But “Scandal” shows us another type of antihero: the self-deluding hypocrite. You would think that this would be the least appealing of any type of antihero, but it turns out to be quite compelling, generating a varying amount of sympathy and a consistent amount of empathy from the audience.
As the pilot opens, Quinn is recruited to join the firm by Harrison, who tells her that
- Harrison: We all get paid crap salaries because we're the good guys […]You'll change lives, slay dragons, love the hunt more than you ever dreamed because Olivia Pope is as amazing as they say […] When you work for Olivia. You’re a gladiator in a suit.
- Quinn: It is an honor to work for your law firm.
- Olivia: We're not a law firm. We're lawyers, but this is not a law firm.
- Stephen: Law firms are for pansies.
- Olivia: We solve problems.
- Abby: Manage crises, save reputations.
- Quinn: Right. Of course. It's still an honor.
- Olivia [squints at Quinn]: Harrison feed you a line about being a gladiator in a suit?
- Quinn: So you guys don't try cases? You don't go to court?
- Harrison: We do our jobs right, we never need to go to court. Now look, the reason we're not a law firm is we don't have to play within the rules of the law. We're fixers, crisis managers. We make the problems of our client, big or small, go away. It's not about solving a crime. It's not about justice. It's about our client.
- Quinn: So Sully's innocent.
- Harrison: He didn't kill Paige.
- Quinn: Then who did?
- Huck: Don't matter.
- Harrison: It matters, just not to us. All that matters is Sully. That's the job. Look, I take all this stuff to the police. Maybe it helps them. Finding Paige's killer is their job.
- Quinn: You said we were the good guys.
- Harrison: We are.
- Quinn: Really? I mean, is Olivia .... is she one of the good guys?
- Harrison: No. She's not one of the good guys. She's the best guy. It's not enough to say it. You gotta believe it.
- Quinn [timidly]: Gladiators in suits.
- Harrison: That's what I'm talking about.
It is to the show’s enormous credit that they don’t show the defense attorneys tracking down the real killer, even in the pilot (where heroes are usually more purely good than in subsequent episodes.) In the comments last week, I said:
- In many ways, Rhimes is the second coming of David E. Kelly: when her shows are at their best, they feel like complex and thoughtful drama, but the very next week the silliness can tip over the line, and they seem like unintentional farce. That was true of “Chicago Hope”, “The Practice”, and “Boston Legal”, and it’s equally true of Rhimes's shows.
Rhimes finds another way: she wraps her characters up in many layers of hypocrisy and self-delusion. They are semi-aware of this (which engenders some sympathy, because we can see they’re trying) but we are more aware of it than they are (which engenders empathy, because we understand them better than they understand themselves.)
Hypocrisy is considered to be a cardinal sin in our culture, and therefore it might seem like unforgiveable (it’s certain not a job-interview flaw), but it’s actually deeply compelling and identifiable: after all, who doesn’t feel that they are, deep-down, a hypocrite?