If you were to ask 20 random fans of Scandal why they watch the show, you might get 20 different answers, all recognizing a different aspect of its genius. Some might say they appreciate the beauty and proficiency of Olivia Pope's chin quivers. Others might admit they devise drinking games for the increasing amount of fucks Mellie doesn't give. ("That's three more fucks Mellie doesn't give, which means three more shots of Maker's! Drink up!") And a few might even express that they watch because that's the only time anyone retweets their tweets.
Me? I watch because, well, something historic is happening. With each episode, Jake Ballard is discovering new levels of the friend zone. Levels we didn't know exist. Levels we didn't know were possible to exist. Levels that disrupt our understanding of the friend zone, and force us to reassess our concepts of time, space, dimensions, and cunnilingus. To merely call him a friend zone pioneer is like calling Toni Morrison a great typist. He stretches our imaginations and bends what we considered to be reality. He is Neo in the hallway, and the friend's zone is Agent Smith wondering what just happened to his spleen.
Before Jack Ballard, we understood the friend zone to have four levels. But after Jake, we now know it has as few as eight and as many as 76. For brevity's sake, we'll just cover the eight today.
(Oh, and I realize that there has been some controversy lately about the term the friend zone and how, for some people, it implies that women are obligated to reciprocate romantic feelings just because a man has expressed them and that a woman's friendship is always a shitty consolation prize. Today, however, the friend zone is just going to stand in as a catchall for all types of unrequited romantic feeling. If you are bothered by this then…just try not to be bothered by it today, ok? It's a motherfucking Friday.)
Before Jake, our concept of the friend zone had four levels.
Level 1: They have no clue you exist
You see them, but they don't see you.
Level 2: They're aware you're alive and have like, a name or something
This is when they say "Hi' to you. Or "Excuse me." Or "Do you have any more stamps?" And you try your best not to blert out that you got to work before everyone yesterday just so you could sneak and steal all the stamps from his desk just so he'd need to eventually ask someone for stamps and you made sure to mention the stamps you "just purchased yesterday" on that fake phone conversation you were having with your "mom" just so he could overhear that you had some stamps.
This, btw, is also known as "stalking."
Level 3: You become friendly
Perhaps the cruelest level of the friend zone, level three is the last level where your optimism remains intact. They seem to enjoy having you around and you start hanging out and shit, which is enough for you to start fantasizing about how your grandkids are going to look and if God is going to make sure you eat lunch at the same time in Heaven. Because you have to eat lunch at the same time. What's the point of Heaven if you can't eat lunch with your baby everyday?
Level 4: You officially enter the friend zone
This is where it usually stops, and the stop is accompanied by three different types of bombs.
First, there's the "You're cool, but I'm seeing someone else" bomb. Which, admittedly, isn't that bad of a bomb. Strength-wise, it's actually about as powerful as a really strong fart.
But there's also the "Yeah, I really like you as a friend" bomb and the stealth "I'm not looking for a relationship right now" bomb, both deadly enough to force someone to watch eight consecutive episodes of First Take by themselves.
Somehow, Jake Ballard managed to have all three bombs dropped on him. Again, this friend zone game is not a game with Jake Ballard. He plays chess while the rest of us eat Checkers.
Level 5: "I'm going to continue to pursue you even though I know you're in love with the President of the United States, a man who happens to be my friend and my boss and the person who told me to start following you"
This is also also known as "stalking." In real life, Jake Ballard would have received like 27 different restraining orders. But Scandal isn't real life.
Did you hear that everyone? Scandal is NOT real life.
Level 6: You had sex, but you clearly are a sexual proxy for another person. (And by "another person" I mean "the motherfucker she said she was in love with and had sex with like two commercial breaks ago")
For some, this is proof that Jake has escaped the friend zone. I mean, isn't sex the point? No. Not if you care. And Jake clearly cares. We didn't see Jake immediately after their first sexual encounter, but it's safe to assume he soaked in a tub of bath salts immediately after while reading the first three chapters of Gone Girl.
Level 7: You continue a relationship, fully aware there's nothing you can do to change the heart of the object of your affection
Along with being the Basquiat of the friend zone, Jake Ballard is also the Neil Degrasse Tyson of lowered expectations.
Level 8: You leave the country on some Bonnie and Clyde type shit, only to return because your "Bonnie" (or your "Clyde") has never actually been your "Bonnie."
So there you have it. Eight distinct levels, all more impressive than the last. Check back next week to see if he finds a way to add a couple more. Actually, there's no "if" there. We know he will. Because Jake Ballard is the 1998 Oprah combined with the 1985 Eddie Murphy and the 2014 Jaden Smith of the friend zone.