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Scandal 410: Analysis of Olivia's Dream in Thematic Context

I’ve decided not to do full commentary on the entire Run episode itself (though it was such a treat) for various reasons.However, I do want to make one contribution. There have been a lot of feelings about Olivia’s dream sequence from the latest episode of Scandal, Run (410). Tumblr deleted into thin air a response I wrote on Friday morning. Having gained a lot more clarity in just the last 24 hours (I’m pathetic; I get ideas in the middle of the night about this show :o( ), I’m now glad that happened. So high-five to Tumblr on that mistake. I’ve come to better understand how Olivia’s dream is informed by past and present themes in her life, including, but not limited to: escape from emotional adversity, protection of/from herself, the idea of ‘normal’, and the construction of identity.

Let’s just go throughthe dream sequentially. We’ve only seen Olivia dream one other time thisseason, but I have noted some familiar parallels with sequencing and themesthat relate to her dream here. Much like we’ve seen in An Innocent Man (406), Olivia engages in Inception-like dreams. They begin with logical actions, then, likely as she enters REM, move into an indulgent fantasy. They then end, prodded by familiar fear, waking her up to an immediate reality requiring her intervention. This time, however, the person who needs the intervention is herself. She is her own problem and her own solution.

The Rescue

Every character in this dream has been conjured and scripted by Olivia herself, reflecting in many ways, the purpose they hold in her life. The dream begins with a Special Ops team, led by Jake, rescuing her. He swoops in and literally scoops her up into his arms, carrying her away from danger. This makes sense in several ways. First, the obvious: it was never gonna be Fitz. As I said above, early in Olivia’s dreams, we see familiar and logical things occurring to her (remember in 406, her dream begins with her swimming her stress away). As the President, Fitz would never be in a position to do the physical lifting, so to speak, especially of a woman who’s been publicly accused of being his mistress. So, Olakers, relax your wigs, 

Secondly, we have been inundated with examples of Jake’s obsession with playing hero. Conversations in 408 and 409 concerning Rowan’s capture are the most recent examples, but we’ve known this about him since season 2B. Though I certainly can, I will refrain from regaling you with every instance.

Thirdly, Jake’s role is utilitarian for Olivia. This is later repeated near the end when she repeats “heart, hips, head” (409) to herself before shooting her kidnapper. Like his imagined heroism, this is a theme on the show, and indicative of the general purpose he serves in her life. He was a companion to abate her loneliness the last time she ran away from her problems (318), and he’s been keeping her company ever since, as she tries out a stilted sense of normalcy.

Vermont Happy Place

After Jake rescues Olivia from a literal and figurative dark place, she is delivered to the light of Vermont, her go-to happy place in her mind. Poof! Everything’s normal and happy, after all! I’m where I belong, she likely tells herself after waking up in her bed. But she’s just deeper into a very familiar dream. In contrast to the quick in and out of her being rescued by Jake, this Vermont sequence is the indulgent part of her dream. She is comfortable, confident, contentedly in love, and all smiles in this dream. Have you ever seen Olivia smile that much? She has imagined all the superficial details of the stage on which her quixotic sense of happiness plays out. There are many things to dissect before the fantasy becomes warped, but here are the things that I found very interesting:

•She’s married to Fitz, as is evidenced by the ginormous rock on her hand, and his upgraded platinum band. This is important because Fitz is the one who usually verbalizes the fantasy. It’s nice to see in her conjuring, that she very much wants this. The absence of Olitz babies tells me picturing children is harder because it’s so unfamiliar. Or maybe she wants Fitz to herself for a while before having children. The absence of Fitz’s children did not concern me. Teddy could be with Mellie in a shared custody deal. Karen goes to boarding school.

•The fridge is stocked with actual food! Fitz was eating breakfast! This is important. At the beginning of the episode, we see Olivia retrieve beer from her fridge for Jake. Only other liquids can be glimpsed. In Vermont, she’s living and taking care of herself. She’s not eating junk food to forget her problems, or drowning her sorrows in a bottle of decanted red wine.

•She branded her jam, lol. Is it for sale, or does she just give it away?

•Everyone loves Fitz instead of trying to destroy him. I think it’s adorable that she imagines everyone to see in Fitz what she sees in him.

Olivia is so openly affectionate, and she imagines receiving Fitz’s love openly, without hesitation

•She’s still advising Fitz on how to be his best in every situation. Even throwing out the first pitch for a Burlington baseball team. So friggin’ cute.

•The shower scene is reminiscent of the one in 220. I remarked the other day how giddy I was to see this because I literally just wrote about the shower being my favorite moment ever, due to the pure joy on Olivia’s face. It’s very common for recurring dreams to feature at least one episodic memory. The appearance of this moment as a daily meme in her fantasy tells me it’s one of Olivia’s favorites as well. 

Before I get to Tom, Abby and fuckin’ TJ showing his goddamn face again, there’s already a clear problem with Olivia’s vision of the future: It’s not a life. As conjured, it’s a glossy Town and Country magazine escapist fantasy. It reflects a life that no one actually lives (maybe on the perfect holiday). The re-use of “Sunny” supports that. In my 401 review, I mentioned that “Sunny” is not a person, but a state of mind. As such anything and anyone can be “Sunny”. Just as in 401, we hear the song and see Olivia alone before we see the context of her life. In Vermont, life is sunny. Much like the island she was on with Jake, this life is easy, breezy, beautiful for our cover girl. What makes the Vermont fantasy just like the African island is the sense of isolation from family, friends, and her work - around which she has built her very identity. It really is that ‘other life’ Fitz spoke of in 302.

That’s fine for a dream, but they don’t have another life; they only have this one. For a woman who rejected a version of this life with another man (213)—minus the jam—because she didn’t want a quotidian life that was ‘simple,’ and ‘easy’, what we see in Vermont sure does look that way. It is the stuff of fan fiction (that is not shade). She skipped all the hard parts and went straight to happy. Or what she imagines ‘happy’ to look like in a fetishized rendering.

Fear, Insecurity, and Anxiety

Then the dream starts to get a bit dark as the parts of Olivia that nag at her, tell her she can’t have the life she wants, pop up like ominous characters in a Charles Dickens novel. Tom and Abby show up as manifestations of Olivia’s subconscious: Fear (Tom) and Anxious Logic (Abby). In her 406 dream, both those things were represented in Rowan (“For god’s sake, Olivia, wake up!”). Tom reminds her that she’s not supposed to be there, but that he, as Fitz’s protector, is. In what must be a regular fantasy that lulls her to sleep, Tom seems new. Remember, it was just in 407 that Tom tells Olivia that she is the only person from whom he has failed to protect Fitz. Olivia quickly connected the dots back to Fitz as the reason she had been kidnapped and hauled halfway across the world:

“Either I’m in danger, or…[pregnant pause of realization]”

Because Fitz loves her, Olivia is once again being used as a weapon of political leverage. Instead of blaming the assholes exploiting her relationship, she blames herself for loving him–that Fitz is only able to be hurt because of that love. Olivia has always seen herself as a problem in Fitz’s life, the reason why he can’t be ‘a better man’. Clearly this has been one of her reasons for running away from their relationship when things get difficult, time and time again (more on this further down). But here Tom is, at Olivia’s request, to protect Fitz…from her. The impossibility of Tom’s task has not stymied her attempt to shield Fitz from the wounds she believes she’s bound to inflict. Remember, she’s convinced that she can’t form (healthy) attachments to people because of her mother’s abandonment and her father’s dark arts (306). 

Next we see Thomas Jefferson and Olivia out for their daily walk. The boysenberry jam must be setting. Soon as I saw his ass, I was like, wayment, isn’t that…son of a bitch, it’s TJ! Haven’t you done enough already?! Haven’t you? Anyway, TJ’s presence, for me, signifies the baggage that Olivia and Fitz are bringing into their future. Because y’all, if he was just a dog, it could have been any dog. But it isn’t. It’s the dog. Without re-hashing the whole season one story line of Amanda Tanner, Fitz never really did answer Olivia’s question: “did you give her [Amanda Tanner] that dog” (101)? Maybe Olivia still wonders about that sometimes. Maybe somewhere in the back of her mind, she wonders if he will hurt her again in that way since their relationship began as an adulterous affair. Or maybe TJ serves as a reminder of the trust that was broken between them because Fitz lied to her, and she didn’t want to believe that he could. TJ is there to be like a Cancerian: we forgive, but we don’t ever forget that you did that shit. On that note, TJ also represents Olivia and Fitz’s ability to get through betrayal. Speaking of getting through…

How perfect is it that Olivia’s logic manifests in sassy Abby, the ghost of the (kidnapped) present. It was Abby who first challenged Olivia on a decision she made: “You don’t get to decide when the real Olivia Pope shows up. You made the wrong call!” (104). And as recently as 318, she challenged Olivia over her decision to trust and leave on a plane arranged by a man she hated, even if he is her father. Lastly, when Jake was falsely imprisoned, and a confused and devastated Olivia needed her friend, it was in Red, that Olivia confided about the current shenanigans of her life and her history with Fitzgerald Grant (implied, 405-406).

Olivia: “You have to stop calling me. You can’t just show up anymore. I’m with Fitz. I chose Vermont and this life with Fitz. I’m happy here.”

Abby: “That’s the thing, Liv. You didn’t choose Fitz. You didn’t choose this life. He resigned from office just like that, and, poof, you’re here? Where’s Mellie? Where are his kids? Where’s the press I bet would be swarming you on a daily basis if the President of the United States went all Wallis Simpson on America? And what, now you make jam for a living? Really?! Do you know how to use a dutch oven? Do you know how to turn on a regular oven? What about Huck? You leave Huck and get a dog. And Huck’s what? In a pound somewhere? None of this makes any sense.”

Olivia: “For once, I’m not trying to make sense. I’m not trying to be logical. I’m being happy.”

Lol at the shade. I think a lot of people aren’t completely sure what’s happening here. Here’s how I see it. It’s clear that Olivia is used to Abby (anxiety of logic) intervening in this part of her recurring dream. But really it’s that part of Olivia that has repeatedly told her that the life that she wants with man she loves is not possible because other people depend on her (Huck), or because she ‘owes’ something to someone (Jake). It’s not that it’s impossible;it’s just that how she has conjured it is fantastical. She skipped over all the hard parts, all the annoyances and inconveniences of making a life as the second wife to the ex-President of the United States, who also has three two children. How does she reconcile a life with him as a woman whose entire identity is built around the Olivia Pope persona? Too hard, skip, make jam and don’t think about it, at least not in dreamland.

Olivia has built a career on logic, helping clients get out of a tough spot, or work their way through a crisis. Even the plan Olivia came up with in 222 detailed how Fitz and Mellie would deal with the divorce, and what Fitz would do as a bachelor before publicly getting together with Olivia. There was nothing about how Olivia would get through that time. Olivia treated that plan as a job, not as something intimately connected to herself as a person. She gladiates for every one but herself. Even Ian picked this up very quickly about her:

“The secret to you is that you always have to save everyone” (410).

Who has saved her up to this point? Daddy. Since the age of 12, Rowan has created hatches for Olivia to escape personal adversity so that she can focus on excellence (306, 222/301, 318). And she is excellent—at her job, not at her life. But those escape hatches have left emotional wounds. Conditioned for the flight instead of the fight, Olivia has also run from Fitz when their challenges seemed personally insurmountable to her, or challenged her emotionally in ways she was ill-equipped to deal with. One of the ways character is built is through dealing with adversity. If one runs from that emotional adversity, how can one evolve?

Rowan has admitted to failing Olivia (408); and Maya remarked that Rowan ruined Olivia. They are right. The failure was in trying to protect Olivia from emotional burden (while causing plenty in the process). Doing so does not prepare her for adulthood, which is kinda the point of parenthood. It was only recently that Olivia stood up to her father’s unrelenting intervention in her life. So, without the guise of his protection, she has to fight for her life and her right to live, not just exist as the representational fantasies of other people. For nearly 15 years (she’s almost 35), Olivia created an identity for herself as ‘The Protector’ (newspaper clippings, 308). A protector depends upon objects that need protecting. If nothing and no one needs protecting, does she cease to exist as a person? Who is she outside of that superhero persona? Recall that on an African island with Jake (401), with no one to save or protect, ‘Olivia Pope’ ceased to be. She became 'Julia Baker’. 

In her Vermont fantasy, Fitz had an identity, she didn’t. We’ve been asking Who is Olivia Pope? for a long time.  It is that Olivia who is being developed right now. At least that is what I began sensing in my S4 poster analysis. It was necessary to cast off the oppressive, patriarchal rule of Rowan to do so. After all, for so long, indeed, it was like father like daughter. Rowan derives his whole identity from being the protector of the Republic, and Olivia was an extension of that.

However, Olivia is not doomed to a life of running away from love and emotional hurdles just because her parents failed her. Olivia and Fitz grew up in really similar circumstances. They both had mothers who died, or “died”. Both were left with grand patriarchs who think emotion is weakness (307, 409). These fathers focused almost entirely on preparing their children for greatness, to the detriment of their personal development as human beings. Fitz developed emotionally in the opposite direction. Instead of shunning love for his protection, he craved and embraced it as his salvation, like a Rihanna song:

“I feel like I’m a hopeless romantic, I can’t help falling in love/ I fiend for love—I want it, I crave it/ I just can’t get enough/I wear my heart on my sleeve/Always let love take the lead”—Drunk on Love

But here’s the thing, Olivia and Fitz both want the same thing: to share a life of truthfulness with someone in which they are unapologetically themselves. And they can have that if they do the individual work first. My personal motto is a better me and a better you is a happier us.

Abby: “Doesn’t matter who you love. Look at me. Jake and Fitz can’t help you. There is no man to rescue you. Do you hear me? No one is going to help you. You are the only Gladiator in the place. You are all you’ve got. You’ve got to rescue yourself.”

Olivia: “But, Abby—“

Abby: ”You dropped something.”

Having already acknowledged that Rowan won’t come to save her, Olivia is holding out hope that one of the other men in her life will rescue her. She fantasized about a literal rescue by Jake (“It’s OK, I’ve got you”); then immediately pivoted to a metaphorical rescue by Fitz, where they live happily ever after with shower sex every day. She didn’t have to do any of the work to get out of one jam and into the boysenberry (horrible pun intended);). But Abby admonishes Olivia that it is up to her to save herself by gladiating her way out of this circumstance. As the logic of her subconscious, Abby points to some unrecognizable help: the pipe ring. Olivia has seen that ring several times a day since she’s been abducted, but she’s never thought it useful. In her dream she brings the ring into her Vermont bathroom, where, Tom, her fear, tells her there is no way out. Skirting despair, Olivia leans on logic, which gives her hope. Hope fuels her adrenaline and gives her the level-headedness to escape her present situation. It’s too bad that the whole thing was a mini Truman Show, representing just one hurdle in a series of many for our Lara Croft.

Clearly there is a double meaning in Abby’s words, and also for Olivia’s kidnapping. First, the obvious: As it stands, Abby is right, Olivia, as of 409, did not choose Fitz, or Jake. But, as Abby says, right now it doesn’t matter for whom her love tolls. She chose herself. The beginning of Olivia realizing what that means starts with her kidnapping. She is isolated, not needing to tend to anyone’s crisis but her own survival. On two occasions her kidnappers tell her: “there are a lot worse things than death.” That’s right. The thing about death is that it’s a way out of the challenge of living. The fear of death, I imagine, is worse than actual death. Worse than death are hopelessness and loneliness. In kidnapping and in life, Olivia is fighting both.

Tom was right, there is no way out of there. Wherever she goes, there she is. It is up to Olivia to find a way through. That should be familiar since it was my Fitzgerald, in It’s Handled (301), who compelled Olivia to stick with him and find a way through mistressgate instead of a way out. Olivia must be impelled toward this understanding, which can only come from within. As I’ve said before, no decision about me without me. Olivia is her own way through. No matter how much she distracts herself with Jake, or catapults herself over adversity, straight into the future with Fitz, Olivia has to be OK and find meaningfulness (other than in her work) on her own. To have the life she wants, she must be willing to fight for it because no one will give it to her.

It is not lost on me that the episode is ironically entitled Run, something so familiar to Olivia, but the opposite of what she is able to do in this situation. She can’t get out, so she has to get through. The gladiating she has to do is mostly mental and emotional, not methodical. The last words we hear, and Olivia repeats in her head, are actually from Rowan:

“You are on your own” (408).

But it is when we are on our own that we figure out exactly what we are made of. There’s a lot of work to be done, indeed, and this is just the beginning.