'Scandal' Case Study: Kerry Washington on the Midseason Finale Shocker and What's Next

The actress talks with THR about Olivia's evolving relationship with Rowan and what's to come when the ABC drama returns in February.
"Scandal's" Kerry Washington

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Scandal's winter finale, "A Door Marked Exit."]

ABC's Scandal ended its fall run in grand fashion Thursday with a midseason finale that answered several questions and set the stage for its spring return.

During the jam-packed hour, Sally (Kate Burton) leans on the devil himself -- Cyrus (Jeff Perry) -- to cover up her role in Daniel's slaying, but the entire conversation was caught on tape and lands in the hands of David Rosen (Joshua Malina). As for James (Dan Bucatinksy) and Cyrus, the out-of-work journalist makes a deal with his husband to return to their marriage if Cy appoints him White House press secretary, linking the White House even further to Daniel's cover-up. Further complicating the plot, Mellie (Bellamy Young) reveals to Sally that she has knowledge of the whole thing. What remains to be seen, however, is if Sally will really throw in the towel when it comes to running against Fitz after Leo (Paul Adelstein) encourages her -- despite murdering her husband! -- to push forward.

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Fitz (Tony Goldwyn) brings Rowan (Joe Morton) in for questioning, and after Olivia (Kerry Washington) realizes the president doesn't know that Maya (Khandi Alexander) is really the terrorist and Rowan was trying to protect everyone from her, sets him free.

Speaking of Mama Pope, Abby (Darby Stanchfield) uncovers the truth about her: She's a hired gun who married Rowan to gain access to classified intelligence, who (shockingly) doesn't have blood on her hands. As for her flight to Hong Kong, it never arrived and Maya killed the flight crew, their bodies and the plane found in Mongolia, and Mama Pope, back in D.C., calls Olivia with news that she'll see her daughter "soon." 

Back at OPA, there's a price to be paid for Fitz questioning Rowan and it comes in the form of Jake (Scott Foley), who with a kiss seems to say farewell to Olivia before assuming his shocking new gig as the head of B613, forcing Rowan out the door.

As for the rest of the black-ops group, Huck (Guillermo Diaz) heartbreakingly tells Quinn (Katie Lowes) that she's no longer a Gladiator after she went to work for Charlie (George Newbern). The young double-agent returns at the end of the episode to Charlie, but her motives remain unclear: is she working both sides in a bid to win back OPA's trust?

The Hollywood Reporter turned to star Kerry Washington to break down the action-packed hour and look ahead to the ABC political thriller's spring return.

Did you know from the beginning of the season that Olivia's mother would ultimately be a terrorist?

I didn't know until I read it on the page during the table read! I was really shocked. I used to say Olivia is so successful, I don't understand why in her personal life she's not more together. It was always a puzzling part of her that I loved so much, but that I always struggled with justifying. Now, I look at her upbringing and the relationship with her parents and think we're lucky she's not a drug addict in prison somewhere! (Laughs) She's actually turned out to be extremely functional in her relationships given her upbringing.

Has showrunner Shonda Rhimes given you an overall big picture of what Olivia's relationship with Rowan will be like now that he's not part of B613? When he said that he couldn't give Olivia the answers she wanted, was that the end of their relationship?

I don't know that it's the end of the relationship, but I have no idea what happens from here. It's interesting because he is suddenly unseated [from B613]. He has been the most powerful person on the show in so many ways, and this is such a drastic change in his status.

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How might Olivia feel when she finds out Jake is now the head of B613? Might she think that Fitz did that to keep Jake and Olivia apart?

It's an interesting question; I'm not sure. What I do know is that she and Jake have always been on the same page about the evils of Command -- even when she's tried to be in denial about it, Jake has had to explain to her the things that her father did to him. So being somebody who is so grounded in the dark side of that position, it's shocking for Olivia that he would step into that. It's very confusing and upsetting for her.

Huck says Quinn isn't a Gladiator anymore. How does Olivia feel about that?

I think she feels badly for Quinn because she knows the forces that Quinn is up against. She feels responsible for her and the fact someone in the family has done this to her is deeply upsetting -- and disturbing.

Will Olivia try to get Quinn back? Is there a chance Quinn could be working both sides? Is Quinn really trying to topple B613 in a bid to get back in Huck and Olivia's good graces?

I'm not sure. There's a possibility that with Jake as the head of B613, Olivia might think that's a way to get Quinn back.

Sally names Cyrus on the phone when she's on tape confessing Daniel's murder. How much might Olivia try to help Cyrus with this investigation because he was named on the tape? Could she return to the White House?

It depends on whether Cyrus lets her in or not. He's kind of gone off on his own at this point, so that's really in Cyrus' hands -- and obviously Shonda's hands. Unless Olivia somehow figures it out, then Cyrus would have to invite her into it.

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It seems like another "Defiance" waiting to happen considering Mellie and Cyrus are both already involved with David Rosen on the case.

You wonder whether Olivia is going to be brought in or not.

If Cyrus goes down with Sally, it could be the end of Fitz's reelection campaign. If Olivia helped "fix" the Sally problem, it would push her further away from Fitz. But if the regime toppled, it could pave the way for them to be together. How might Olivia weigh this decision if it were to come to pass?

Time and time again, we've seen that Olivia chooses the greater good and what she thinks, in the moment, is right for the country over her own personal interests. So if she made a different decision, it would be a big change in how we understand her as a person. She has consistently put democracy in front of her own personal happiness. It would surprise me if that suddenly shifted.

How will Rowan's words to Fitz impact him all moving forward considering a guy who has done so many awful things doesn't think the president is good enough for his daughter?

It's so hard because who is to say who is awful and who isn't on our show; it's so pot calling the kettle black. You do wonder how those things he said will land on Fitz and how he is going to process that information.

Jake said his goodbye to Olivia. Does he see his new gig as the head of B613 the end of their relationship? How would Olivia feel if she knew that Fitz gave Jake the job? Did Fitz do that to break them up?

I think he is. He's seeing it as the end of their relationship as they knew it. He can no longer serve her agenda and best interest in the ways that he has. He has always been by her side, and the job of Command doesn't allow the level of support for her that he has been providing.

It also gives Command the opportunity to work side-by-side with OPA instead of in direct opposition to one another.

It's possible. Olivia's relationship with Command is a really complicated one. It's always been the enemy and been a source of pain for herself and so many people that she loves -- Jake included. It's a tricky dynamic.

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Might Leo persuade Sally to continue running?

That you have to stay tuned for! Paul is so good in this role, and he's a source of new and unexpected paths that the show takes.

Will Olivia actually get a chance to know her mother again considering Mama Pope is in D.C.? Will that set up a new story in the second half of the season?

I have no idea! We haven't gotten an outline at all. All I have is one episode in. It's too early to say, though Shonda has said that the election plays a big role in the second half.

Olivia's gut feeling about her mother was wrong. How will that fundamentally change her?

There is that moment in the [midseason] finale when she puts the pieces together with her dad and reconnects to her gut and her ability to understand that she knows what's going on, regardless of what people are saying to her. That's an important moment where it's a power shift between Rowan and Olivia, and she figures out that her dad is a victim of her mom in similar ways to how she is. In Olivia's mind, that levels the playing field a bit and gives her more compassion for what her dad has been through.

Could we see them work together? Can you imagine Rowan joining OPA?

I don't know. I think he's been so hurt by his wife, and you wonder if he's holding some of that against his adult female child. There are clearly boundaries in the way of their relationship, and he's just not able to be vulnerable, honest and open with her.

Huck tortured Quinn without telling Olivia. Can Olivia trust Huck anymore?

That's a great question. I'm really not sure, it's a big one. It's one thing for him to have gone there, but to have gone there with someone in the family, it's pretty awful for Olivia.

What did you think of Scandal's midseason finale? Hit the comments with your thoughts and theories. Scandal returns Feb. 27 on ABC.

E-mail: Lesley.Goldberg@THR.com
Twitter: @Snoodit