Jul 152020

Scandal episode S04E16 “It’s Good to be Kink”, aired March 19, 2015 IMDB

Sue Thomas (Lena Dunham) is about to publish a memoir of her sexual exploits in Washington, DC. One of the men mentioned is a fixer named Leo, who is the boyfriend of White House press secretary Abby. Abby, fearing for her career, turns to her friend, Olivia Pope. 

Olivia delivers a lecture at Sue, telling her to stop publication. Sue flips the script on Olivia, hitting the third-wave sex-positive feminist, and says she’ll stop publication if somebody pays her $3 million. 

Sue meets Olivia, with Quinn in the background.

Olivia and her minions set up a mini-heist by hacking Sue’s account on “Land-O-Kink”, with the usual jokes about kink. 

Quinn: “Don’t knock it. Very popular dating app for people who are into things like whips, chains, furry role–”

Olivia: “I get it.”


Huck: “According to her [Sue’s] profile, she’s into everything. Roleplaying, erotic spanking, flogging, suspension, ropes… aren’t those the same thing?”

Quinn: “No, not at all.”

They lure Sue out of her apartment with a date, and send in a man to scan the only type-written copy of the book in her toy trunk. They then decode Sue’s codenames for her lovers, and assemble the list of DC power players. Olivia tells a room full of middle-age white men in suits to chip in to pay Sue’s demand. However, one of them, attorney-general David Rosen, refuses to pay up, on the grounds that this is extortion. 

This sets up a problem. If Sue publishes her book, that kills the careers of Abby and of  David Rosen, and that in turn kills an immunity-from-prosecution deal for Huck, one of Olivia’s employees who is a former covert assassin. 

Olivia and Co dig deeper into Sue’s life, and find that she was a highly qualified worker at the EPA who was sexually harassed by her boss because of her “wild” reputation. When she rejected him and talked to HR, he fired and blackballed her. Olivia explains to Sue that her boss stole her ability to make her living with her intellect, and all she’s doing now is making her living with her body. Olivia says they can go after Sue’s boss through legal channels, and offers her high-status job interviews in exchange for the manuscript, and Sue agrees.

Later, Olivia’s employees Quinn and Huck visit Sue at her apartment, and find one of her lovers threatening her at knifepoint. Huck throws him out, then brutally kills Sue right in front of Quinn. Sue’s manuscript is recovered and hidden in Olivia’s private safe, Quinn and Huck lie to Olivia about the murder, and Huck gets his immunity deal so he can see his family again.

Scandal portrays Washington as an intricate network of money, reputation, deals, and secrets. Sue became a loose element in that system, and it destroyed her to preserve itself, even if the individual beneficiaries of her death (e.g. David, Leo, Abby) didn’t know about it.

This episode doesn’t go into the acts or the motivations of BDSM, which raises the question of why it is there at all. Perhaps regular vanilla, heterosexual infidelity isn’t enough for career ending scandal in 2015. 

David Rosen: “There’s no sympathy for the kinky, Huck, even for occasional dabblers like me.”

Still, writing from 2020, the age of #MeToo and Donald “grab ‘em by the pussy” Trump and Jeffrey Epstein, it seems a little quaint for men in power to worry about a roman a clef full of consensual, hetero sex between adults. 

It does consider the social ramifications of kink, especially on women. What sets the episode’s plot in motion is when Abby turns to her friend Olivia, because she fears for her career. We never learn what Leo did with Sue to earn him the nickname “the dustbuster”, only that Abby yells “Disgusting!” at him repeatedly. However, Abby is actually more concerned about how it will reflect on her. As a woman in politics, she is always judged for every personal detail, including the men she’s involved with. A man might be able to weather a sexual scandal without ending his career, but that’s not a possibility for women, even if it is a scandal by proxy.

It also characterizes Sue as not as a mercenary political groupie, but as a person who was wronged because of her sexuality by the sexist culture of Washington. David and Leo lament her death, calling her smart and nice. 

It does end on a more positive note, as Sue’s manuscript rekindles Leo and Abby’s relationship, and encourages Olivia to overcome her anxiety and have a sexual fling.

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