Originally published Jan 2017
By Shannon McKinley
OK, grown woman confession: I woke up one morning thinking about the similarities between the lives of Buffy (the Vampire Slayer) Summers and Scandal’s Olivia Pope.
As someone who fangirled hard for Joss Whedon’s epic Chosen One, and an unapologetic Scandal-holic, I could not help but write about the parallels between the Buffy Summers and Olivia Pope characters. I know, I know…Buffy and Scandal are different genres, have different storylines, blah, blah, blah. However, I’m sharing my thoughts anyway, so I hope you enjoy!
Buffy and Olivia Pope are both: Fierce, Flawed, and Independent Women Who Save People for a Living.
Buffy had no other choice but to be fierce and independent because as “the Chosen One”, she was responsible for saving everybody all of the time (even when there were two slayers). The Slayer was the decision maker, the chief ass-kicker, and the world-saver; but she was not invincible. Buffy had her share of insecurities and vulnerabilities (and deaths). And like most superheroes, she was imperfect and made mistakes. These things made her human and a character we (still) love.
Olivia Pope is also a fierce and independent woman. She’s a business owner, a handler of difficult problems, a fixer who saves people from crises, and she runs presidential campaigns. However, like Buffy, Olivia is not infallible and has made mistakes. The Head Gladiator in Charge (HGIC), Olivia regularly uses questionable and illegal tactics in her quests to slay political dragons. Olivia Pope is a boss with super bad-ass credentials, but she still fantasizes about living a “normal life”, despite demonstrating, more than once, that she is ill-equipped to identify, let alone handle, “normal”. Her faults make us root for her, even when we want to shake some sense into her.
Buffy and Olivia Pope Have: Daddy Issues.
Buffy had an absentee father who wasn’t around when she needed him. EVER. He showed up once or twice, but he was an absentee dad for 99.8% of the seven seasons we spent with the Slayer.
Olivia’s dad shipped her off to boarding school after he lied and told her that her mother had died in a plane crash. Daddy Pope also hid that he was the head of a powerful secret spy agency and locked her mother away for 22 years. If these lies were not cause enough for decades of therapy, #PapaPope has also used men under his control to infiltrate his daughter’s life (and bed) as a means to keep tabs on her. Olivia’s dad also killed the President’s son, her Gladiator Harrison, and has repeatedly tried to kill Jake. While Rowan is enjoyable for the audience, Oliva may have been a better off if he had remained an absentee father.
Buffy and Olivia Both Have: A Supportive Group of Friends/Sidekicks.
Buffy had her core group of friends (a.k.a. the Scoobies), who helped her stop several world-ending events and apocalyptic plans. Willow, Xander and Giles were the Slayer’s inner circle and their respective romantic partners usually became affiliate members of the Slayer’s squad. However, when one of said relationships ended, affiliates were dismissed and rarely ever seen again for more than one episode.
Olivia has her Gladiators; a loyal band of misfits who are bound together by their devotion to her. Though the gang was split up at the beginning of season 4 with Harrison dead, Abby working in the White House, Huck working in retail, and Liv standing in the sun with Jake, they eventually found their way back to one another. The newbie Marcus is still wet behind the ears, but he’s learning. Stephen from Season 1 even showed up for ol’ time’s sake to save Olivia after she was auctioned off on the deep internet (courtesy of her married boyfriend’s wife’s boyfriend). Once a Gladiator, always a Gladiator.
They should have T-shirts printed.
Buffy and Olivia Both Have: Kick-Ass Red-Haired BFF’s Who Turned Frenemy At Least Once.
Buffy’s red-haired BFF, Willow was a loyal friend to the bitter end. When they were in high school, Willow used her computer savvy skills to aid Buffy’s heroics. She then turned to magic in college when she developed her other-worldly powers and blossomed into a witch. Unfortunately, after the death of her beloved Tara, Willow went full-on bad-bitch-witch and almost killed everybody, including Buffy. After a stint in witch-rehab, Willow returned to Sunnydale and resumed her role as head-sidekick.
Olivia’s red-head BFF Abby is also fiercely loyal…most of the time. Abby’s BFF card was confiscated after she blamed Olivia for Harrison’s death, but if we put aside the creepy single-white-female-ish-ness of Abby taking a job with Olivia’s ex at Liv’s former place of employment, we can forgive Red for being in her feelings for a few minutes. Abby eventually redeemed herself and reclaimed her BFF card when she called Stephen to rescue Liv from being trafficked. Though Abby turned on Liv once again by double-crossing the HGIC in an attempt to save Fitz from his Veep’s treachery, Red learned the hard way that she’s not ‘bout that life, and can never “out Pope” Olivia Pope.
Buffy and Olivia Have: Loved an Older “Soul Mate” With Whom She Could Not Stand In the Sun.
Buffy had Angel, a vampire 200 plus years her senior who literally could not stand in the sun without forfeiting his immortality club membership. Angel’s sunlight issue, however, was just 1 of their 99 problems. Angel was not just a vampire; he was a cursed vampire who had a soul and was forbidden from having one moment of true happiness. This became monstrously problematic when Angel and Buffy hit the sheets that one time because his happy ending cost him his soul and unleashed his sadistic alter-ego, “Angelus.” In addition to trying to kill the Slayer and her friends, Angelus had apocalyptic ambitions that almost ended the world. Fortunately, Buffy shut all of that down by sending him to Hell moments after Angel’s soul was restored. After returning from Casa de la Lucifer and helping Buffy and the Scoobies slay mayor crazy-pants during (“Graduation”), Angel chucked up the deuces to Buffy, Sunnydale, and their love story (a.k.a. left for his own spinoff).
Olivia Pope had (has) President Fitzgerald Thomas Grant, an older man with whom she could not be seen standing in the sun (prior to season 5) by anyone (other than his Secret Service detail, secretary, Chief of Staff, and wife) because he was married. Then came season 5 and Olivia and Fitz finally got to be together. Scandal, however, exists in Shondaland, where happiness is as elusive as the fux Shonda Rhimes gives about viewers’ tears and opinions, so while Olitz eventually had their opportunity to stand in the sun, that natural light illuminated the dark crevices where all of their resentment, secrets and incompatible traits were hiding and scorched the hell out of their relationship. As a result, the couple imploded in one of the most brilliantly acted and spectacularly written scenes in the history of television. #ItsCalledTalent
Buffy and Olivia Have: A Military Man Involved in an Off-the-Books Government Black Ops Division Who Was in Love with Her, but She Just Wasn’t That Into Him Until it was Too Late.
Buffy had Riley Finn; hot, mid-western-corn-fed Riley Finn who was part of “The Initiative”: a secret military division that wanted to harness the powers of Sunnydale’s supernatural beings and use them as government weapons. To the shock of no one, that mission was an epic fail. A disenchanted Riley stayed in Sunnydale even though he knew that Buffy did not love him (“The Replacement”), but his willingness to abandon his military career for a life as a certified Scoobie-affiliate was not enough to make Buffy commit, so he left. When he came back married with a scar on his pretty face, we were done with him. #ByeRiley
Olivia Pope has Jake Ballard; beautiful, full-lipped green-eyed Jake Ballard who was part of B613, a powerful secret government organization that was dismantled pretty easily by OPA. After being ordered by Fitz to watch Olivia and ordered by her father (head of B613), to come between Olivia and the President, Jake fell in love with her. Despite Olivia’s imprudent love for Fitz, Jake hung tough in the friend zone and after Olitz imploded, Olake resumed their booty-calls. After Rowan forced Jake to marry a woman he didn’t love, Liv “saved” Jake from her father only to make him do exactly what Rowan wanted: be the VP on Mellie’s presidential ticket. #DaddysGirl
Buffy and Olivia Pope Have: That One Guy-Friend Who Will Call Her on Her Bullsh*t.
Buffy had Xander who, on occasion, would keep it girlfriend-oh-no-you-didn’t real. He told her to pick Riley, or put him out of his misery and let him go. He also hated Angel, which was part jealousy and part brotherly love.
Olivia had Stephen in season one, who kept it 100 and told her “You can’t have him;” him, of course, being Fitz. With Stephen gone, Liv has Huck, who will tell her about herself regardless of whether or not she wants to hear it.
Buffy and Olivia Have: A Mentor Whose Lover Was Killed By One of Their Lovers.
Buffy had Rupert Giles, to whom she mostly listened. At times, Giles acted as the father Buffy should have had, and she was the daughter he never knew he wanted. Most times, however, Giles was guiding Buffy through her Slayer duties as best he could while giving her space to grow up. Giles and Buffy’s relationship survived his firing from the Watcher’s Council, a replacement Watcher, Buffy quitting the Council, Buffy dying, and a number of other bumps in the road. One of the worst tests of the Slayer/Watcher bond came when Angelus killed Giles’ Boo, Jenny. While I personally didn’t care, Giles felt some type of way, but he and Buffy navigated through that messiness and remained close.
Olivia has Cyrus Beene, who is sometimes more monster than mentor, but as he’s said, he’s her monster. Cyrus’ love for his mentee Olivia has been enough to keep him from slut shaming her (“It’s Handled”) and ordering her assassination (“No More Blood”), but not from betraying her when it suited his agenda. However, Cyrus also leans on Olivia, so no matter how much they’re at each others throats, their connection is real (“Where the Sun Don’t Shine” #BitchBaby), despite the fact that Olivia’s bad-boy-bae Jake killed Cyrus’ husband James (when he was Command).
Buffy and Olivia Pope: Had to Deal with Jealous B*tches.
Buffy had Cordelia Chase; the cliché “popular” cheerleader who mean-girl’d Buffy in high school and hated that Buffy had the attention and loyalty of real friends. Though Cordelia’s life was spared on a few occasions because Buffy saved her, Cordi continued to hate. When Cordelia was dating Xander and was a Scooby-affiliate, she still refused to get on #TeamBuffy and threw shade from inside of the inner circle. Fortunately, Ms. Chase was gone after graduation. #StayMadCordi
Olivia has Mellie Grant, who rightfully hated Liv for sleeping with her husband and being the love of Fitz’s life. Mellie, however, had an endgame that involved keeping Fitz by her side, so while Olivia could look and touch, she couldn’t actually have Fitz; until Season 5. Mellie’s freedom was Liv’s burden because she had to play house with POTUS. The writers dealt with that in “Baby It’s Cold Outside”, but this is Shonda’s world, so we’ll see how it goes. With Liv now running Mellie’s presidential campaign, the two have become one of the best and healthiest relationships on the show. #TeamMelliva
Season 5 Was a Game-Changer
The fifth seasons of Buffy and Scandal were game-changers and signaled epic shifts in the Slayer’s and Fixer’s respective fictional lives. During the fifth season of Buffy, the Slayer gained a faux-sister, and lost her mother and her “normal” boyfriend Riley. Buffy also faced one of her fiercest enemies, Glory, and had to make the ultimate sacrifice by giving up her life in order to defeat the Demi-God and save the world. The Slayer’s death left Sunnydale without a protector and left the Slayer and the show forever changed.
Olivia, still repressing her trauma and rage from being kidnapped and auctioned off like Kunta Kinte, began season 5 by getting exactly what she said she wanted: Fitz. However, when Olivia realized that the fantasy of being with Fitz was more appealing than the reality, she terminated her pregnancy and their relationship. In the second half of season 5, Olivia traded in her dingy white hat for a black ski mask and took a few pages out of Rowan’s book by killing Andrew Nichols and using Jake for her own power-grabby plans. While Olivia Pope survived season 5, the part of her who wanted to drag everyone into the light has gone missing and is feared dead.
While I’m sure there are more parallels that could be drawn between Buffy Summers and Olivia Pope, these are the things that stood out in my mind. More than anything, it was fun to escape the epic failure of 2016 by thinking about these intelligent, complicated, and layered fictional characters who are flawed, vulnerable, resilient, and strong. I am forever in awe of the brilliance of Joss Whedon and Shonda Rimes and their creations. #ForeverFangirling #HereForIt
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