'Scandal' Case Study: Shonda Rhimes on the Event That Changes Everything

The showrunner breaks down the fourth episode, "Enemy of the State," and tells THR what Amanda's disappearance means for Olivia and the president.
"Scandal's" Jeff Perry and Tony Goldwyn

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Thursday's episode of Scandal.]

ABC's Scandal just kicked things up a notch or 20.

During Thursday's episode, the president's former aide, Amanda (Liza Weil), is drugged and kidnapped after making a dangerous call that revealed that she may not have been 100 percent forthcoming with Olivia (Kerry Washington) about her connection to President Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn).

In addition, viewers learned more about the back story of most of Olivia's associates except one -- newbie Quinn (Katie Lowes) -- after the president's chief of staff Cyrus (Jeff Perry) delivered an epic monologue that persuaded Fitz to man up and go head-to-head with the love of his life.  

The Hollywood Reporter caught up with showrunner Shonda Rhimes ahead of Thursday's installment to break down the episode and what Amanda's disappearance means for everyone.

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The Hollywood Reporter: How will the team learn of Amanda's death?
Shonda Rhimes:
Whether or not she is even dead is a question for much of the next episode. We see Amanda get taken at the end of this episode and we're not sure what that really means for her. We fear the worst and that that is going to have a really strong impact on Olivia and all of our people.

How will the case evolve now that it's a kidnapping and potentially a murder?
We thought that we were going to be dealing with this scandal that was just about whether Amanda Tanner was pregnant with the president's baby or not and whether or not she had an affair with him. It all takes a hideous turn from that moment and becomes something very different; it changes the nature of the entire case and there becomes a desire to see things rewrited.

Considering Olivia Pope & Associates' job isn't to solve cases -- like we saw in the pilot -- is solving this case a priority? Who are they now working for?
Who they're working for changes, but it doesn't change. Amanda is their client and they owe something to her, and finding her and making sure that whatever has happened to her is dealt with is important to them.

How does Amanda's kidnapping impact Olivia and the team?
It's going to affect everybody really profoundly. Amanda's disappearance turns the story in an entirely new way and really plays with Olivia's emotions and her feelings about the president and whether or not she perceives there to be any involvement from that side in terms of what's happened to Amanda or not.

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The mysterious call Amanda gets -- in which she reveals she can't lie anymore and wants to come clean -- sets up her drugging and kidnapping. What can you tease about who she's working for, what her motivation is and how she got involved in this?
What is interesting about Amanda's phone call is that is the moment that you have proof that something very different than maybe you thought was going on is going on. That [phone call] might be the reason that she disappears at the end or it might not. As we progress in the final three episodes we start to see an unraveling and begin to understand what is behind all of that for Amanda and who she was talking to.

Fitz has definitively said that Amanda's baby isn't his and the phone call seems to support that the president is telling the truth. How will that change how people perceive him?
People's perceptions of what happened will change as things go on. I still maintain that he hasn't denied having an affair with Amanda, he simply said that's not his baby. I had some very interesting conversations with Tony Goldwynabout that. He was like, "How do I know it's not my baby?" I had to explain the other ways people have sex, it was very funny. Fitz hasn't necessarily said he didn't do it with Amanda, so there are some things there that you will begin to understand as we head into these final episodes. But what you thought he was doing or saying isn't necessarily done for the reasons that you thought he was doing them for. Things come back, and what they are changes. I still find him to be a guy worth rooting for.

Cyrus' monologue gets Fitz to man up, but will that change now that Amanda has gone missing?
The news that Amanda is even missing is going to really spark something in him, and make him start to wonder about the people around him, who is he in general and what he's done all of this for. It's like a little crisis of conscience, which I think is important. I love the Jeff Perry monologue; he only did like two takes and it's a real window inside that character.

How will Cyrus and Olivia's battle change in light of Amanda's disappearance? Could we potentially see them working together again?
What's interesting about Amanda's disappearance is you come to understand something about Olivia that you didn't necessarily before: she really does know who these people are that she's working with and she really does know who the people are in the White House. She has a very clear view of who she thinks Cyrus is in light of Amanda's disappearance, and it's pretty revelatory because if you know this about a person and if you have these thoughts about a person, and yet you can still work with them and call them a friend, it says something about who you are, and you're sort of moral landscape.

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She obviously has a bit of a questionable moral landscape.
Absolutely she does; all of them do. Everybody's moral landscape is questionable. There is no one pure good guy in this entire thing.

We learned a lot about everyone's back story -- everyone but Quinn, who apparently didn't exist until 2008. How much does Olivia know about her?
This is something we crafted very carefully. Quinn in the pilot was saying, "Why did she hire me, why did she want me?" That's a big question for her and we are laying track for things that are going to happen, hopefully in Season 2, if there is a Season 2. She is there for a reason. Huck (Guillermo Diaz) says it best, when he says, "Everybody in this office needs fixing, you need fixing and you're a stray dog." Olivia takes in the stray dogs; there's clearly a reason that she's taken in Amanda, and if you look at everyone's back story and realize that every last one of them has been fixed in some way by Olivia. We hit a place in the final episode where you begin to understand what Olivia knows and doesn't know about Quinn.

Quinn goes against Harrison's advice to be honest with Gideon and throws that out the window when she takes things to the next level with him and blatantly lies about the Amanda case. Could that be something that winds up hurting him?
It absolutely can be but more importantly, it reveals a lot about her character. She is not this sweet little neophyte that needs to be told what to do all the time. There's more to her than that. But yes, I definitely think that that is going to come back and bite everybody in the ass.

What do you think happened to Amanda? What are your theories about who kidnapped her? Hit the comments. Scandal airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. on ABC.

Email: Lesley.Goldberg@thr.com; Twitter: @Snoodit