Why I Can't Quit Shonda's Off-The-Rails Shows — No Matter How Much I Might Want To

by Nicole Pomarico

After seven seasons, Scandal is coming to an end this week. While the Scandal Season 7 finale marks the end of an era, even the most dedicated fans might feel this has been a long time coming. No one is better than creator Shonda Rhimes at cultivating and then pulling the rug out from under a passionate fan base: Rhimes’ shows, particularly Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy, are known for their wild plot twists. Sometimes, they have a big payoff, but other times, they feel incredibly unrealistic. And it’s when a show goes off the rails that many viewers give up. But others, including me, never do. I’ve stayed with both shows through it all. Sure, I was mad when Jake killed James and when Denny's ghost showed up. So why, after all the frustration with Rhimes’ plot twists, have I not walked away? Why do so many people like me keep tuning in, Thursday after Thursday?

No matter how many people might proclaim that they’re quitting these shows after a particularly brutal season finale, it’s just not happening — at least, not according to the ratings. Scandal has maintained an average of more than 4 million viewers throughout this season, and although that can’t touch the 11.96 million people who watched the Season 4 premiere (a series high), it still claimed second place in its time slot. Grey’s Anatomy is similar: After seasons with ratings in the double digits — at one time, they topped 20 million — the show is still reliably pulling in viewers. The Grey’s Season 14 premiere scored over 8 million viewers, which is down from what the show used to do but was still double what any other network show was reaching in that time slot.

The viewers are still definitely there, and they’re watching… even as Rhimes continues to do some of her characters dirty in ways that might be unforgivable by fans, had these been any other shows. Yes, Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy are entertaining and created by talented casts and crews, but there’s a bigger reason I keep coming back — because I can’t let go of the deep connections I forge with these characters.

What’s unique about Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy is the fact that they’re made up of inclusive casts who are easy to get attached to from the start. Though these shows appear to be about surgery or the political world of Washington, D.C., they’re both ultimately about emotions and situations that anyone can understand. And the tangled web of connections the characters in these ensemble casts form make it even harder to extricate yourself. Once you’re in, you’re in — even though there are definitely points where you’ll wish you were out.

There have been plenty of times I’ve wanted to throw in the towel on both of these shows. Nothing has made me angrier than seeing Lexie and Mark die after the plane crash on Grey’s Anatomy, or watching Meredith (who has been through so much) have to say goodbye to the husband and relationship she fought so hard for when Derek died at the hands of incompetent doctors. Right now, I’m rolling my eyes at Jackson and Maggie’s pairing hard, but still, I’m watching. I’ve groaned at Olivia flip-flopping back and forth between Jake and Fitz on Scandal, as if either of those two should even be on her radar, and there are too many plot lines in this show that don’t make sense to count. Here I am, though, ready to take in the series finale.

Why? For me, it’s because these characters seem real to me. At times, I’ve felt like Meredith, trying to reconcile my need for career success and fulfillment with also wanting to have children someday and be an involved mom. I’ve felt her heartbreak. I’ve cried with her, and I’ve celebrated with her. I’ve wished I could be Olivia Pope, as brave as she is, and I’ve rooted for her for seven years. I want her to win, even though she makes the wrong decision sometimes (and her relationship with Fitz has frustrated me to no end). I feel like these women are a part of me, and I am so grateful that Rhimes has given us these women who are so unlike others on TV.

Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy have always been shows that give everyone a character to identify with. Rhimes frequently features people (especially women) of color in powerful positions with compelling storylines, which isn’t always the case in many other shows. Through Arizona and Callie and even Cyrus Beene, we get to see members of the LGBT community who are more than just sidekicks. We see women exercising their right to choose when they have an abortion and speak openly about it, like Olivia Pope and Cristina Yang have both done. Olivia, a black woman, practically runs Scandal’s version of D.C.

These characters are also real and incredibly flawed — just like all of us. The doctors at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital may be far more beautiful versions of the doctors you usually see in the operating room, but they face real problems. And whether you believe Scandal’s B613 could exist in the real world or not, seeing Olivia grapple with the reality that her parents aren’t who she wants them to be and try to find the happy medium between doing the right thing for the greater good and keeping her power has compelled viewers to stay.

Because of the inclusiveness and the ties I’ve made emotionally to these characters, there’s no way I’m giving up now. I need to see what happens to these people that I’ve rooted for over the course of so many years. Grey’s Anatomy has killed off or written off all of my favorite characters except for Meredith Grey, and unless she leaves, I’m sticking with it — just as I followed Olivia Pope into the dark.

It feels like the end of an era to see Scandal go, but it definitely feels like the right time for the show to finally come to an end. It’s far better to say goodbye to Olivia on a high note, rather than when fans aren’t as passionate about her and her gladiators. Thursday nights won’t be the same, but as long as there’s Shonda Rhimes, fans can look forward to more of the magic she’s created here.