Scandal’s Torture Porn: Easy to Turn Away, Hard to Ignore

The show’s gratuitous violence is disturbing. But I am still watching Scandal.


For me, 30 years was way too long to wait for a smart, competent, beautiful and powerful black woman as the main character in a TV drama. So I’m about to go into Scandal withdrawal again after the last episode of the year airs tonight.

The show has so many things to savor: a Republican president with a married, gay chief of staff, Abby’s wit, Harrison’s fast-talking Gladiator-ness, Liv’s super-fine love interests and those huge shawl collars she wears, which seem to stand in for a superhero’s cape. Like so many other fans, I’m right there every week, reading the hilarious live-tweets during commercials and waiting to see what Olivia Pope is going to do—and wear.

But more and more, I find myself averting my eyes during some of the show’s disturbing violent scenes, then continuing to watch when those sequences are over. I think about how much I’m willing to overlook, as well as how much I just can’t watch.

And though I turn away when I can, I’m still well-aware that this season, Mama Pope chewed into her own wrist and that Mellie was raped by her father-in-law but then found a way to use that as leverage.

Mama Pope’s determination to escape from Rowan seemed pretty clear—it was a chew-or-die situation. And as uncomfortable as Mellie’s rape scene was, I felt like it illustrated—quite graphically—why so many women refuse to name their attackers or even acknowledge publicly that a rape took place: Legal justice would never repay the life cost of exposing someone they love or respect or to whom they are bound, however twisted.

Bottom line, Scandal’s torture porn might make me look away or briefly change the channel—but I always come back for the rest of the show.

That brings me, though, to last week’s episode, in which Huck relished (hated?) torturing Quinn—and then Quinn was ready for a bloody French kiss with Charlie after having two of her teeth pulled out with pliers.

I came of age with movies like Three Days of the Condor, with its tale of espionage, terrorism and a brief consensual interlude between kidnapper and captive. Danger, though, was the turn-on, not torture.