'Scandal' Case Study: Shonda Rhimes on Season 3, Olivia and Fitz's Future
Next season will likely only feature a 25-minute time jump and explore the top Gladiator's relationship with the head of B613.
[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Thursday's "White Hats Back On" episode of Scandal.]
Olivia Pope is the daughter of … B613's boss?!
That's right, during Thursday's season two finale of ABC's Scandal, Rowan -- the mysterious man behind the terrifying black-ops organization -- was revealed to be the father of the head Gladiator herself, Kerry Washington's Olivia Pope.
It was a development that only Luke Skywalker could really comprehend, and came after Rowan (Joe Morton) successfully found a way to break up Olivia's rekindled relationship with President Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn).
"I knew all along," Morton revealed Thursday night during a live reading of the episode at the Television Academy in North Hollywood. During the event, the cast watched as the sold-out crowed gasped with surprise at the stunning turn of events -- something star Kerry Washington noted mirrored the actors' response during their table read when they first learned of Olivia and Rowan's relationship.
"Every week I would say to Joe, 'Oh I really hope we have some scenes together,' and he would smile and go, 'Do we? Do you think we do?' " Washington says of her new on-screen father. Adds showrunner Shonda Rhimes: "I've been toying with [Rowan being Olivia's father] a lot since the beginning of the second season. A lot of it was about revealing some of Olivia's past and about revealing who Olivia's father was in general, what that meant and who her mother was."
The reveal, like many things on ABC's breakout drama, also opens up an entirely new mystery about the Popes: namely, did Rowan really put a hit out on his own flesh and blood?
"B613 did seem to be trying to kill her, kind of," Rhimes told reporters after the reading. "At the very least, Rowan was trying to get Jake to have sex with her and then make a tape of it, which seems creepy on many levels, right? At the very least that's a little disturbing on many, many levels. I don't know if they were trying to kill her, that's up to interpretation."
While Rhimes is remaining mum on the nature of Olivia and Rowan's relationship until the political thriller returns in the fall, she noted that the writers are considering starting season three without a time jump at all. "It's not fair to drop that kind of bomb and then be like, 'Now we're going to jump ahead in time!' We actually are talking about starting next time with no time jump at all. Starting maybe 25 minutes after we leave the last season."
Also expect to see the immediate fallout after the public learns that Olivia is indeed the president's mistress, with the writer/exec producer warning that there are a lot of people who could have leaked the news.
"I was really adamant about the fact that if we were going to end the season with the idea that Liv has been somehow outed by some unknown force and we meet her dad, we couldn't then just say we're going to jump ahead and cheat the audience of what all that meant," Rhimes says, adding that there's a "search to be had" for who leaked Olivia's news. "We had to have a solution to that and we had to own that story. We're not going to put that away and just tidy that up and move on. We're going to have to live in that."
Olivia's personal connection to the man pulling B613's strings also may help explain how Huck (Guillermo Diaz) was able to successfully leave the black-ops team with his life -- and continue to remain safe -- with the head of OPA likely using her pull with daddy dearest to free him. "That is highly possible," Rhimes says of the theory.
For Olivia, however, the news of her romantic relationship with the leader of the free world going public couldn't come at a worse time, since she's cut things off with Fitz after learning just how dark the president had gone in the wake of Defiance (RIP, Verna).
"There's no forever in Shondaland," Rhimes says when asked if the breakup will stick this time. "This season was really about two things. We all do terrible things and also Cyrus said it best in this episode, 'Life is not a romance novel' and also that he was the 'only grown up in the room.' "
Following the split, Fitz crawls back to Mellie (Bellamy Young), who despite the potential of a political career of her own, takes him back. "That was a little bit like a boy coming home to his mama, wasn't it?" Rhimes says. "It wasn't a romantic coming home. That's going to be a very interesting dynamic when we come back to next season."
Meanwhile, the season two finale didn't always end with Fitz and Olivia going their separate ways -- Rhimes crafted three options. "There was an original scene after he says, 'What happens to us?' where [Olivia] woke up in bed and you think she's alone. We shot it and he rolls over on top of her and you realize they're back to having their secret relationship again," Rhimes says. "The problem with it was that Olivia put the white hat back on and emotionally you had felt like she had found her inner core after losing it so badly. It felt like a cheat; that we were cheating her out of trying to do something good. On top of that, we were going, 'Oh and then we're saying you're having an affair!'"
The prolific showrunner, who prior to the reading joined the cast and a handful of reporters for a live tweet of the East Coast airing of the finale, also noted that the writers came in to season two with a blank slate. "When we started the first episode of season two, we knew where we wanted to end up at the end of 13 but we weren't sure how we were going to get there," she said, noting the writers follow the journey of the characters and make decisions based on what feels logical for them to do. "We came up with the presidential assassination late in the game -- like a lot of things -- and the idea for Fitz to kill Verna late in the game. Storywise, it was going to be Huck who killed Verna who covers it up for Olivia."
Here are few other highlights from the lively panel:
• "I hope not!" -- Joe Morton on whether Rowan, the guy who tossed Jake into B613's torture hole, will be nicer in season three.
• "I'm afraid that's up to me!" -- Morton interjecting on whether Jake would be in the hole for long, after guest star Scott Foley threw the question to Rhimes.
• "I'm happy to be alive!" -- George Newbern (Charlie) on escaping another season alive
• "It was literally the walking dead!" -- Kerry Washington on the cast's response to seeing Matt Letscher (Billy) return from the (presumed) dead for a table read.
• "I'm sorry, I won the election!" Tom Amandes on whether Gov. Reston is really evil.
• Best banter of the night, not surprisingly, goes to Josh Malina (David) and Darby Stanchfield (Abby) for this exchange about filming their racy sex scene:
Malina: "She has put her fingers in my mouth!"
Stanchfield: "I just read it enough times to get all of those beats."
Malina: "And then washed her hands!"
Stancfield: "I've actually never washed my hands!"
And because no Scandal gathering is complete without one of Malina's signature jokes, consider this one: With the sizable cast on stage with scripts to rely on and read the entire season finale to a standing-room only theater, Malina ripped out a page belonging to co-star Katie Lowes (Quinn) before guilt set in and he turned to his next victim: Goldwyn. Instead of removing a portion, Malina added a key line to a key monologue: "I'm the f---ing president!" "I almost fainted!" Goldwyn said with a laugh.