Scandal (2012-2018) has been one of Shonda Rimes’ greatest accomplishments, 7 seasons and 124 episodes of politics, drama and romance but every show has a villain and for me there was no one quite like Eli Pope (Joe Morton).
In case you need a quick backstory (why are you reading this if you haven’t watched Scandal) Eli Pope also known as Rowan is the father of one, Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington). He is the master of manipulation and is the alleged cause of a lot of the drama which unfolds over the course of the show.
From stopping Olivia from continuing her affair with President Grant through to being the head of a secret organisation: B6-13, who makes sure order and balance is maintained at the Capitol. Eli is no stranger to being a villain. But surely most TV villains can be defended? The fictional world of Scandal is surrounded in grey, no one really claims moral goodness and every character is flawed in some way or another, it just happens to be that Eli is the worst of the bunch.
Through revisiting Eli’s character I am hard pressed to say that he is infact a villain at all. After all, Eli is constantly having to clean up his daughter’s messes, and Olivia is messy.
Sleeping with the President of the United States. Messy
Getting found out that you’re sleeping with the President of the United States. Even messier
Eli sends in one of his agents, Jake Ballard to distract Olivia from the trouble President Grant could bring her but Olivia is fuelled by love, despite this love being something that disrupted her entire life and career. Placing her employees in jeopardy also. Eli was only trying to keep his daughter on track, is that really such a crime?
From Seasons 2 till 7 Eli carefully manipulates those around him, those who think they have the upper hand tend to become prey very quickly. This is proven by his manipulation of his own daughter time and time again, on top of running the top secret organisation B613 who has had immense dealings with the government (including killing the President’s son).
Eli proves that he will do anything for Olivia, including reminding her exactly what it is to be his daughter. In Season 4, Episode 9 he tells her, “There would be no Olivia Pope if not for me." And whilst this is true from a biological standpoint, there’s more to it that that. As much as Olivia might try to take the moral high ground, she is her father’s daughter and she's just as power hungry as her father.
Her father cultivated a world of opportunity for Olivia, more than being the mistress of the President, she should’ve been the President in his eyes or at the very least Secretary of State. Olivia’s ambition simply doesn’t match what her father has set her up for and he seeks to remind her and her boyfriend constantly. One of the greatest Eli Pope moments doesn’t come from one of his elaborate schemes; it's in his dressing down of the President in Season 4. This has to be one the most iconic Scandal monologues, President Grant tries to intimidate his girlfriend’s father only to have it flipped back on him. Eli isn’t phased by Fitz’s attempt at ownership over his daughter instead he relishes in it, turning it on his head. Telling Fitz, ”You are a boy. I'm a man."
Eli continues to drive the nuanced elements surrounding race in this series. It is he who reminds Olivia that she has to “work twice as hard to be half as good.” And there’s an element of that situated in reality, especially when it comes to being young, Black and trying to make your mark on the world.
Eli Pope is a character whose true crime was wanting to protect his daughter from a world that takes from her and gives nothing in return.