'Scandal's' Tony Goldwyn on Abortion Storyline, Fitz and Olivia's Future

The actor talks with THR about the controversial midseason finale.
Courtesy of HULU/ABC

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the season five midseason finale, "Baby, It's Cold Outside," of ABC's Scandal.]

In its fifth season ABC's Scandal gave diehard Gladiators everything they wanted: a presidential divorce that paved the way for Fitz (Tony Goldwyn) and Olivia (Kerry Washington) to finally go public with their romance and be together as a couple in the White House. But the dream may have been better than the reality if Thursday's midseason finale his any indication.

During the episode, Olivia — already being accepted as the first lady-to-be — is growing tired of being left out of the "big dog" club and instead is left to deliver cookies to a senator's wife as she has almost devolved to become the president's arm candy.

Olivia's frustration with her position in the White House intensified as she watched Sen. Mellie Grant (Bellamy Young) work tirelessly to support Planned Parenthood (in the latest Scandal episode that delivered a timely message). Adding fuel to the fire that Olivia and Fitz really weren't truly ready to be together in such a high-pressure fashion was the fact that Olivia was pregnant and opted to have an abortion — unbeknownst to Fitz.

It all set the stage for the most epic fight Scandal has yet to feature between the couple that has long been considered end game. Olivia calls Fitz an ineffectual president and believes the White House is a cage. She feels that Fitz moving her into the White House so suddenly (and without asking) was punishment for releasing Rowan. Fitz thinks she released the man who killed his son so she wouldn't have to marry him. Fitz blasts her as being more manipulative than Mellie. The two trade barbs about their upbringing. It's brutal — and it ends with Olivia boldly declaring that "there is no us; no this; no Vermont; no jam; no future. Not anymore."

The now-former couple agrees that they rushed into things and weren't ready ("we tried," they say) and that they were "broken" going into this. The episode ends with Olivia, bags packed, moving out of the White House and poised to celebrate Christmas with a big glass of red wine on a brand new couch in her apartment, alone.

THR turned to Goldwyn to break down the revealing episode and preview what to expect when the Shonda Rhimes drama returns Feb. 11 from its winter hiatus.

What was the table read like when the cast got this script?

We were all shocked, honestly, at how dark the writers went. That abortion blew my mind. It was not what I expected with Olivia and Fitz. I was really impressed with the boldness of it; Shonda never fails to amaze me with her fierceness. But emotionally, we were all silent afterward; like, "What just happened?!"

Did you guys have questions for Shonda after reading this episode?

I didn't; I just had to absorb it and think about it. It was pretty clear. I thought that final scene with me and Kerry, as awful as it was, was very well-written. It was clear and quite balanced. Sometimes it's more difficult since the show is often from Olivia's point of view so I do have to ask Shonda questions in terms of what she has in mind for Fitz. But that scene has both points of view pretty firmly in place, which is part of what made it so sad. And of course she's withholding this terrible secret that Fitz has no clue about.

This episode was such a timely and important one for Planned Parenthood, and it isn't the first time a Shonda Rhimes series — or Scandal itself — has featured an abortion. Do you think there's still a stigma associated with depicting abortion on TV? Why do you think more shows don't go there?

The answer is YES, in capital letters. It's such a divisive issue in our society and sadly has become a real political football. People have very strong and justifiable views on both sides of the question. But I think that's what makes it worth talking about. Shonda sometimes dives into political issues because they are raw expressions of the human dilemma that we all live with everyday. She's like, "Hey, people, I'm putting this on television because this is what is happening in our lives." Shonda doesn't make polemic arguments; she's not sending messages. She's progressive politically but she really does these things because they're important to talk about. That's where she's coming from as a dramatist.

How much more will Scandal explore Planned Parenthood and abortion storyline going forward?

I can't tell you that. A) I don't know, and B) I couldn't tell you.

How do you think Fitz, who recently lost his son, would feel about Olivia's abortion?

I think it would be, next to the death of his son, the most gutting news he could get and frankly I don't know how he'd recover from that. I can only assume he would because of his irrational love for Olivia. But the combination of the fact that Fitz's fondest dream in life would be to have a child with Olivia — as he put it in Vermont. But that dream shattered is part one, and part two is the colossal lie and betrayal and withholding of that terrible truth that Olivia didn't tell him. At the end of the day, it's her body and her right, but it's his child. And we don't in fact know where Fitz lives on this issue. He's a Republican but we've never asked that question [on the show]. He's very progressive in so many ways and my guess is that Fitz would have a fairly progressive view on the matter, if only to say that it should not be in the hands of the government. I think everything would lead us to believe that Fitz would be ethically pro-life, even if he has a progressive bend like George Bush Sr. … But the bigger thing is not a political question; the bigger thing here is the emotional [impact].  

Is this breakup something that Olivia and Fitz can come back from? Is there hope for them down the line or can they only work out once his presidency is over?

I think there's hope. I think Fitz and Olivia really love each other. I may be alone at this point in thinking that, I don't know (Laughs.) But I do, and I think when people love each other as primally as these two people do, I think they can come back from anything. I didn't think Fitz could necessarily recover from the revelation that Olivia had been the one who saved her dad and yet Fitz did, albeit in such a dysfunctional way and making a grab at her and putting her in the White House. But he did so kind of from the right place; he was trying to take control of the situation. I can't imagine how Fitz will react when he finds out about the abortion. But his feelings for Olivia defy logic. If Fitz were smart, he'd stay 100 miles away from her; he should get in another relationship because, really, how much abuse can two people take? How much pain and suffering? And yet I don't think they have a choice in the matter with this.

Will there be a time jump when the second half of the season returns?

I can't say.

How will this break-up change Fitz?

It's a really interesting choice [for them to break up]. Fitz is going to be terribly lonely. Not only does he not have a partner, he's utterly alone. He's lost his family; though he has visitation with his kids, he and Mellie are utterly estranged. His connection with Cyrus (Jeff Perry), even thought they tried to patch things up, that trust is fundamentally compromised. Abby and Fitz don't really know each other. He's going to be very lonely. But that might be good for Fitz. He has always had a strong polarity in his life. There's always been Mellie — and/or Olivia — as this other yin and yang. So it might be good for him. This is a very difficult job he's got and it's very lonely at the top. And the pressures are intense and to not have anybody that you can share your confidence with, who you know has your back and frankly who understands your frailties, that's a tough place to live in. Fitz may grow through the experience; I have no idea what Shonda has in mind.  

How will we see both Olivia and Fitz deal with the aftermath of their break-up? She looks happy — or freed — with a glass of wine, new couch and a Christmas tree, while Fitz is left almost heartbroken.

That's true. I think Olivia is lying to herself. She has that thing where when you run away from a commitment or obligation, there's that initial sense of, "I'm free! I can do what ever I want!" Fitz may have been replaced by a couch (Laughs.) but the couch is an inanimate object — it's a nice couch, and the couch isn't going to make a lot of demands on Olivia. But there's going to be a tremendous backlash — I'm not saying this out of any knowledge of the story, but about life — when Olivia has to look in the mirror and realizes that she's pushed away everybody who is close to her life and the man she does love. What ever Fitz has done wrong, what ever mistakes Fitz made or overreaching he did, they could have made a go of this. Shonda talks about the White House being this prison and cage and how horrible it is. Really?! Come on, it's difficult; there's a lot of scrutiny but what the hell is Olivia so scared of?! I don't understand it. I understand as a viewer but if I were her shrink, I would have a lot to say. (Laughs.)

How much of their breakup do you think was based on Olivia's stress from the pregnancy and feeling cornered — as she said, not running with the big dogs?

I'd say 90 percent. Fitz overreached a bit by moving her into the White House prematurely.

But give me a break! Look what he's forgiving her for and what he's overlooked, in terms of her bailing out on this supposed marriage they were going to have by making a deal with the man who murdered his son, with the father who has tormented her her entire life. Look at the fact that Fitz was able to move past that. So he inappropriately rushed things by moving her into the White House when they just needed time. Fitz is certainly not blameless in this but I think Olivia's fear is a huge part of this. What would have happened if Olivia had said to Fitz, "I'm pregnant?" His face would have lit up in a smile and it would be the greatest joy in his life and he'd have embraced her and said, "Oh my God, we're going to start a whole new life together, isn't that fantastic?!" She couldn’t have that conversation because to her, that's terror and a ball and chain. I feel like she disassociated from it. To me, that's what was so disturbing about that abortion scene: it was so mundane. She went in and did it with no emotion. Boom. It was as if she didn't connect with it at all. It just happened.

Will Fitz start dating? Does this open the door for Mellie to return?

I can't get into that.

What did you think of Scandal's midseason finale? Sound off in the comments, below. TGIT returns Feb. 11 on ABC. 

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