8:00pm PT by Lesley Goldberg
'Scandal' Case Study: Shonda Rhimes, Tony Goldwyn and Bellamy Young on What Fitz Really Wants
[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Thursday's "A Criminal, a Whore, an Idiot and a Liar" episode of Scandal.]
President Fitzgerald Grant is awake, alert and he wants his life back.
On Thursday's Scandal, Tony Goldwyn's fearless leader rose to the challenge and returned to the White House -- against doctors' orders -- in a bid to save the presidency from vice president Sally Langston, who realized that the first lady forged his signature in a bid to keep him in power.
At the end of a whirlwind day for Fitz that included going on live TV to prove himself a suitable leader and a steamy smooch with Olivia (Kerry Washington), Mellie (Bellamy Young) asks him what he wants. His response, however, is anything but what she'd expected.
"The episode ends with him saying, 'I want a divorce' to his wife, and that puts him in a hopeful, excited place where he thinks that anything is possible," showrunner Shonda Rhimes told reporters during a recent visit to Scandal's Hollywood set. "Whether or not he continues to believe that anything is possible remains to be seen."
But Fitz is clearly not 100 percent -- making rash decisions as he saves Mellie (and probably Cyrus and Olivia) from treason -- a likely result of the brain injury he incurred in the attempt on his life.
"Some people will assume this is part of the accident, and some people will think that it is very, very real. I think it's real," Rhimes says. "What the characters think aside, for me, I think you go through something like that and you wake up and think, 'I'm done pretending.' And I think he's done pretending. For a very long time, he's been a man who has wanted to be done pretending and hasn't had the opportunity to walk away from this life that he feels caged into. He's a man who has everything and hates having everything. He tried to do it once last season, but now he feels that this is really his chance."
While Rhimes says Fitz will make an effort to see if divorce is possible, Goldwyn says the moment isn't a fleeting one, with the president's divorce request likely to make things incredibly difficult for Mellie -- who has her own political agenda.
"Fitz has a clarity having almost lost his life [and sees] this is an opportunity to tell the truth," Goldwyn told reporters. "He's done playing games and lying. That's why when Mellie says, 'What do you want?' he seizes the moment in that, and he's going to stick to it, and that's going to be real tough for Mellie and create a lot of problems."
In fact, the president will not receive much support from anyone, including Olivia, when the object of his affection does find out. "She will be very surprised," Goldwyn teases. "It puts a lot of pressure on her."
"It's insane, and Fitz acknowledges that it's insane," Goldwyn says of Fitz's request. "There's nobody who's saying, 'Yeah!' It's like setting off a bomb in the Oval Office that the president is going to get divorced while in office."
Young, meanwhile, says the ever-savvy Mellie will do anything she needs to do to protect her position as first lady -- including turning to Olivia for help safeguarding Fitz and Mellie's respective positions.
"She has her sights on where she wants to go -- and Fitz wanting a divorce is like a pebble in her road," Young says, telling THR that she "likes the idea" of hiring Olivia Pope & Associates to fix her divorce problem. "She will handle it, it is not an option, it's not going to happen. Mellie will use anything at her disposal to convince him of this. Mellie won't go down without a fight -- and there's no going down. Mellie will not allow anything else."
Mellie's arsenal also includes the fact that she's among the cabal -- including Olivia, Cyrus, Verna and Hollis -- that rigged the election and put Fitz in office in the first place. But could the first lady use that to her advantage in order to blackmail the president to end his bid for divorce? Young says Mellie may not have to.
"Mellie doesn't have to use that weapon. She has other weapons that are more readily at hand and efficient," Young teases, noting both Cyrus and Olivia will come to her aid. "The leverage will be the absolute force of the truth of the situation: He's in the White House, he's married to Mellie, and she's pregnant. If he wants to walk away from the presidency, he has that option, and it's his to take. But if he wants to remain president, it's simply not an option to divorce her. Fight as he might, maybe Fitz and Mellie can negotiate a different sort of settlement at this point -- things that are allowable and things that are not -- but divorce is off the table for Mellie."
Meanwhile, America's baby is "coming sooner than you think," Rhimes says, further complicating Fitz's burning desire to be a single man.
"The baby is a big emotional issue, so that certainly weighs on Fitz a lot, and that will be one of the big issues," Goldwyn says. "I can't say whether it's decisive or not -- but it's a big factor. But Fitz has had a moment of clarity by almost losing his life, and he's done fooling around."
Adds Young: "The baby is a big issue at this point, as is the safety of the nation -- He's the president."
Scandal airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. on ABC. Hit the comments with your thoughts on whether you think Fitz can -- and should -- get a divorce while in office. In the meantime, check out Goldwyn on this week's Scandal podcast, where he discusses directing episode 13, which would have marked the show's second-season finale had it not been given the back-nine pickup.