Olivia Pope’s Pantsuit Nation

Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope in Season 1 of “Scandal.”

Years before Hillary Clinton accepted the Democratic nomination for president in a suffragette-inspired white pantsuit, Olivia Pope had been running Washington in her tailored armor. And I, like millions of American women, have been a proud member of her Gladiator Nation since “Scandal” premiered on ABC in 2012.

The show, which ends Thursday night after seven seasons, made history. Shonda Rhimes, its creator, became one of the most successful black women in television history, joining Oprah Winfrey and Diahann Carroll as the third black woman in the Television Hall of Fame. Ms. Rhimes came to own Thursday nights on ABC: “Grey’s Anatomy” at 8 p.m., followed by “Scandal” at 9. Then, beginning in 2014, “How to Get Away With Murder” at 10.

When “Scandal” premiered, Kerry Washington’s Olivia Pope was the first African-American female lead in a network drama in almost 40 years — the first in my lifetime. (Teresa Graves was the first ever as an undercover cop in “Get Christie Love!,” which debuted in 1974.)

But “Scandal” wasn’t groundbreaking only for Ms. Rhimes. Today, popular shows with black women in prominent roles are increasingly common: Tracee Ellis Ross in “Blackish,” Gabrielle Union in “Being Mary Jane,” Taraji P. Henson in “Empire,” Issa Rae in “Insecure.” Olivia Pope was the trailblazer.

Michael Cohen has turned “fixer” into a dirty word, but Olivia, a fixer and crisis manager working with a crack team of hackers, investigators and lawyers, made fixing problems look glamorous. The character is loosely based on Judy Smith, a black woman who was a special assistant and deputy press secretary to President George H. W. Bush. As a crisis manager, she has represented Monica Lewinsky, Michael Vick and Paula Deen.

“Scandal” sometimes reflected current events. It has included story lines about police brutality against black men, a woman’s presidential campaign and a National Security Agency contractor who steals a government program to prove the government is spying on Americans. “The producers axed a story line about a presidential election being hacked by Russians because it felt a little too real,” Ms. Washington told Trevor Noah last year.

The plot often veered into the absurd. In the second season, for example, the president was shot by an automated sniper rifle on the orders of a Supreme Court justice. After surviving the assassination attempt, the president killed the justice, who was dying of cancer. Really. The end of the fourth season felt so over the top that I temporarily stopped watching.

But I couldn’t stay away; I ended up catching it on Netflix.

I am not embarrassed to admit that I’ve watched all 123 episodes of “Scandal,” some several times. I’ve live-tweeted about the show on Thursday nights with thousands of others, including the cast, and I once skipped a Friday morning class during college in Italy to watch the previous night’s episode.

Nearly every character has been captivating in some way, but Olivia was the reason I tuned in every week. My friends and I slipped her signature phrase — “It’s handled” — into our vernacular. Writing a paper for class at the last minute? It’s handled. Learning a song for rehearsal? It’s handled. Applying to a job? It’s handled.

In a friend’s phone, my number appears not under my own name but under Olivia Pope. I once spent weeks searching for a white gown in her style. When I finally posted a photo of me in the dress, I captioned it: “Channeling Olivia Pope.”

To say I was obsessed with the character is an understatement. Was I ridiculous? Absolutely. But I didn’t care.

Olivia was brilliant, in control and ambitious. She had a great job, a perfectly decorated apartment, an incredible wardrobe of fabulous wrap coats, designer bags, the most flattering white and gray pantsuits and silky loungewear to wear during evenings spent drinking her favorite wine — du Bellay — out of her beautiful wine glasses. At one point Crate & Barrel was selling 20 times as many of the glasses after they were prominently featured in the show’s second season. Are you surprised that I own them?

Olivia was motivated by the selfless higher purpose of protecting the republic — “gladiators in white hats,” she and her team called themselves. But she wasn’t perfect.

She went to great lengths to get a Republican elected to the Oval Office, had a yearslong affair with him and worked to keep him in power, even when he no longer deserved it. She was responsible for deaths and the destruction of people’s lives. All of these flaws made me like her even more.

For decades, black female characters were strictly stereotypical — sassy or hypersexual or mammies — who often existed solely to serve the white people around them. It’s not just that Olivia was complex; it’s that “Scandal” didn’t situate her blackness at the center of the narrative. Even her affair with the president was seen as scandalous not because she was black but because the president was cheating on his wife. By refusing to treat blackness as a determining characteristic when it’s not, Ms. Rhimes burst the door wide open for black women on television.

“For me, writing Olivia Pope as the lead meant she got to be the lead, and the lead is everything,” Ms. Rhimes recently said. “She’s the love interest, she’s mean, she’s kind, she’s flawed, she’s brilliant at her job. She makes mistakes.”

“Scandal” is what the world looks like when a black woman is a respected leader. Olivia doesn’t need anyone’s permission, she just needs respect and trust. From there, it’s handled.

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