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[Warning: This story contains major spoilers from episode 314, “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” of ABC’s Scandal.]
ABC’s Scandal said goodbye to one of its key players Thursday.
The episode picked up immediately after last week’s cliffhanger and, before the opening credits rolled, revealed if either David (Josh Malina) or James (Dan Bucatinsky) had met their maker at the hands of B613 Command Jake (Scott Foley).
After narrowly escaping a hit from Cyrus (Jeff Perry) in the past and later turning on his chief of staff husband, it was White House press secretary James whose luck finally had run out as Emmy winner Bucatinsky’s recurring character was shockingly killed off.
Doing his part to guard the Republic and ensure that Cyrus, Mellie (Bellamy Young) and Sally (Kate Burton) didn’t go down for the vice president’s slaying of her husband, Jake sets up James’ murder to look as if he were the victim of a carjacking gone awry, but burying victims Vanessa and Shelby.
Olivia (Kerry Washington) teams with David, whom Jake insists frame the guy he provided to take the fall for James’ death. It’s all part of Olivia and David’s long play to bring down B613, but it comes at a price: letting an innocent man go to jail for James’ slaying.
Meanwhile, Fitz (Tony Goldwyn) follows Cyrus’ lead, flipping and backing gun control in a political move that earns him an immediate uptick in approval rating and gives Sally the gun vote. (Of course, this comes after Mellie and Jon Tenney‘s Andrew lobbied the gun advocates and turned their political visit into a sexual romp!)
After remaining stoic for much of the episode, Cyrus finally breaks down delivering the news to the White House press corps that a suspect has been taken into custody for James’ slaying. It comes after a series of flashbacks recounting the story of how Cyrus and James first met and began dating, culminating in an amazing moment when Cyrus publicly comes out at the Grant administration’s first state dinner after the chief of staff brings then-reporter James out from the press line and onto the dance floor.
Elsewhere, Huck (Guillermo Diaz) discovers that Quinn (Katie Lowes) wanted to get caught breaking into OPA’s safe and pays her a visit with the intention of ending her life. Instead, they wind up making out and Huck tells subsequently Olivia that Quinn is in too deep with B613. Harrison (Columbus Short) also spills to Liv that Adnan Salif (Nazanin Boniadi) is back in the country and up to something — and he’s right, she’s meeting with Mama Pope (Khandi Alexander) and searching for a terrorist.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Bucatinsky to discuss when he found out about James’ fate, his thoughts on justice for his character and more.
When did you find out James was being killed off?
We had a table read for episode 313 and it ended as last week’s ended — with a third bullet but we don’t know who goes down. Everybody was silent and shocked. Josh started screaming, “Kill Dan, he already won an Emmy!” Which was really funny but I wasn’t laughing. I was in shock and headed for my car. For the next few days, everybody had theories. [Showrunner] Shonda [Rhimes] said in the room as we walked out, “We have no idea what we’re going to do.” On Scandal, that’s often the case; they blow things up and then take some time to thoughtfully figure out where the story goes next. James’ death wasn’t part of the larger scheme of things, as I’ve been told. They didn’t know how that would play out. Everyone had different theories: It was a warning shot, one was shot, both were shot, one will die, neither will die — all were options after episode 313. Days continued and I told [director] Tom Verica that it was torture. Josh and I didn’t know if we should prepare ourselves or if we were safe. Several days later, toward the end of January, I got a call from Shonda who told me that James was going to die. She said they’d tried every possible scenario and said if she could have a career where her favorite characters never die, she’d be a much happier person. She noted that they needed to stay true to the story and this was where it was headed.
What was your immediate reaction?
It was really hard to take; I pulled over to the side of the road and was in shock. It was a tough pill to swallow and took me a long time to wrap my head around. I started going through the five stages of grief: anger, denial, bargaining. I sent an email to producers playing out some thoughts I had. I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if I hadn’t tried! (Laughs.) Then I entered the sadness stage; I kept thinking about James’ glasses, pockets squares and daughter, Ella. I started to feel the sadness of the death of the character. I was promised [I could] read the script before the table read for the episode. I sat in an office two hours before the table read and wept as I read that episode with all the flashbacks, the dancing sequence and the final moment. I can’t complain. As an actor who has to die on a show, I feel honored to be in an episode like that.
How did the cast respond? Everyone is so vocal on Twitter after table reads, I can’t imagine what that must have been like.
By that point, everybody knew I was going to go but they didn’t know how. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room as we read that script at the table. Scott [Foley] sat next to me and whispered to me as we were all weeping and said, “You should just stand up and walk out [when it was over].” I didn’t know if I should sit there in a receiving line or hug everyone; that would have been devastating. The biggest gift, among the many Scott gave me, was unbelievable compassion on the night we shot the final scene in the street. It was hard. The next eight days was shooting that episode. I was mad, confused, annoyed and sad. But it played out as such a beautiful episode about Cyrus’ coming out as he loses his first authentic love and remembers how he loved a man for the first time. I’m very proud of this episode.
Do you think James deserved to die?
I don’t think he deserved to die. James poked the bear last season with Defiance and narrowly escaped death. In this case, given the players involved and his level of awareness of what people in the Grant administration are capable of, we saw a change in James when he said, “My husband is a monster,” and that he would do anything to bring him down. There was a recklessness in James that was a real departure. He has a baby at home and became reckless knowing he’s a father and that there’s something bigger than himself and what he believed to be justice. It was shortsighted of him to go after his husband. Whether he deserved or brought it on himself, I don’t think he deserved to die.
Cyrus knew James was Publius. Do you think he was involved in his husband’s death? We’ve seen him order hits on James in the past.
If you connect the dots, the entire thing would not have happened had Cyrus not greedily been willing to pimp out his husband to Daniel in order to bring down Sally. That recklessness on Cyrus’ part is what absolutely led to his husband’s murder. Many of the things that happen on the show are at the hands of Cyrus. His lust for power and his willingness to do anything to get what he wants led to him lowering the bar so low that even his husband was food for the sharks. I don’t think he thought it through, much like James didn’t think through the revenge plot to expose Daniel’s murder. It’s unfortunate that a character like Daniel had to die because he was gay and another gay man who was trying to bring justice to Daniel’s killer had to die. Everyone knew what kind of shark tank they were in. Cyrus didn’t take a hit out on James but was trying to warn James: “Go home and kiss Ella for me.” I don’t think it was at his direct hands that James died but it all does go back to that moment Cyrus decided to pimp out James.
What was your final scene with Jeff Perry like?
It was a flashback and we ended on a happy note with the scene where we make out outside in the alley when he’s listening to Fitz’s speech. The night we shot that flashback scene was the same night I had to do the death scene in the street. I love that scene so much. That same night we wrapped and Jeff made a speech to the crew that was so sweet. Then I did the scene with Scott in the street with all the blood. It was among the hardest things I’ve had to do in my life. Scott was a doll. When I wrapped it was 1:30 a.m. and Jeff and [his wife/Scandal casting director] Linda Lowy and I just lost it. There was a giant cake from the crew and cast. Everyone was wonderful. It was a tough night and then the next morning I had to do Access Live to promote the show! There was still painted blood under my fingernails!
How will losing James change Cyrus?
I’m curious to see what kind of dad he becomes. I don’t really know how they’re going to play the rest of the season or how they’ll play his mourning. I’m curious about whether we’re going to see a softer side of Cyrus as a result of coming out, falling in love and becoming a father and losing his husband.
Would you come back to Scandal in flashbacks or behind the scenes? [Bucatinsky is also a consulting producer on Rhimes’ Grey’s Anatomy.]
There’s always the possibly that I could come back in flashbacks. They’re creative on that show in playing with time and I look forward to maybe even haunting Cyrus in his dreams at night; that would be fun! I’d be happy to be back in any capacity. There’s no talk nor am I pursuing being on the writing staff at Scandal; that’s not going to happen. I love playing that character and I’d welcome the opportunity to play scenes that we haven’t seen yet.
Does Cyrus believe the carjacking theory behind James’ death?
I don’t know how much he knows. Everybody including Olivia knew what happened to Daniel, and Cyrus knew that his husband was Publius. Olivia tells Cyrus that it was a carjacking, and there’s a part of him that’s shocked when he says, “You’re sure?” What he’s [grasping] at that moment is that they’re not going to pursue James’ death any further. The way he asks if she’s sure, he’s saying, “I have no idea if this is true or not. So that’s it, huh? We’re just going to accept this? We know this isn’t why he died but this is what we’re all going to say?” It’s a moment of realization that this is the way it has to be; it’s collateral damage from a very ugly game that Cyrus was playing a part in.
Olivia and David are going after B613. How might Cyrus feel about that?
I think Cyrus likes to be the big guy who’s pulling all the strings. When any characters are conspiring to either bring down a power or create more power for themselves, it’s a threat to him. I’m not sure how he’ll react, but it’ll be interesting to see how and where the power shifts and how people react to that.
Do you think James would have wanted Olivia and David to go after B613?
I have to think so, yes. If James was willing to go to any lengths to bring down his own husband and seek the truth and justice, there was some righteous side of him [that would] want to expose any hidden and evil power. James would want to be right there behind that if he could have lived long enough to be a part of it.
Jake revealed that he killed James, Vanessa and Shelby to protect the Republic. Do you think there was another way?
Yes. On a show like this with organization like that, there’s always another way! Every time I think of an alternative, it doesn’t seem as realistic as what happened. I give it to the writers for going the route that works best for the show. Why not throw James in the hole? Why not use James as an asset? People think B613 [using] James and David as resources — a smart journalist and lawyer to benefit B613 — would have been an interesting way to go. There were lots of twists and turns this could have taken and I’d have welcomed any of them, but this is a fate that could have been predicted and avoided had James not been so willing to step into it.
In the final scene, Jake apologizes to James for being sloppy and vows that nothing will happen to his daughter. He remains with James as he takes his last breath. Do you think Jake is still a good man? Can he be redeemed even after killing James?
That’s a good question. My own husband watched the episode with me and said he hated Jake! (Laughs.) But I think it’s going to be hard. We saw Jake sitting on the couch with Olivia and [effectively] saying, “Please help me not have to be this guy.” He’s begging her to help him but something was compelling him to be this guy. I’d like to think nobody will ever forgive him, but maybe that’s my actor’s ego! We’re meant to know the softer side of Jake — the side of him that loves Olivia — and hope that he can find redemption. There are so many messages about how painful it is for people in that position.
Now that you’ve had time to process it, have you come to terms with James’ death?
I came to terms that this is a show that tells very dramatic, high-stakes stories that I’ve benefited from. In the same light, I have to be OK with coming to terms with that character’s end. If you’re on a show as successful as this one it’s because the stakes are so high and because anyone could live or die at any moment; that’s why people watch. Having had some time to now to mourn and step back, the same luck I had in getting this role is the same show that had to bring me down eventually. I feel very blessed. James is the softer side of Cyrus and I’ll miss watching the character as much as playing the character.
Any chance James’ evil twin could appear on Jimmy Kimmel’s Escandalo?
There’s always a chance! I would welcome the opportunity to be on Kimmel and love how supportive he is of Scandal. Why not bring in a ghost of a character? My roots are in Argentina and I speak fluent Spanish, I could do the whole thing in Spanish!
What’s next for you?
I wrote a script for ABC that was well received but isn’t being shot. The subject was loosely based on my book and it was a little less high-concept than the stuff ABC was going after this season, which is totally understandable. I hope we find a home for it. [Showtime’s] Web Therapy starts shooting next weekend.
Were you surprised to see James go? Hit the comments below with your thoughts. Scandal airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. on ABC.
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