It’s pretty safe to say that writer/producer Shonda Rhimes’ many TV series have left their mark on the pop cultural landscape. Whether they were long-running successes (yes, Grey’s Anatomy, this is about you) or shows we’re better off ignoring (Off the Map and Still Star-Crossed, it’s not us, it’s you), all of these shows tend to follow the same archetypal pattern. Known for their bizarrely attractive casts, soapy and over the top plots, and characters who are prone to launching into monologues at the drop of a hat, Shondaland series are a paradoxical blend of particularly unique and all too similar.
Within the many series Rhimes has put out over the years, characters have come forward who have been declared all but instantly iconic, such as Meredith Grey, Olivia Pope, and Annalise Keating. The many stars of these series are highly quotable, sometimes relatable in deeply personal ways, and often infuriating yet entertaining. Shondaland’s characters present a distinct blend of twisted and inspirational, people whose strength of character you can aspire to possess, but whose specific actions or behaviors you would be better off turning a blind eye to.
Yet for every inspirational moment these shows provide, there’s an overwhelming amount of disgusting, disturbing, and downright selfish behavior going on. Chronicling every horrible thing these characters have done could prove to be an infinite task, but don’t worry: we’ve compiled a handy list of the 15 Worst Things Shondaland Characters Have Ever Done right here for you.
15. Jake kills James (Scandal)
With all of the secrets and, well, scandals that are desperately kept under wraps on Scandal, it was bound to happen that someone would come too close to uncovering some of the dirty secrets that linger in the shadows. What no one wanted to happen, however, was for that character to be one of the most innocent and beloved of the entire series, intrepid journalist James Novak.
After James and David Rosen came close to learning the ugly truth behind the murder of Daniel Douglas Langston, the Vice President’s husband, it looked like justice would finally be served. Earlier in the series, they had uncovered the truth about the rigging of the Defiance, Ohio voting being rigged to secure the election for Fitz.
So with another giant secret under their combined attention, an unfortunate price had to be paid in order to send a message to the survivor. And so, ruthless B613 killer Jake quickly and brutally dispatched of James right in front of David’s eyes.
14. Meredith compromises Derek’s clinical trial (Grey’s Anatomy)
FDA-approved trials are standard fare in most medical dramas; but with that being said, it’s also become increasingly common over the years for these trials to be compromised by doctors with personal investments in what are meant to be double blind procedures.
In season 7 of Grey’s, Derek ran a trial with the intentions of discovering a cure for Alzheimer’s; however, this trial was soon rendered invalid due to an action taken by his wife, Meredith. Knowing that Adele Webber, wife of the beloved chief Richard Webber, is taking part in the trial, Meredith investigates and, upon learning that Adele has been given the placebo medication, she switches her file with another patient’s, thus compromising the integrity of the trial.
13. Frank kills Lila Stangard (HTGAWM)
It was the murder that launched an entire series. Well, one of them, at least.
College student Lila Stangard was having an affair with her professor, Sam Keating. Soon enough, Lila wound up getting pregnant, and naturally, Sam was less than pleased and insisted that she have an abortion. When Lila made it clear that not only was she not going to do that, but that she also intended to tell Sam’s wife Annalise the truth about everything, it sufficed to say that Sam wasn’t exactly thrilled.
And so, he called upon friendly neighborhood paralegal/hitman Frank Delfino, who owed him a massive favor, and had Frank kill Lila so nothing would ever come out.
Except for the fact that Sam’s wife, Annalise, just so happens to be a law professor who teaches a course known as How to Get Away with Murder, with a group of students determined to solve every murder mystery thrown their way. And Sam could’ve gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for those meddling kids.
12. Amelia abandons Owen (Grey’s Anatomy)
Communication is key in every relationship, and even more so on a series like Grey’s, where the failure to communicate can lead to things falling apart rapidly. That’s exactly what happened between newlyweds Amelia and Owen in season 13. Faced with the revelation that Amelia didn’t want to have kids, which was the major source of friction in his past relationship with Cristina, Owen was forced to choose what he wanted for their future. Yet when he made up his mind to talk things out with Amelia, he returned home to find that she had left him.
Amelia, of course, is still struggling with her tragic past of giving birth to a child born without a brain on Grey’s earlier spinoff, Private Practice. Amelia’s departure was also forced upon the writers due to Caterina Scorsone’s pregnancy requiring her to need time off. Nevertheless, the decision to run away from the issues the married couple should have faced together was a heartbreaking one, and only provided yet another bump in the road for the rocky couple.
11. Ellis Grey attempts to commit suicide in front of Meredith (Grey’s Anatomy)
Meredith Grey has undergone a whole lot of trauma in her life, ranging from countless near death experiences and the loss of both her half-sister and her husband in tragic accidents. However, one of the earliest sources of trauma came at her mother’s hands.
Ellis Grey, formerly a brilliant and revered doctor, once attempted to commit suicide in order to regain the attention of her former lover, Richard Webber. And it was a very young Meredith who found her bleeding out and who was forced to call 911 to try to save her life after the cry for help, which would ultimately go unheeded by Richard. Making matters worse, Ellis even told her not to call for help.
10. Asher helped to cover up a gang rape (HTGAWM)
While some of the members of the Keating Five and co. have committed actual, violent murders, Asher Millstone—who so far has not been party to any of them—has an ugly skeleton all his own in his closet.
In season 2, it is revealed that a girl named Tiffany was gang raped by a group of four men at a party Asher had thrown at Trotter Lake. Although Asher was not one of the attackers, he was complicit in it: rather than going for help after seeing her visibly distressed, he told his father about it. And his father, being a high ranking judge and benefiting from every kind of privilege imaginable in this situation, simply worked to cover things up to protect the rapists, rather than help the victim.
9. Andrew Nichols has Olivia abducted (Scandal)
Don’t you just hate it when the person you’re supposed to be leading a country with decides to betray you by kidnapping the woman you love and placing her up for auction on the black market?
Okay, yeah, it’s not exactly Scandal‘s most relatable moment, but it’s by far one of the worst things anyone has ever done. Andrew Nichols, who briefly served as Fitz’s Vice President, arranged for Olivia to be abducted and sold to the highest international bidder, all so he could try and force Fitz’s hand in starting a war he wanted no part in.
Scandal‘s version of perverse justice would reach Andrew in no time, however: after Huck injected him with a toxin that caused him to have a severe stroke, Olivia herself later beat him to death with a metal chair as part of a psychotic break. Again, it wasn’t exactly a relatable storyline.
8. “Big Jerry” Grant rapes his daughter-in-law Mellie (Scandal)
Is it really a soap opera if there isn’t a plot about an uncertain paternity?
Scandal being Scandal, however, it just had to take things one step further—and in the absolute worst way possible.
In season 3’s “Everything’s Coming Up Mellie,” it was revealed that Fitz’s falsely charming, manipulative father “Big Jerry” Grant viciously raped his daughter-in-law Mellie one night while they were discussing Fitz’s political prospects. And again, since Scandal is a soap opera, not long after this, Mellie learned she was pregnant with their first child—a child who would go on to be named Jerry Jr., in honor of his grandfather…or maybe father?
A paternity test at the end of season 3 seemingly confirms that Fitz is in fact the father, but after a round of faked results, and given the fact that almost no one on this show is trustworthy, we may never know the real truth for sure.
7. The whole Alex/Deluca/Jo mess (Grey’s Anatomy)
Things can go really bad, really fast when you make assumptions – especially in Shondaland.
Look no further than the entirety of the Alex-Jo-Deluca debacle that plagued the end of season 12 and much of season 13 of Grey’s. What started as Alex’s misinterpretation of Jo and Deluca in a compromising position soon led to a full on beat down at Alex’s hands, an arrest, criminal charges, dropped criminal charges, broken and repaired relationships…
Oh, and all of that came before the revelation that Jo Wilson was not, in fact, Jo Wilson, but rather Brooke Stadler, a married woman fleeing from an abusive husband under an assumed identity.
6. Bonnie kills Rebecca (HTGAWM)
It wasn’t just Frank that killed someone to prove his loyalty and repay a favor to a Keating. Fellow paralegal and Annalise Keating’s right hand Bonnie Winterbottom got in on some of that action as well.
In Bonnie’s case, she suffocated previous-suspect-in-Lila’s-murder/Wes’ then-girlfriend Rebecca Sutter in the basement of Annalise’s home. Her motives were twofold: she killed her because she thought Rebecca had killed Lila, but also because Bonnie would do anything it took to protect Annalise, even kill for her, after everything Annalise had done for her.
5. Mellie’s maternal manipulations (Scandal)
Given its lengthy history of support regarding women’s choice, and its controversial abortion episode, Scandal is clearly no stranger to the mentality of “women’s bodies, women’s choices.” However, two particular choices made by one prominent female character are nowhere near defensible.
In season 1, Mellie Grant lies during a public interview, claiming that the reason for the apparent distance in her marriage is due to a miscarriage she never actually suffered. In reality, the large lie is a shocking attempt at gaining popular sympathy, and to Fitz’s horror and disgust, it seems to work. The following season, Mellie, realizing that Fitz is finally fed up and prepared to divorce her, selfishly and riskily induces labor early, threatening the life of their unborn child just so she can further trap him in their long-standing marriage of political convenience.
Four seasons later, they’re now divorced; but it’s now America who will have to deal with her manipulations, as she was elected Scandal‘s first female president in season 6.
4. Callie dates the doctor responsible for Derek’s death (Grey’s Anatomy)
Grey’s has done a lot for LGBT visibility, even if most of its LGBT relationships have been far from healthy. Callie and Arizona may have been a long-lasting part of the show, but their relationship was far more frequently tortured and toxic than it was ever healthy and supportive.
Yet after “Calzona” ended, Callie soon took up with her most controversial love interest to date: Dr. Penelope Blake, a woman who causes the blood of Grey’s fans everywhere to boil.
Dr. Blake was one of the doctors responsible for the tragic death of the series’ original and beloved leading man, Dr. Derek Shepherd. Although Penny had her heart in the right place with her treatment of Derek, actively campaigning to get him the treatment that would have saved him had anyone listened to her, her part in his untimely death made Penny’s integration into the friendship circle impossible. Nevertheless, Callie stayed with her, even moving to New York to be with her following Sara Ramirez’s departure from the series.
3. Olivia, Mellie, Cyrus, Verna, and Hollis rig Defiance (Scandal)
While Olivia Pope has always been billed as a political fixer, no one could have predicted the true lengths she would go to in the name of fixing politics.
In season 2, it was revealed that Olivia—along with Mellie, Cyrus, Verna, and Hollis—had conspired to rig the election for their candidate, Fitzgerald Grant. When it became clear that he was going to narrowly lose, and that Defiance, Ohio would be the key to flipping the election in their favor, the decision came down to Olivia, who risked everything in the name of both power and love.
In a domino effect, their decision caused the series as we know it to happen. Had Fitz lost the election, he wouldn’t have been President, and there would have been no scandalous affair at the heart of the story. And none of the suffering that followed would have happened, either. One moment’s impulsive decision would change the lives of all of these characters—and the nation—forever.
2. Laurel’s father has her boyfriend Wes killed (HTGAWM)
It’s always something to worry about, whether your parents will approve of your significant others. But in the case of How to Get Away with Murder, it’s more like, “will my parents kill my significant other?”
Well, at least if your name is Laurel Castillo, that’s something you’ve got to worry about.
It’s the two-part mystery that drives season 3: in the first half of the season, which main character is dead?, and in the second half, who could possibly kill Wes, the show’s central character/essentially a puppy in human form? The season finale eventually reveals the devastating blow: Laurel’s father has had Wes killed.
And while his motives remain unclear at this point, at least until season 4 gets to them, what makes this senseless murder all the more tragic is this: at the time of his death, Laurel is pregnant with Wes’ child.
1. Eli Pope has Fitz and Mellie’s son Jerry killed purely out of spite (Scandal)
In a universe full of petty, vengeful, ugly individuals who do terrible things in the name of self-interest, Eli Pope just might take the cake.
From his introduction in Scandal, Eli has been constantly portrayed as cold, calculating, and ruthless, dispatching of each and every threat to the regime he has created. No act has been more despicable, however, than his order to have Fitz and Mellie’s son, Jerry Jr., killed—purely so Fitz would know what it felt like to have the thing he loved most taken from him.
Confused by what that means? You’re not alone. In Eli’s mind, Fitz loving Olivia was equivalent to Eli having one of his men cruelly murder Fitz’s eldest son. In other words, by loving a woman off limits to him, Fitz therefore necessitated the murder of a child.
And if that doesn’t show you just how ugly Shondaland can be, nothing else will.
What other horrible things have Shondaland characters done that you think should be on here? Let us know in the comments!
TGIT returns Thursday, September 28 on ABC.
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