Scandal: The Various Stages of Olivia Pope's Prison Hair


Last night’s winter premiere of Scandal brought back the suspense and panic that I felt was missing from the first half of the season. We haven’t felt this sense of hopelessness from Olivia Pope in awhile. We also haven’t seen her hair look so uncharacteristically unlaid.

The episode opens with a teaser shot: Olivia running through what looks like a prison hallway toward a locked door. We don’t know where she is or how long she’s been there, but she looks completely bedraggled, which means something bad is happening. Olivia’s then seen entertaining Jake in her apartment, the same scenes from last November’s finale. Right as he leaves the room to grab a blanket, Liv is kidnapped and hauled across the hall into her neighbor’s apartment. At this point, her impossibly perfect coif is still styled in its usual superior state. After being drugged and transported, Liv wakes up in a prison with another captive named Ian. Her state of dishevelment while held hostage is certainly something that would’ve been discussed in the Scandal makeup room: What’s worth portraying for the sake of the story?

There’s also a broader discussion of black women’s hair on television happening right now. This article by Ayana Byrd breaks down the rare occurrence of natural hair on TV currently and the importance of seeing a range of black beauty. The fact that people were so shocked to see Annalise’s glam process made super transparent on How to Get Away with Murder is telling. We’ve seen Viola Davis’ character remove her wig and wear her hair in its natural state. Olivia might occasionally wig it, but if so it’s not stated. We can assume that she’s normally wearing a blowout because her hair is naturally curly in the beach scenes where she’s “standing in the sun” with Jake (see a photo here).

My hope is that more realistic black hair representation will pop up on TV, a la Tracee Ellis Ross on Black-ish. Ross talked about this at length in a recent interview with The New York Times:

“I was wearing my hair in its natural curl pattern since the beginning, and I’m happy bringing that to television. If there are some little girls like me that get to see different versions of themselves on television to give them ideas of different ways they can wear their hair or a larger, expanded version of what it would be like to be a woman and look like them, that makes me happy. I love the fact that there are so many newscasters now that wear natural hair. When I was a kid, that did not exist. That was not in the frame of reference.”

In this episode of Scandal, the point was to show how much Olivia had come undone. Hair is of course the least of her worries, yet this is a case where the state of her hair has to somewhat reflect reality, i.e. it “reverting” back to its natural state (if it is indeed a blowout). So here, the various stages of Pope’s hair before and mid-kidnap.

In her apartment, dancing with Jake. Everything irie.

Newly imprisoned, not a strand out of place.

Teeth clenched, hair still dubiously laid.

Hair slightly tousled while giving up secrets of her life to a stranger.

Witch nails

Hope is slipping away and so are Olivia’s ends. We don’t know how long she’s been in prison at this point, but judging from her hair’s condition, it’s probably only weeks, not months.

In the end, Olivia shoots one of her kidnappers in the head (this will come back to haunt her, considering her stance against murder), and she thinks she’s escaped. But it’s all been an elaborate set-up by Ian, the seemingly cowardly dude who was fake-killed after Olivia tried to escape by using her bra underwire as a device to open the one window she saw while getting a five-minute bathroom break in the prison. Who is this dude and what the hell is happening?

Images via screenshot/ABC

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