On April 19, after seven seasons and more than 120 episodes, ABC’s game-changing drama Scandal will see Olivia Pope say farewell to the seedy underbelly of Washington when the Shonda Rhimes-created rollercoaster political drama takes its final twist and turn and comes to its final stop.
It’s hard to imagine a world without Gladiators, white hats, B613 and cheating presidents who rig elections (well, maybe not the latter), but the series that helped catapult Rhimes and star Kerry Washington to superstar status will be remembered for its soapy portrayal of politics and its sometimes too-real parallels to the Washington. (And that’s just its onscreen impact.)
Ahead of the series finale, here’s a primer on the nine must-see episodes that helped shape and elevate the political thriller to become a pop culture sensation.
“Sweet Baby,” Season 1, Episode 1
The very beginning — the introduction to a world populated by Gladiators who were committed to going over a cliff with Olivia Pope. The premiere took a page out of the Clinton administration with its parallels to Monica Lewinsky and instilled a sense of realism as it was based on the life of fixer Judy Smith, who represented Washington’s most famous intern. While the premiere tackled Amanda Tanner’s (Liza Weil, How to Get Away With Murder) affair with the president, it was the fast-talking pace of the procedural’s premiere that hooked what would be a world of self-professed #Gladiators and indebted them to Olivia Pope for the next seven years.
“White Hat’s Off,” Season 2, Episode 1
Offering a conclusion to the show’s first major cliffhanger, “White Hat’s Off” served as a litmus test for Scandal. After a conclusive end to the first season’s storyline, Scandal opened up a deeper mystery with “Defiance.” The voter-tampering storyline complicated the good-woman persona of Olivia Pope and forecasted a real-life storyline that would arise six years later.
“Everything’s Coming Up Mellie,” Season 3, Episode 7
As the series cemented its place as a Thursday night staple, the narrative expanded as well, offering a deeper insight into its growing cast. At the center of it was first lady Mellie Grant (Bellamy Young). While Mellie gives an interview (falsely) solidifying the image of her marriage to President Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn), the series flashes back to reveal her complicated past — which included being raped by her father-in-law. Oh, and Olivia discovers her long-presumed-dead mother (Khandi Alexander) isn’t dead.
“The Price of Free and Fair Election,” Season 3, Episode 18
Serving as the finale to the abbreviated third season, Fitz faces an unlikely re-election bid. After mounting tension between President Grant and Olivia’s father Rowan (Joe Morton) — who also served as the head of black-ops group B613 — the latter gets the final move. After Olivia explains that she wants Grant re-elected, Rowan makes moves to ensure her wish — without telling her the cost. In order to achieve a Grant victory, Rowan has the president’s teenage son killed during a rally. When Olivia’s Gladiator Harrison (Columbus Short) discovers the truth, Rowan has him killed as well. Olivia leaves the country, realizing that she is the scandal that needs to be handled as the president is elected to a second term. It was a turning point as the character realized her true influence and power.
“The State of the Union,” Season 4, Episode 2
In a tour de force performance, Young steps into her role as mourning mother. Inspiring one of Scandal‘s most endearing memes (here’s to you, Chicken-Fried Mellie) — the first lady spirals into a depression, eating fried chicken on the White House balcony while enjoying her hooch and clad in pajamas before hitting rock bottom and lying on her son’s grave. The layered performance provided a deeper foundation for a character who would eventually become one of Scandal‘s most important fixtures (and the show’s president of the United States in a bit of wish fulfillment).
“The Lawn Chair,” Season 4, Episode 14
As the drama continued to deviate from its original concept and lean harder into its soapy storylines while still managing to take on timely social issues, Olivia returns to work after being kidnapped only to take on a case in which a young and unarmed black man is shot in the streets of Washington, D.C., by a police officer. Olivia arrives to defuse the boy’s father (the stellar Courtney B. Vance), who is sitting in a lawn chair with a shotgun as he guards his son’s body. The Ferguson-themed hour has a complex and emotional ending when the officer is revealed to be a bigot while the boy’s father heads to the White House to meet with another man who lost his son: the president.
“Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” Season 5, Episode 9
Season five shifted focus, as Olivia finally gets has her day in the sun with Fitz. Meanwhile, Mellie begins to create her moment as she pursues her own political career as senator of Virginia. The Christmas-themed episode packed a hell of a feminist punch when Mellie — reading budget items ripped from reality — single-handedly filibustered the Senate in order to ensure that Planned Parenthood kept its funding. As Mellie’s impassioned speech ends, Olivia realizing that dating the president isn’t really what she wanted it to be, undergoes an abortion as “Silent Night” serves as the soundtrack for the scene. Damn.
“Thwack!” Season 5, Episode 17
One of the few episodes of Scandal that opened with a viewer discretion warning, “Thwack!” served as Olivia’s coronation into the dark side. With Mellie’s campaign for president well underway, former Vice President Andrew Nichols (Jon Tenney) threatens to reveal that Fitz went to war in order to save Olivia. The situation puts Olivia and Fitz at risk, and the former White Hat-wearing Gladiator beats Nichols to death with the chair. It’s easily one of the most gruesome and shocking deaths of the entire series (so far).
“Something Borrowed,” Season 7, Episode 7
For a brief refresher of Scandal‘s final act, “Something Borrowed” provides insight into just how dark Olivia’s journey has been since Mellie was elected president. After Rowan kidnaps Quinn (Katie Lowes), he argues with Olivia that all she has to do to keep her friend alive is to relinquish B613 back to him. When Olivia refuses, Rowan returns to his basement and fires two shots, presumably killing Quinn and her unborn child. The plot offered a troubling image of Olivia, especially considering that the series was set to end nine episodes after her darkest move yet. Quinn, it turns out, was never shot, but the episode served as another example of how much power had gone to Olivia’s head.
What are your most memorable moments with Olivia Pope and her Gladiators? The Scandal series finale airs April 19 on ABC. Bookmark THR.com/Scandal for full coverage.