Photo Credit: Hollywood Reporter
Photo Credit: Hollywood Reporter

“Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination—indeed, everything and anything except me.” ― Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

“I’m standing right here,” Harrison said last week, demanding to be acknowledged as Abbey and David have a quite intimate sexual conversation in his presence. But his words are quite symbolic of his position during the three seasons of Scandal, ABC’s hit one-hour drama. Ten episodes into the season, hope for Harrison to step out of the shadows is fleeting. Instead, he appears to be fading away, like an invisible man.

Known for his episode defining one-liners like, “We are gladiators in suits,” more than his own storyline, Harrison is the most stagnant character of all . The fans have long noticed, but there were recent signs of life. After a two-season drought of absolutely NOTHING to add a layer to his back-story or current love life, season three has stalled on its promise to deliver. So far, we’ve got an exchange of threats between Cyrus and Harrison, a shirtless scene with a little inappropriate bedside manner and even less context; then there is that 30 second scene when a woman we’ve never seen walks in Olivia Pope’s office, tells Harrison to keep his phone on, and walks out. That’s it…since September!

He is quickly becoming a nobody; a one-dimensional, lackluster dolphins in a sea of sharks who often looks confused and out of place. Everything seems to just be happening around him. Once, a powerful presence, his character is quickly fading into the background. This troubles me even more because he is a Black man. While I maintain that Shonda has the most diverse cast in primetime television, I have always struggled with the representations of Black men on this show (for the sake of keeping this conversation focused, I won’t mention the challenges I have with the struggling character development of Black men on Private Practice and Grey’s Anatomy).

Before quickly dismissing me as a “hater,” stop early. I am a fan of the show. And I hear you fellow Gladiators when you say, “But Alexandria, what about that life-giving monologue delivered during the finale by Olivia’s father, a Black man, to Fitz??” Yes Lord! That scene gave me chills and the writing was brilliant! Yes, of course I saw the socio-historical reference of this older Black man calling this white man in a position of power a boy. But before I could fall too far in love, that same man had been fired, humiliated, and professionally castrated by the very man he just declared was beneath his pay grade, having his words served back to him cold: “If you cut off the head, another one will grow in its place.” So, you’ll have to forgive me if I want something more.

Eventually, I hope, in true Shonda fashion, that some great storyline will come from the depths of TV writing heaven, swoop down and take us all away to glory, making this all worth the wait. With such a long awaited faction of the show, they have no other choice but to do Harrison justice. The question is, for the love of gladiators everywhere, WHEN??

Why does any of this matter? Because I sat and watched a two-week mid-season Winter Finale twist and turn around almost every single character ripe with a spousal murder, a hostile take-over, and a double cross 3 episodes in the making. But, no Harrison. Not one thing.

There is something left to be desired by his absented presence and it needs to be addressed. Here are three reasons why:

*Harrison Is A Good Man (we hope!)
Compared to the other male characters on the show, Harrison is a prince among men. He is not a lying, backstabbing politician. He is not a manipulative Washington puppeteer sleeping with anything in a skirt. And he hasn’t killed anybody…yet. From what we’ve seen, he is dedicated, loyal, and a strong, trustworthy ally to Liv and her crew. Plus, as one of only four Black characters, three of which are Black men, Harrison needs much more context than he currently has because he’s been there from the beginning.

In season two, we were introduced to two other Black male characters significant to Olivia’s life. First, politician and love interest, Senator Edison Davis was presented as handsome, sweet, and well, let’s face it, weak. Yes, weak. Not an episode went by where Twitter and Facebook were not blowing up behind how docile he seemed to be, and how he was just no match for the powerhouse of Olivia. No chemistry or comparison to the passion and intensity of her former elicit romance with President Fitzgerald. Even though Edison is supposed to be a Senator, he seemed to be unable to do anything for (or with) Olivia.

The second man, we only knew in brief, yet chilling, cameo appearances until we discovered that he was head of B6-13. Oh yeah, and by the way, he is Olivia’s father. Commander Rowan “Eli” Pope is deliberate, calculating, manipulative, and vicious. The more we learn about him, it’s clearer how dangerous he really is. And after the way he read Fitz while he sat cuffed in a torture room, it is clear that he is not to be underestimated. The Sappy Senator and Daddy Pope provide two far-reaching extremes of masculinity and behavior that play right into typical archetypes of Black men: aggressive and violent or inadequate and feeble. Thus far, Harrison sits somewhere between the weak and the wicked. Adding some layers to his story may provide a much-needed opportunity for the show to see a powerful, complicated, yet compassionate man of Harrison’s class and swag.

*Harrison is the only one WITHOUT a story!
With very little present and even less of a past, how can we expect to believe Harrison as a Gladiator in a suit? We can’t, especially when every other leading character has evolved in some meaningful way. The longer that this is the case, Harrison will be confined to a one-liner sidekick.

In fact, we rarely even see Harrison outside of the work he does with the team. What is he doing when Huck is at AA meetings with Quinn sneaking closely behind? Or when Abby is sneaking off to have an affair with nemesis David Rosen? We pretty much only see him on the job. Far be if from me to complain about watching Columbus Short stand back looking handsome in a suit. However, in seasons one and two, every leading character experienced a major change, contributing to the storyline of Scandal, and complicating the game all the more. This of course is with the exception of our dear Harrison.

Think about it. Quinn has an incredible back-story that led the first season to a confusing, yet exciting cliffhanger. Now, she is in some crazy double-cross set-up, sleeping with the enemy! Then, there is our loveable assassin. #whatthehuck was trending everywhere! We learned more about his previous life then we ever thought possible. Now, in every new episode, Huck is the central connection to black ops org B6-13. We even see reporter James Novak shift in his family and career goals as husband to the sinister Chief of Staff, Cyrus Beene. And the lovable, yet elusive all American hero, Jake shocked us all with that stealth move at the end of last week’s episode. But when will the crumbs that were left behind thus far lead us home to Harrison?

*Harrison is Becoming Irrelevant.
Without his own story, Harrison’s authority is diminished. Right now, his presence and his contributions to the story are irrelevant. We need Harrison to be fully human; to have a life, a family, or a love interest; anything that makes him a whole person. We are rooting for him to win!

Despite the slow progression, there has been a slight arc to Harrison’s character. In the midst of assassin Huck’s breakdown, we see Harrison step up to be Olivia’s head partner at “the firm.” It is thrilling to see him leading client meetings, giving tactical orders to the team, and rallying them together in Olivia’s absence. However, I can’t help but feel his power is underscored by his insistence on being there time and time again as the strong second-in-command when Olivia’s gut is off, wrong, or broken. In more than one episode, Harrison volunteers, in true gladiator fashion, to lay down his life for her, assuring her that he will do what ever it takes to help her figure it out. On multiple occasions, their encounter looks like this: Olivia stares blankly at her foot solider, often refusing to answer his questions, and coldly walks out of the room without an explanation, literally ignoring him. #whattheharrison!

Without a story of his own, Harrison is a sidekick, just a simple accessory to go with Olivia’s fabulous wardrobe. My hope for Harrison is what gladiator’s everywhere are waiting for. Harrison’s time has come, and before Season 3 is done, we better get it!

alexAlexandra Barabin is a writer, public speaker, and cultural facilitator. She is the Founder of Sun Up Business Management and www.YesSheIsMe.com, a community dedicated to women and girls. She can be contacted at SunUpSays@gmail.com.

13 thoughts on “Scandal And The Problem With The Invisible (Black) Man”

  1. Great job!!! Yes we need more Harrison. He’s always kind of just standing there with one sentence to say and then he’s out. I want to learn more about his character. What’s going on with him that we don’t know about. Great points.

    1. I agree. I’m not an avid watcher (for various reasons) but I didn’t notice until Alex pointed it out, Harrison is like one of the only characters without any real back story. Maybe it’s coming soon.

  2. As an avid Shonda watcher I believe Harrison time is coming. The show is not even 3 complete seasons in. Can we say character development? We’re just now understanding some of the back story of the 1st lady (a white woman) & she’s a bigger character than Harrison. Everything has its place & time. I don’t think Shonda spares her black characters storyline any more than other races. And since you mentioned her other shows, as far as their character development PP had a black male lead who’s story grew throughout the 6 seasons. GA: the COS was a black man until he stepped down & is still active & has been the focus of many episodes. The head of the hospital is a young black man who has a very powerful mother. One may want to include troubling storylines, such as the chief’s battle with alcohol, but guess what– it’s all night time soaps–meaning EVERYONE has some issue(s).
    So yes, Harrison may be under played but can we at least let the show begin to simmer before we say he’s an insignificant black man.

  3. I also noticed that when the young black woman came to give Harrison papers for Marie/Miya she completely ignored Abby. Remember, Abby said “I m Abby.. fade to black.

  4. Well written article and you make some excellent points. He has become somewhat invisible. In some previous episodes (particularly the ones where Liv was assisting the congresswoman with her presidential campaign), I saw looks on Harrison’s face that would cut steel – perhaps some inner rage and frustration going on and it made me wonder what’s eating this guy.

    At the risk of sounding blindly optimistic, I do have faith in Shonda and her writers that there will be a great backstory on the character of Harrison. I remember complaints about Olivia’s character not having any kind of depth compared to the others. Then things got interesting with Eli Pope and her mother. So yes we shall see.

  5. Great perspectives everyone!

    I agree @AniToddSmith
    It takes time to develop each character successfully while correlating the whole episode. In addition to that episode they have to have a concept for the direction of the season. We are only in season 3 and though Harrison has been a shadow here and there I’m optimistic about the strength, leadership and heartfelt personality to come of Harrison. Harrison plays a big role and loyal shoulder for Olivia and the other gladiators. He’s not going anywhere off screen or in the cut. Dont forget when Cyrus called to get that Visa for Salif to come to the US and after Harrison. That’s the scandal we are waiting on!
    #Harrison

  6. Does anyone else think that Harrison may end up being the one Liv turns to romantically finally? I get this sense that he demonstrates over and over again that he’s WAY more loyal to her than Fitz ever would be. Of course, I would also like to see Liv and Mellie both leave Fitz. Then Mellie could go to work with Liv, David could leave Cyrus and join RT as a White House reporter, and they could blow it ALL up! But that’s just my fantasy.

  7. I cringed while reading this, because I actually highly disagree. The fact that Harrison doesn’t have a story yet, to me, is great script writing. A well written tv script, to me, is like a woman with morals and integrity. A woman who has standards will not put out too much too soon, because it’ll compromise her value in the eyes of whatever man/audience she’s entertaining and there won’t be much to look forward to, and you can very well get disinterested. So, to me, it doesn’t matter if it was David Rosen, Abby, Quinn, Huck, Jack etc. The fact that you are even talking about his seemingly observational lack of a story line, is proof that you are still interested in seeing what happens. As great as the writing has been for this show, if somebody is seemingly invisible or playing into a stereotype (which everybody seems to be playing into in some capacity), it’s for a good reason in my opinion. Besides, There is ALREADY TOO MUCH happening with all the story lines already. Harrison will have his time. Just wait!

    1. lmao, you cringed? Wow! People take their worship of Scandal to epic levels. I get what you mean with that awkward comparison between a woman’s chastity and character develop within a tv show indeed I watched a show where the annoying side characters didn’t get a back-story till the last five episodes and suddenly they became less annoying but I don’t really think it fair to expect that every time a character in a show is under-represented.

      I can list numerous series where a under-developed character never grow beyond their initial presentation. I think your own personal bias for the show makes you wholly unable to hear any criticism relating to it and that’s a shame because this article wasn’t really condemning the show at all.

      You should see my blog http://blackmediawatcher.wordpress.com/2013/07/02/interracial-propaganda-exposed/ it will make your head explode. Honestly I think it’s fair to question Harrison role in Scandal especially when you consider that he is like the only black male protagonist in a series that seems hostile to the black male image overall.

      I’m sure you know what I mean by that. Olivia seem to only respect white men and has a habit of sleeping around with them while the black men in her life are either her enemy (daddy), a boring piss-poor placeholder for her white love interest, or her lackey that she got out of jail (Harrison). I wouldn’t want to be a black man in the Scandalverse. We suck royally there and in a way that makes the real world look better by comparison.

      Still many black men like myself, up to the end of season two, and my brother watch this show and are supporters of it. My brother walks around the house all but chanting, “Gladiator in a suit” it all resonates deeply for him just like a black female viewer but his character or audience surrogate is only good for a single one liner and blinding servitude to a woman that barely affords him the same level of respect… face it… Olivia and Harrison are closer to mother and son than boss and employee. Olivia has many episodes son’ing Harrison around.

  8. I’m so glad I’m not the only one to have noticed this. He has no real role in the show other than to be hard at work on the job. Where is his social, or romantic life? The only real time he got involved with a woman was when he was waking up in bed with her. I love Harrison’s character. They need to build it up more, and fast.

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