Poor Mellie Grant gave up her own shiny career so that her handsome, inspiring husband Fitzgerald Grant could one day become President of the United States on Scandal. Yet, by the time we meet her, she's being cheated on regularly, her power is waning, and her husband and his advisers seem to have very little respect for her. And our reaction as audience was to hate her for getting in the way of Fitz's dreams and his love for Olivia Pope. But after Thursday night's episode, in which Mellie's full back story comes to light, anyone still left waving the flag of Mellie hate is not only wrong, but someone who should probably be barred from watching television since they clearly can't process it properly.
But throughout the first two seasons and into the third, Mellie has suffered from Skyler White syndrome. While Breaking Bad's Skyler was faced with a much greater problem-husband (meth kingpin sort of tops philandering, introspective POTUS), her reaction to Walter White's wrongdoing shares elements of Mellie's path. Both characters were backed against walls by the choices their husbands made. For Mellie, the knee-jerk reaction in that situation was to go nuclear and announce her husband's affair to the public. For Skyler, it was various permutations of kicking Walt out of the house and keeping him from seeing his children. We watch both women get angry, then escalate to furious, and then refuse to back down to their wrong-doer husbands. For this, they both garnered hate. Even this morning, headlines calling Mellie "the First Lady We Love to Hate" have managed to survive.
But it's strange that any hatred has eked out after this week's onslaught of sympathy-inducing back story as Scandal's seventh episode of the season focused almost entirely on Mellie (though a quick survey of ABC's available photos would suggest that the episode never happened at all). While a reporter (Jeff Winger's old flame from Community, if you're into that sort of trivia) follows Mellie around the White House for a fluff piece to rehab her image, which is supposed to be the key to America forgiving the Grant Administration, we see flashbacks to just how far back Mellie's sacrifice goes. While her ability to throw her sacrifice in Fitz's face every time he disrespects her often adds fuel to Mellie haters' fire, we find that she really did sacrifice absolutely everything.
Fifteen years ago, back in California — where she'd relocated from her home state of North Carolina in order to be Fitz's wife — Fitz and his father are preparing Fitz's bid for governor, which is meant to lead him to running for President. We watch as they bring in Cyrus to groom Fitz while Mellie is (she doesn't play yet) his happy wife at his side. They hit a roadblock when Fitz refuses to run on his military background (we now know this is because he was made to shoot down a passenger plane to keep a bomb from hitting London). When Cyrus almost quits, he gives Mellie a harsh talking to: she's not a lawyer anymore, she doesn't have a career, her job is Fitz and fixing Fitz.
With almost inhuman strength, Mellie takes to her post dutifully and vows to bring Fitz back around. But while discussing the campaign with the Senior Grant, she's made to feel even smaller than she did when Cyrus spoke to her. The scotch-soaked old man forces himself on her, leaving her to go back to her bedroom in shame. She wants to tell Fitz, but she knows that the one thing that will make him run for governor the right way is if he thinks his father believes in him. That means he can't know his father raped her and she has to use her silence as a bargaining chip to get the old bastard to agree to apologizing to his son and offer his support. And she does.
Mellie does all this before we even realize that she's pregnant and uncertain it's not her father-in-law's at the end of the flashback. When Fitz, in present day, sits next to Mellie and defends her from the reporter's attacks, taking blame for his affair and taking the public's penchant for turning on Mellie off the table, it's over. The ability to hate Mellie the way many fans abhorred Skyler White is off the table.
Of course, to those of us who've made an effort to understand Mellie all along, this episode was just preaching to the choir. And with the hell this woman has been through, I'll bet that choir is about to get even bigger.