arizona and Bailey to help a pregnant inmate who’s in maximum security. Shonda, we get it—we wish we were watching Orange Is the New Black too (for what it’s worth, Arizona is totally Piper). The doctors are led to their patient by her scary-competent lawyer, who clearly came up in the Annalise Keating School of awesome high-powered black lawyers who seem to be taking tons of extralegal liberties. As the ladies get acquainted with incarceration, Shonda gets to frame her shot through a fun prison surveillance angle—a win-win. Because if there is one thing that Shonda Rhimes loves, it’s a dramatic filter.
Jo, Arizona, and Bailey are here to tend to an underage, “extremely dangerous” pregnant inmate who sort of looks like Dakota Fanning. She quickly offsets that ethereal beauty by breaking the prison doctor Dr. Eldridge’s finger. Luckily, Eldridge seems very experienced in popping her own dislocated finger back into place. She’s also working about five jobs with zero supplies. When she tours Bailey through her supply closet, we find the only thing more shocking than a doctor furtively sleeping with an inmate: a shameful lack of medical resources. Or as Eldridge snaps, “I don’t allocate my resources, the state does.” It wouldn’t be Shondaland if Rhimes didn’t manage to sneak a not-so-subtle social critique in there. While I always assumed that most doctors don’t have as much sex or fun drama as the denizens of Seattle Grace, Dr. Eldridge’s job seems almost comically unpleasant.
Meanwhile, we learn that pregnant Kristen actually grew up as a wealthy private school kid on Bainbridge Island. Grey’s Anatomy: come for the soap opera, stay for the Washington real estate tips. Kristen, who doesn’t seem too worried about “the tumor baby thing”—great “medical drama”—can’t wait for her mom to come help her through labor. Unfortunately, her disapproving, WASP-y mom makes it clear to the doctors that she has no intention of seeing her daughter, and is just there to run off with her grandkid. A heartbroken Kristen goes into early labor, and boy is off-brand Dakota Fanning going for it with this performance. She wants her mommy! She can’t do it alone! Bailey tells the shackled pregnant lady—who very recently broke Dr. Eldridge’s fingers—to squeeze all of the anger of her devastating abandonment into her hand. Which seems bold. The very serious Dr. Eldridge thaws and tells the guard to remove Kristen’s restraints. She pushes, screams, and gives birth. If the music playing over this scene isn’t Snow Patrol, it’s certainly a very good Snow Patrol cover band.
Before she’s taken away, Kristen asks to hold her newborn daughter one first—and maybe last—time. And it is a tearjerker: “Be good. Listen to your grandma. Don’t be like me. I love you…I’m your momma, remember me.” Stay in school, kids! Maybe one day, you too can emotionally manipulate a nation’s worth of loyal viewers! Arizona shames the grandma for abandoning her daughter, which feels vaguely unwarranted, but whatever. Eldridge and Bailey share a meaningful handshake, because strong black women run Shondaland and that’s just how it is.
As the doctors drive back to Seattle Grace, the all-knowing voice of Meredith Grey fills the car like the navigation lady you can never seem to turn off. Meredith is blabbing about human connections and “the laying of hands.” Where did they take you, Meredith? Or are you just on an Eat, Pray, Love-style journey of self-discovery in search of more bland voiceover aphorisms? Bailey decides that this is the right time to tell Jo that Alex went to the D.A. and took a plea bargain. Jo runs out of the car to puke by the side of the road, while Arizona tries to shame Bailey with a look. Bailey, naturally, can’t be bothered with the guilt trip. She’s lived through about eighty ridiculous plot lines, so excuse her for not getting all worked up about this white boy’s needless drama.
Oh, Scandal. According to Shonda Rhimes, her team had to throw out a Russian election hacking subplot because it “hit very close to home.” If nothing else, this episode of Scandal proves that Shonda Rhimes is, in fact, an omniscient sorceress. I didn’t catch the “previously on” segment before the episode, which is the Shondaland equivalent of walking into a gunfight with a hug. But, from what I could gather: it’s election night, and Mellie Grant just lost the presidency. Yes, Mellie, the graceful and long-suffering former first lady, will not be president. Yes, Shonda Rhimes does play dirty. In Mellie Grant headquarters, everyone is obsessed with how she inexplicably lost San Benito, and the relentless fixation on a very specific county is positively PTSD-inducing. Mellie quickly cries “voter fraud,” which, as we all know, is utterly ridiculous. Who would ever accuse California of widespread voter fraud?
Mellie’s campaign manager is Olivia Pope, the love of her ex-husband’s life. But it’s totally not weird! In Shondaland, hyper-conscious uncoupling is alive and well. “We lost,” Olivia Pope whisper-screams. “They won. It’s over.” Olivia convinces Mellie to concede, insisting that, because she’s a woman, reporters would call her ungracious, and then a bitch. Sort of a low blow at the press, but I see what she’s getting at.
In the past few months, have you ever wanted to watch a qualified woman concede the job she deserves to her Y-chromosome-having opponent? No? Well too bad, because it’s happening. Next up, Olivia and Mellie share a well-deserved champagne bottle in a marble bathtub, because Shonda Rhimes knows exactly how to lead us to an emotional cliff and then pull us back. It might be a dark day for gender equality, but it’s a beautiful moment for interracial female friendships between former rivals.
Then the guy who actually won—Frankie Vargas—gets shot. Because of course he does. That means that Cyrus Beene, his VP, will become president, which is exactly what Olivia and Mellie were most afraid of. After an enlightening and terrifying conversation with her father, Olivia is convinced that Beene ordered the hit on his own running mate. This would make sense, since Cyrus has killed before. On the other hand, so have most characters on Scandal. Olivia goes on a mission to get Fitz all the facts before he announces who he thinks should be the next President. Oh yeah, apparently that’s Fitz’s responsibility now. We know this because we watch him get a lecture from Attorney General David Rosen on the inner workings of the electoral college. This lecture feels plagiarized from all of our Twitter feeds on November 9th.
For the aforementioned mission, Olivia dons a red cape and red elbow-length gloves. This outfit is both unexplained and inexplicable. When Olivia visits a visibly shocked Beene in the hospital, she finally realizes that she may have jumped the gun with the whole murder accusation thing. After Olivia and Fitz commiserate over their shared disbelief that Olivia was wrong, Fitz offers Beene the presidency—with a bonus speech. “I am handing you the most beautiful thing in the world. I am handing you America.” Unfortunately, Olivia’s team just realized that they may have missed a piece of evidence. That evidence is a recovered voicemail from a murdered witness, claiming that Cyrus Beene did, in fact, kill Frankie Vargas. Olivia visits a triumphant Beene, hits him with the classic whisper-hug, and congratulates him on his acting chops. Then she promises to prove that he was behind Vargas’s murder and make Mellie president. Scandal!
And that brings us to How to Get Away with Murder. You may be more of an Olivia Pope than an Annalise Keating. You might prefer the comfort food staple that is Grey’s Anatomy to Rhimes’s more recent offerings. But you would be wrong. How to Get Away With Murder is the jewel in Shonda Rhimes’s crown. It is the perfect bottle of binge-watching Pinot Grigio. It is the crucial sixth ab on a set of six abs. On HTGAWM this glorious midseason, we’re grappling with the death of one Wes, FKA waitlist. Annalise stands accused of his murder, as well as arson. Throughout the episode, our cast indulges in some flashbacks of Wes. Annalise remembers all the times she has watched Wes play soccer. Then she wakes up and realizes that she’s in jail. Shondaland really got their money’s worth out of this prison set. There’s an intense juxtaposition of Wes’s autopsy and Annalise getting strip-searched, which is not the first time How to Get Away with Murder has gone full corpse montage—Shonda can even wring drama out of a cadaver!
Pregnant Laurel is in the hospital with her secret Eskimo sister, Bonnie. Laurel thinks that Frank killed Wes, and Bonnie thinks she doesn’t want the last guy she had sex with to go to prison. Annalise tells Bonnie to represent her, which is awkward because everyone knows that Bonnie is not a great lawyer. We flash to Laurel’s Wes memory of the couple sitting in a bath together. Laurel’s missed her period, and is worried about a broken condom. Wes jokes that, “If I wasn’t so big it never would’ve broke,” which is totally gross. Get out of here, Wes. We learn that Laurel isn’t on birth control, which is a really bad decision when you’re on a Shonda Rhimes show.
Back in present time, Connor still calls Wes waitlist, which feels like a fulfillment of all of our worst postmortem fears. Annalise’s cellmate really wants her to loosen up and also poop. Asher’s Wes memory is of a time when Asher mistakenly grabbed a black girl’s ass thinking she was his girlfriend Michaela, and Wes bailed him out. Anonymous black girl called Asher a Trump supporter, which I can only assume is the reason why this anecdote made it into the final script. All of these flashbacks circle back to Shonda Rhimes’s insatiable appetite for hyper-saturated filters.
Oliver confronts Connor over Sam Keating’s murder. Connor is understandably confused, since that happened all the way back in last season. Seems unfair to hold on to that grudge! Connor basically admits to murder and then peaces out. Meanwhile, Nate is meeting with Bonnie in the world’s most popular seedy garage; he wants to give her immunity, because apparently the government is just making it rain with these get out of jail free cards. Frank is bribing some people for Bonnie, and Laurel tells all her friends that Wes is the father of her unborn child. Connor responds that she “should just get an abortion now,” and Asher beats the shit out of him, because behind every aspiring Vineyard Vines model is a violent monster. Annalise finally poops.
Wes’s ex Meggy works at the hospital where Laurel is convalescing, and helps stitch Connor up after the fight. Go home, Meggy! You do not need to take care of your ex-boyfriend’s baby momma! Download an episode of Scandal and imagine a world in which you’re the Olivia Pope of Shondaland, not the Meggy. Buy yourself a white cashmere wrap! Back in prison, Annalise’s cellmate is all of us, recalling the one time she saw Annalise representing in court: “You was wearing this badass red leather jacket…Screaming at that old white man D.A., and I’m thinking why can’t this queen defend me.” She sighs, “No matter how high or how far we climb, they gonna find a way to pull us back down.”
Speaking of court, Annalise doesn’t get bail because of the revelation of Wes’s mysterious plea deal. Asher apologizes to Connor and they get into bed together to watch the District Attorney, who’s promising to go after Annalise for a number of crimes. Suspiciously, he says that Wes was killed by the fire, even though the medical examiner originally told Nate that that wasn’t the cause of death. Laurel tells Frank that she saw someone in the basement the night of the fire. She also wishes that Frank was dead instead of Wes, telling him, “I don’t blame Annalise for that, I blame you, because it’s always you…I loved him so much more than I ever loved you.” Harsh.
Annalise’s cellmate gives her a sandwich and she starts crying while she eats it. Viola Davis is really selling this sandwich scene. You better act! Frank comes in to confess to Wes’s murder because he’s secretly a great guy. Poor Frank—all he ever wanted was a brunette and a big, home-cooked Italian meal. We flash back to Wes leaving the police station and getting into Frank’s car the night he was killed. Where did Frank take him? Who is hotter? Will Annalise ever poop again? Can Asher tell black people apart? Some of this next week, and more, when TGIT returns. Thank you, Shonda!