“We are gladiators in suits.”
And the first ever episode of ABC’s Scandal begins.
Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) and her gladiators are in the business of fixing other people’s lives. Politicians, American heroes, public figures, and even the President of the United States. This first episode delivers a sweet talking, fast paced story that continues on to the current season.
In this episode, there are two main parts. The first is the typical client-of-the-episode storyline. It involves a decorated war hero, Sully, whose fiancé has been found dead. The gladiators are charged with proving that Sully did not do it. Sully tells Olivia more than once, “I did not kill her.” Olivia, despite the questioning of her gladiators, believes him.
Meanwhile, the second part begins to unfold. This storyline involves Amanda Tanner, a White House aid, who claims that she had sex with the President (Tony Goldwyn). White House Chief of Staff, Cyrus Beene (Jeff Perry) seeks Olivia out to help take care of it. At first Olivia says no, she doesn’t work for the President anymore. It takes some convincing, but Olivia finally agrees and “takes care of it.”
This Amanda Tanner storyline is the backbone of the first season. Olivia looks the President in the eyes and asks him if he had sex with Amanda. He says he has not and Olivia believes him. “I trust my gut,” she says. And as the gladiators know, Olivia’s gut is usually right on. But, Olivia’s gut is called into question with Amanda tries to kill herself. When Olivia comes to Amanda’s hospital room, Amanda tells her that the President would come to her and call her “Sweet Baby.”
At the sound of the nickname, Olivia knows that she has been lied to. The truth that she thought was being told, was in fact a lie. Olivia’s emotional attachment to the President clouded her judgement.
St. Augustine confronts the Roman patriotism in The City of God. Augustine saw the goals of Rome as post-fall goals such as worldly glory, pleasure, and power. Augustine draws on the idea that Christians are citizens of two cities. The City of Man (Rome) and the City of God. As such, Christians are on a journey representing the City of God while living in the City of Man.
In the midst of this huge discussion, Augustine divides the human race into two catergories; “one consists of those who live according to human standards and the other of those who live according to God” (emphasis added). Augustine will include ponderings on lies and truths:
When, therefore, man lives according to himself, – that is, according to man, not according to God, – assuredly he lives according to a lie; not that man himself is a lie, for God is his author and creator; who is certainly not the author and creator of a lie, but because man was made upright, that he might not live according to himself, but according to Him that made him, – in other words, that he might do His will and not his own; and not to live as he was made to live, that is a lie.
Olivia encounters two sets of lies in this episode. One, the President, a man she loved (or loves?) and trusted deeply lied to her about having an affair with another woman. The second was Sully lying to himself about who he really is. “Who you are,” Olivia tells him, “shouldn’t be a secret.”
Both the President and Sully were living according to human standards, living for the City of Man. Augustine, in not subtle ways, says that when humanity lives for itself, humanity is not of God but of sin. Humanity is seeking blessings from the City of Man instead of accepting blessings from the City of God. Lies are sin, Augustine argues. “The source of man’s happiness,” he writes, “lies only in God, whom he abandons when he sins.”
The lies in this episode represent humanity living according to human standards. The lies are cover-ups, preventing them and others from seeing the truth. Olivia’s gifts of truth-knowing were comprised because of her own desires to trust the man she loved so deeply. Olivia and her gladiators will continue to encounter more challenges between the City of Man and the City of God as truths and lies are revealed.