Recently I began to watch Scandal from the very first episode. I did it to finally find out the backstory of the character who had an abortion on the final episode of the fall season, while the beloved Christmas Carol played in the background. The scene was wildly controversial, and I wanted to know more.
Producer and head writer Shonda Rhimes had already won me over with Grey’s Anatomy, and I fell in love with her work again as I binged on Scandal for weeks. Not content there, I followed her to another series she produces, How to Get Away With Murder.
As I took in episode after episode, there was something about the main characters that stirred me, something that made me recognize myself in them.
In Grey’s, the main character, Dr. Meredith Grey, has had a very hard life, but (unlike Scandal or HTGAWM) the character is not Rhimes’ hero. In fact, in her memoir, Rhimes says Dr. Christina Yang, not Grey, is “the walking validation of my dreams.” Yang is a character who loves her work more than her people; she also had an abortion.
In Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder, the main characters are tough women who run things. They live a constant conflict between who they present themselves to be and who they actually are.
This is very familiar to me since for most of my life, it was my conflict.
Rhimes’ characters present themselves as strong women who don’t need anyone and who have control of their lives, but the reality is, they are scared little girls who reject people before people can reject them. That is why they have a hard time loving another person, or their children.
It is easy to espouse the classic feminist line “I don’t need a man to be whole” when you are too wounded to give yourself fully to one. No, men don’t complete us. But we can’t silence our God-given longing to love and be loved. Loving, though, is almost impossible if you are paralyzed by fear of being hurt.
All my life I had always thought I was “looking for someone to love me” and that it was the men who exploited that need, who were using me. But really, it was me who was using them — as a distraction. As long as I was distracted, I didn’t have to actually love another human being. I could say what I said, and act as I did, but I didn’t have to actually love them. I didn’t have to give certain parts of myself to another person in a way that made me vulnerable. I could limit my love so that it didn’t leave me open to being hurt again. That’s why I went after men who were emotionally unavailable.
It’s also why I can relate to these shows so well. I get it. I get how that kind of isolation turns a person into a workaholic or a champion for others but with shady moral reasoning. I was that kind of person.
A lot of women I know can relate. That’s why ShondaLand rules Thursday nights, and why we are all glued to these shows: We see ourselves there. We see our conflict played out for three hours, week after week. We are waiting for these women’s redemption.
On Grey’s we are waiting for Meredith to find happiness by being alone, without having to love again, because by now she should know that love hurts! That’s how Yang got freedom, by accepting that she wasn’t willing to be hurt again, and going about life alone with her work. On Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder we wait for Annalise and Olivia to find peace.
But in real life that redemption and peace do not come until we are brave enough to love, knowing that it will lead us to the cross every time, and loving anyway. Holding back from that kind of love only leaves us in perpetual conflict with ourselves and those around us.
Depicting an abortion while “Silent Night” plays in the background misses that point. As the Christmas prophecy from Micah promises us in Advent: He shall be peace.