'Scandal's' Final Season Is (Partially) About Wish Fulfillment

SCANDAL S06E16 Still_1_embed - Publicity - EMBED 2017
Richard Cartwright/ABC

After a sixth season that featured a dropped storyline about Russians hacking the election, reality may hit too close to home for Scandal's upcoming final season.

Last season ended with Bellamy Young's former first lady, Mellie Grant, firmly winning the election, with the upcoming premiere exploring the first female president of the United States' 100 days in office. Part of that journey will see Grant being judged not only on what she has or hasn't accomplished politically but also on a personal level — including, for example, her hair and status as a single woman in power.

Young — who originally was slated to guest-star in a couple episodes during season one — tells The Hollywood Reporter that Scandal's final season explores a certain amount of wish fulfillment given the country's current political landscape (and creator/exec producer Shonda Rhimes' position as a Democrat). Read on for more of what to expect from Scandal's final season.  

Last season real world politics played a big role. Is that different this season?

Someone asked Shonda if the show was going to end where she thought it was going to end, and she said no. She originally thought the show ended with the inauguration. That's where I saw the story going. But then the world changed, and she realized she had so many more stories to tell with this forum.

Having Shonda back with us this year feels incredible. The first episode is one she wrote. Particularly for Mellie, to have the fire in Shonda's belly come out of my mouth, sitting in the chair of the Oval Office feels like there's no other place in the world that anyone else could want to be.

Is Shonda writing wish fulfillment?

I definitely think it's a deeply personal year for her. Shonda and our writers are really going on record with hopes and dreams that they feel America needs to hear more than ever — for better or worse, for the light and for the dark. It's still Scandal and it's still going to be crazy, but it's definitely living in this world. It's so funny to think, we started season one and it was Greek tragedy or Shakespeare; it was operatic. And now it's realistic. It feels so different. I felt the world shift. This is going to be a final season that crushes all other seasons and manages to really have a salient, meaningful response to our world now.

Last season scrapped a storyline about Russians hacking the election because that actually happened. How similar are the storylines this season to the country's political landscape right now?

There are things that are analogous. Here's the thing about Shonda: She goes to sleep at night and goes to some other planet where all truth is and then comes back and writes it down, and then some of it happens [in reality]. There's something going on right now that real life could outpace us by fall [when Scandal premieres], but they're not doing that on purpose. Shonda just has this divining rod for culture and politics and truth and human nature. Right now, they're writing stories of a White House and a woman in power [Mellie] and another woman having all power [Kerry Washington's Olivia Pope]. Olivia has for the good and the bad — she's the chief of staff and has B613. It's going to be a real existential year for her trying to figure out who she is. I don't know what story Shonda wants to tell: Is this a story of redemption and Olivia makes it out? Or is she in a place that's so dark and without consciousness that it devours you and takes your soul, leaves you in a shell on the sidewalk?

That's interesting given that Olivia in season one was very much a "Gladiator in a suit."

Yes! White hats on! She's out Pope-ing Papa Pope (Joe Morton).

The final-season premiere explores Mellie's first 100 days in office. What kind of president is she?

Mellie has waited her whole life to be president. She's been thinking about these moments forever, but it's never quite the way you want it when it comes true. And Mellie forgot that not only will she be judged on her substance but she'd be judged on her function: what she's wearing and how her hair looks and whether she touched someone — was the handshake right or did she linger on an arm? There's so much gender politics that she forgot to factor in because that's now how her brain works. But she feels formidable, like almost invincible, with Olivia at her side.

It's very Clinton-esque that she's being judged on her hair, etc.

Absolutely. But Mellie is always her own worst enemy in so many ways. As much as I feel like she'll be a wonderful president, she's Mellie; she's going to fail epically too.

How will her love life be addressed now that she's president?

She's a single woman in the White House. I don't know what they're going to do with that, but I just think that will not go unaddressed.

What kind of working relationship will Mellie have with Cyrus (Jeff Perry) now that he's her vice president?

He pulled all the strings with Luna and all of that. As much as Mellie reveres him, she also knows she can't trust him as far as she can throw him. She knows what an ally he can be, but it's a case of keep your enemies even closer. I'm sure she's glad he's just in the next room.

When you originally auditioned for Scandal it was to guest-star in a few episodes as the first lady — and you went full Jackie O for the role. Now that Mellie is president, is there a political figure who is influencing how you portray her this season?

I really think about Shonda. I know that sounds crazy because she's not a politician, but she's gone through so much transformation in her personal life, and I've watched her come into her power. I think about this a lot with Tony — he's a Goldwyn, so power sits so easily on him. I've watched him for these six years be so easy with the presidency, and that is not my life experience. So sitting in that chair in that oval —Mellie's office is so beautiful and pretty — I think that it all started with two lines, and now I get to sit there. It's very overwhelming. But it's Shonda that I think about. I'm so grateful to have her mind, heart and her fire coming out of Mellie's mouth.

What's your dream ending for Mellie?

A 95 percent approval rating and a White House wedding.

Who is with Mellie at the altar?

That's a spoiler!

The final season of Scandal begins Thursday, Oct. 5, at 9 p.m. as part of ABC's Rhimes-branded TGIT programming block.