“I’m a good man in a storm. I love your daughter. And I protect the things I love.” - Arizona Robbins to Callie Torres’ father, Grey’s Anatomy season six.
“@Shondarhimes Figured out my irrational anger toward @JessicaCapshaw’s character. Uncle w/ PTSD did the same thing. #itsreal #heartbreaking” - @AnnemarieHauser
“We all do terrible things.” - Olivia Pope, Scandal.
The last quote is the thesis of Scandal. I am realizing that it just may be an underlying thesis of both of Shonda Rhimes’ current blockbuster hit shows. Despite many warnings from Rhimes and actress Jessica Capshaw, Grey’s Anatomy shocked fans of Capshaw’s character Arizona when the married character flippantly had sex with a woman who is not her wife and the other mother of her child.
I was going to title this post Team This is Bullshit. Capshaw had set out in an interview a Team Callie/Team Arizona dichotomy and I wanted to choose a third Team, one that reflected my initial reaction to the plot point: that it was complete and utter bullshit. I was enraged. I was prepared to write a eulogy for Callie and Arizona’s romance because given Callie’s history of being cheated on by her spouse in her previous marriage, I felt she could not forgive Arizona who is aware of this history and whose actions are thus particularly callous. I felt that their entire relationship was irreparably over. In the eulogy, I was going to talk about how much their fictional TV ‘ship had made an impact on my life in the past two years. Their episodes got me out of depression on a daily basis for a long time, inspired me to write, to specifically write a novel and inspired a fundamental change in me from a passive to a passionate belief in equality for all. They’ve been almost as big a force in my life the past few years as my husband has been. So I was enraged that a single scene could kill all of that.
I was not enraged at Arizona the character because she is not real. Nor was I enraged at Capshaw the actress because she did a perfectly good job of portraying the scene. No, I was mad at Shonda. Why? I took two main issues with the plot point. The first is unresolvable: it’s bloody repetitive. Callie has been cheated on before, by a morally-bounded, seemingly perfect character before. Callie and Arizona have broken up twice before. Arizona has begged to have Callie take her back before. She has also been casual about a break up before. They have recovered from traumas before. And finally, and most glaringly, infidelity is such a common device in Rhimes’ shows that putting yet another infidelity plot in her show is frankly lazy writing. The repetitiveness of the plot is a fact that can’t be escaped. It can be somewhat forgiven if they reference the past, most notably with a reference to George’s infidelity, but also with a reference to Arizona’s good man in a storm speech.
The second issue is resolvable: I found it highly unbelievable that Arizona, the good man in a storm, raised in a military family, so loyal and grounded in honour and morality, would act so carelessly, immorally and dishonourably. It made no sense for her character and seemed like a cheap device to maintain drama in an aging drama. I don’t buy the argument that only bad stuff happening to these characters is interesting. They could choose to have another child and the show could explore how a lesbian couple achieves that. That’s a perfectly interesting and hopeful plot to explore. I also don’t buy the argument that because they are a gay couple they should be challenged with the same exact challenges the straight couples on the show face to make them equal. By forcing equality of challenges on them because they are gay you are bringing attention to their difference and not their similarity. Besides, the show has given them plenty of challenges to work through that have honoured their equality without being forced upon them to make them seem equal. They are inherently equal. No thought into making them face equal challenges is required.
One of those challenges was that Arizona lost her leg and it was her wife Callie’s decision to cut it off. Such a trauma changes people. We too often put victims of trauma on a pedestal and certainly before she was traumatized, pink and pretty, bubbly and sweet Arizona was on a pedestal of perfection and self-control. Arizona put herself on such a pedestal, a high pedestal she has now fallen hard and fast from. Sure she had broken up with Callie and hurt her deeply in the past, but otherwise she had yet to really fail in life. And this act of infidelity is failure, and a failure that’s not without precedent. People who go through trauma sometimes act out in horrible ways, even when they seem to have recovered from said trauma. I am not sure that the show has made clear how her trauma has fundamentally changed her but Arizona is obviously changed for her to act in this manner. But having been traumatized is no excuse. Individuals are responsible for their own actions regardless of the circumstances that lead to them. Arizona saw this coming, she saw what Lauren really wanted from her, and she walked right into her arms, fully aware of what they were doing.
As for how she’ll defend herself, I’ll largely leave my response to Arizona/the writer’s defense of her actions until said defense has aired. But if she claims an underlying dissatisfaction with the marriage, due to being tied down and having had a kid too early, I’ll call foul. Arizona decided to come back from Africa for Callie, it was her decision to stay when Callie revealed she was pregnant, it was Arizona who proposed marriage to Callie, it was Arizona who, in a deleted scene, said the wedding was happening no matter what, it was Arizona who came crying to Callie that she needed a piece of paper that said that Sofia was hers too. She cannot claim that she reluctantly came into marriage and motherhood. She might claim that Callie no longer makes her feel special, or supports her dreams, but in most marriages, that wears off after years of being together along with all the other novelties of new love. The fact that their marriage has been imperfect, with little dissatisfactions here and there, has made it a more realistic, relatable and thus an influential marriage. Regardless of how imperfect their marriage is/was, they were still married. Married! Her actions are in no way justifiable.
But are they forgivable?