Handled by Scandal: Reverse Adultery Is Okay, Right?

By Alexa Day

I’m just getting settled in here at Lady Smut, so you all are still getting to know me. You’ll have to take my word for it when I tell you that my moral compass isn’t set up like most other people’s. The needle on mine is pointing Northish. When it comes to what two (or more) people are interested in doing with each other, my concepts of right and wrong are pretty generous.

Even so, the proliferation of adultery-based television shows bothers me a little. I started to notice the adultery trend on TV after Scandal ended its second season. Right after Fitz put his head in his wife’s lap (and not in a sexy way), we got this commercial for a show called Mistresses, a summer series that seemed to be about women sleeping with other women’s husbands – and not about much else. Then I started seeing ads for another series, Devious Maids, another summer show that seemed to be about women sleeping with other women’s husbands – and not about much else.

Olivia has 99 problems, but wardrobe ain't one.

Olivia has 99 problems, but wardrobe ain’t one.

I shook my head. Cheap Scandal knockoffs, I thought, based mistakenly on the idea that the reason for Scandal’s immense popularity is the adulterous relationship between Olivia Pope and Fitzgerald Grant, the President of the United States. I never watched Mistresses or Devious Maids because I didn’t really have a reason to. I have been similarly unimpressed with Betrayal. I did, however, get caught up in Tyler Perry’s The Haves and the Have Nots, a very soapy summer series with an adulterous relationship at its center. I don’t have any trouble with Candace Young, a call girl and hustler, and Jon Cryer, the judge who is her best friend’s father. But The Haves and the Have Nots is everything I love in a soap opera. How could I look away?

Just like any other hot, high-powered interracial couple hugging it out on the couch.

Just like any other hot, high-powered interracial couple hugging it out on the couch.

Is this just a double standard on my part? Possibly. I’m paying the most attention to the interracial relationships most like the ones in my stories, the ones with the take-charge black women and the powerful white guys they can’t keep away from. The rest of adultery TV hasn’t offered me anything like that. Actually, to be fair, the rest of TV isn’t offering me anything like that, although I do have high hopes for Abbie Mills and Ichabod Crane in Sleepy Hollow.

On Thursday, when Scandal started its third season, I figured out what sets this show apart from its imitators. Toward the end of the episode, Olivia “pulls the fire alarm” by using her super-secret presidential access code to call a meeting in an undisclosed location with Fitz and First Lady Mellie. The press has discovered that Olivia is Fitz’s mistress, and now the three of them have to figure out what to do next. During this conversation, Fitz identifies the center of Mellie’s problem. He loves Olivia. With each passing day, he grows less willing to lie about it. So far as he is concerned, Mellie and Olivia can finesse the truth however they want, but the underlying fact of the matter is that he only loves Olivia.

So why am I so into Scandal? Hmm.

So why am I so into Scandal? Hmm.

That puts things into perspective. It means that Olivia isn’t the Other Woman. It means Mellie is the Other Woman. This isn’t adultery, really; it’s reverse adultery.

It’s enough to make me want to watch last season all over again, just so I can try on the idea that Mellie is the Other Woman. Where else can a girl get relationship brain bending like that? Really. I’m asking.

Share your thoughts and theories (what’s in The Folder?) in the comments, and be sure to follow Lady Smut!

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  • Leah St. James
    October 6, 2013 at 9:00 am

    Hmmm….not sure I can agree with the reverse adultery concept. I think having a mistress or a, uh…mister (???) 🙂 is like being on vacation. It’s an unreal picture. It’s a temporary bliss whether we’re staying at a 5-star hotel where someone makes our bed and leaves a decadent chocolate on our pillow at night, or whether we’re roughing it out in the woods, detached from ringing phones and screaming customers.

    We humans often think someone else has it better than we do, or that with a different job, or a different house, or a different bed partner, our lives will be so much better. I think until Fitz leaves Mellie and starts living a “real” life with Olivia–complete with whatever daily inconveniences and problems a president and his/her partner must endure–he’s not going to know which was “the other.”

    That being said, I’ve never seen the show, so this is all academic on my part. Maybe if I watched it, I’d sense a deep, deep love that surpasses all others, before or after. Maybe I’d even root for Fitz and Olivia to go off on their HEA ending. But then I’d have to write Mellie a happier ending, too. Like she finds the TRUE LOVE of her life, who encourages her to write a tell-all book called 50 Shades of Sheets which instantly becomes a mega-seller the kind of which the publishing world has never seen ….

    Anyway, great discussion! I might have to start watching!

    • Alexa Day
      October 6, 2013 at 7:10 pm

      Last season, Mellie conceived a baby to keep her husband and then induced labor weeks before her due date, endangering her husband’s child, in order to stop him from divorcing her. She knows she can’t keep him, but I don’t think she’s figured out how low she’ll go to try. You’re more generous than I am — the only happy ending she’ll get from me is visitation with the kid she was willing to put in harm’s way. On the bright side, if she’s willing to fess up to everything she did to keep Fitz, she would absolutely sell that book!

      Olivia’s not just different; she’s better. Having said that, the Twitterverse is full of fans who are waiting for Olivia to receive a comeuppance for being the “side piece.” You’ve got to start watching — you’ll get sucked in, too!

      • Leah St. James
        October 7, 2013 at 5:05 am

        Ahhh…so Mellie is a manipulator. I can see why you have little sympathy. Maybe I will get to watch some day. I just started watching 24 (yes, the original from 2001 or something). I love being a decade behind! 🙂

  • Madeline Iva
    October 6, 2013 at 9:08 am

    On one hand, in this day and age of divorce, I never understand why some husbands out there kill their wives instead of just divorcing. We’re not even talking rich folks…I just don’t get it.

    On the other hand, I’m supremely bothered by how in the romance world people are so very anti-adultry. Often times when audiences don’t like something it’s usually for a reason. Usually that reason is that it messes up the reader’s experience. But I mean, what about historicals, where she/they can’t divorce and the husband or wife is a nasty
    s—? Why isn’t that okay?

    I LOVED it when on Alias Sydney was thought dead and comes back after two years to find Vaugn had married someone else. They put a lid on the feelings only to have them bubbling over swiftly. Of course, it’s very convenient that his wife is actually an evil spy.

    And it’s so strange to me that we can be all into Menage a Trois where someone is having feelings for two people (or more) at the same time–but you can’t have someone torn between two people (spouse and other) in a different sense…Hmmm.

    As far as Sleepy Hollow goes—I tried (serious tell Kiersten I did) and I still can’t swallow that show. Ichabod is so melt worthy, and the leading police officer looks just like a friend of mine from high school. He’s melting the screen—but she’s not putting out any real wattage. You think she’s going to find some mojo soon and turn it on? Her sister’s throwing out more sparks than she is. And what IS his status anyway? His wife seems to be sorta-semi alive trapped in some spirit realm. Or is she dead? And is anyone getting sick of her wife’s mid-atlantic accent?

    • Alexa Day
      October 6, 2013 at 7:22 pm

      You know, i never considered Ichabod’s “situation.” I just presumed that his wife was “out of the picture,” and that was good enough for me, but you’re right. They are still seeing each other in that dimly lit netherverse. Perhaps Ichabod considers himself married. It is at the very least complicated. I hope they don’t wait too long to start with the inappropriate touching!

      I think adultery might be the last taboo, which is odd when you consider its lineage in literature. The Scarlet Letter, Jane Eyre, Madame Bovary — it goes back a long way. I think we’re at a place in romance where all partners are available, unless they belong to someone else. And even that boundary is in danger now. Look at Megan Hart. Her new book, Tear You Apart, focuses on an adulterous relationship. Opal Carew’s Insatiable makes the groom compete with the best man.

      But yeah, I agree with you. The fact that romance is recoiling from it makes me want to play with it more, which is how I found myself in erotica. 🙂

    • Leah St. James
      October 7, 2013 at 5:21 am

      How about that newlywed who allegedly pushed her husband off a cliff a couple weeks back? Wasn’t that on the honeymoon? That’s pretty extreme! Couldn’t even give the guy a couple weeks to see if things will would smooth out? (Of course in my head, if she really did it, it was an accident…maybe an argument gone out of control. Or maybe PMS-induced rage.)

      Romance readers are “anti-adultery” because they expect (demand) that HEA ending. They want to know that after the knot is tied (or the commitment made), it will stay tied/made. That after they go back to their HEA lives, complete with money problems and kid problems and in-law problems and work problems, the love will stay strong and true. To me, that’s the big promise of the romance genre.

      In contrast, people expect adultery in, for example, soaps. Part of the fun is watching people wiggle in and out of bed with the “wrong” character. Viewers like watching them pay for it (like the ones Alexa mentioned in Scandal who can’t wait for Olivia to get her “comeuppance”). Viewers also like watching characters get out of debilitating or harmful relationships to find their true mates. Any old General Hospital viewers here who remember the Luke and Laura storyline?

  • Elizabeth Shore
    October 6, 2013 at 6:01 pm

    You know, I’ve never even heard of Devious Maids. Where have I been? Not that it’s calling to me, but generally I’m up on these things yet for some reason this on has passed me by. That said, I don’t know that I’m going to go hunting for it, especially when there’s so much else to watch.

    You raise an interesting point, Alexa. In all honesty, the adultery thing on TV isn’t bothering me much Maybe because I know it’s fake and it’s sorta like a train wreck – horrible, but yet you can’t look away. In real life I’d never bless cheating, but on TV . . . or in books. Hmmm. Maybe I should give some consideration as to why it’s not bothering me. Or, then again, maybe I should just sit back and be really really happy that my real life story hasn’t been made into a documentary program on the ID Channel. 🙂

    • Alexa Day
      October 6, 2013 at 7:29 pm

      So is this two votes for more exploration of adultery in books? I just want to experiment a little with it. 🙂

      I haven’t seen Devious Maids beyond the trailer, and I’m like you — there’s so much else on. I’m not really supposed to be watching this much of it. But I would totally watch your documentary. Sometimes I think I’m actually in a Werner Herzog movie. I can almost hear his voiceover as I drift cluelessly through my real life.

  • Leah St. James
    October 7, 2013 at 5:23 am

    Adultery was the main theme in my 2012 book “Christmas Dance.” I made it worse by having them meet at church, and get to know each other during the Christmas season (sort of a triple whammy). It’s categorized as women’s fiction, not romance, although to me it is a story of true love.

  • Logan GLT
    November 24, 2013 at 10:56 am

    I’m a man so my thoughts might be a little different, but I suspect the popularity of shows that feature adultery are because: 1. It’s a huge fantasy for many and it’s fun to see fictional characters engage in it so we can enjoy the vicarious thrill, and 2. Many Americans have been involved in adultery and watching shows about it helps to ease the guilt because “everyone is doing it” (not true, but know what I mean), and lastly, 3. Sex sells!

    • Madeline Iva
      November 24, 2013 at 11:45 am

      Nah, I think you’ve nailed it, Logan.

  • Leah St. James
    November 24, 2013 at 2:05 pm

    Have to update my response now that I’m an official fan of the Gladiators in Suits, wearing white hats and all that. I now see that the relationship between Olivia and Fitz is more than adultery, or sex for the sake of having sex. Olivia tries so very hard to be good, to keep her distance, and I admire her for that. I’m now in the middle of season 2, right after the 10-month break after Fitz finds out what they’ve done to get him elected. I’m not a Mellie fan (and she is a schemer, and a liar, for sure), but I see a vulnerability in her where he’s concerned. I see a woman who gave up her dreams to back a man, a woman who stood by (and behind) that man all the way to the Oval office, and now he’s fallen in love with someone else. Maybe she schemes and lies out of fear of losing her family. Maybe it’s all an act and I’ve fallen for it, but I still have to assert the wife’s rightful position. That doesn’t mean that I don’t want happiness for Olivia and Fitz, or that Fitz and Mellie should stick it out no matter what. But I think you have to call Olivia and Fitz’s relationship for what it is. To me, like it or not, Olivia is the other woman, still.

    • Alexa Day
      November 24, 2013 at 7:58 pm

      A couple of weeks ago, we found out that something happened to Mellie that might explain some of her behavior. I even got off her back momentarily after I saw it. But now I’m back to thinking that she views that relationship as an investment. Honestly, I’m not even sure she loves Fitz. I think she’s worried about losing her investment.

      Now that we’ve seen the house in Vermont and heard the Vermont Agreement, I think Mellie’s time in that relationship might be short. I think we may be about to see Kerry Washington’s pregnancy written into the plot! 🙂 And now I’m worried about Cyrus and James. Those two have serious relationship issues.

      • Leah St. James
        November 25, 2013 at 6:06 am

        Hubby and I are watching feverishly to try to catch up (he’s more addicted than I am!), but I don’t know about Vermont…yet! 🙂 And I didn’t know about the pregnancy! Wow. I do agree that Mellie sees the marriage as an investment. And she might have gone into the marriage with that in mind, since we now know the truth of their “chance” meeting. But when Fitz was shot, she seemed truly unhinged. Was it just fear of losing an investment? I’m not sure. Sometimes I see such hurt in her eyes.

        As for James and Cyrus, we just watched the episode where James said he wished Cyrus had lied about his involvement in the election. I was really shocked when he hung poor David out to dry during the grand jury questioning, too. For a journalist to perjure himself over something like that isn’t just surprising, it’s monumental.

        And speaking of poor David, that guy has taken the professional and emotional brunt of pretty much every decision made. Hubby and I have been saying for weeks he needs to join the team, and I think in the last episode we watched, he just about did.

      • Leah St. James
        November 25, 2013 at 6:09 am

        I mean I didn’t know about Kerry Washington’s pregnancy. I think that would be a natural way to handle it!

        • Alexa Day
          November 25, 2013 at 8:28 pm

          Well, we’ll see what happens. In the world of Scandal, literally anything can happen! Jake could happen! Fitz could happen! We’re-not-including-the-pregnancy-made-you-look could happen! 🙂


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