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[This story contains spoilers from the series finale of ABC’s Scandal, “Over a Cliff.”]
“Good lost, but in the end, good won.”
That’s how Scandal star Bellamy Young described the conclusion of Shonda Rhimes‘ groundbreaking ABC political soap Scandal, which wrapped its seven-season run Thursday with a statement about how power corrupts those who crave it.
Hat-wearing Attorney General David Rosen (Josh Malina) was killed by Cyrus (Jeff Perry), the vice president who, throughout all of Scandal, craved the power of the presidency more than any other character in Olivia Pope’s world of Gladiators and backstabbing politicos. But in the end, Cyrus would never get a taste of that power as he was forced to resign for his misdeeds. Cyrus would ultimately pay for his sins with his life when, in a scene cut from the broadcast but included in Rhimes‘ original script, Huck (Guillermo Diaz) used his B613 training and killed him.
“It was truly about the fact that there are very few honorable people left in their world,” Rhimes told The Hollywood Reporter about the decision to kill David. “We built Washington as this corrupt place where everybody was corrupted by the Oval Office. David, in that world, had really remained the white hat that existed. To have that person die meant that that was the end of [goodness] for them and there was really nothing left for them to do except face that fact.”
While David’s death represents a statement about the corruption in Washington, D.C., Rhimes stopped short of tying the ultimate statement in her game-changing drama to the Trump administration.
“I don’t know how to comment on the current state of politics in D.C., it’s like a cartoon at this point. I truly don’t know how to comment on the current state of politics in D.C. and in any way on our show because I don’t know how to talk about something that feels so unreal that it is real,” Rhimes said. “We weren’t really trying to [make a larger statement]. People can interpret it how they want. It obviously seeps into our consciousness but I don’t know how to talk about that.”
The series finale, written by Rhimes, also left a number of threads open for interpretation. Among them: the significance of the stunning portrait of Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) included in the National Portrait Gallery. Did Olivia become vice president — or president — when the fixer helped clean up D.C. by exposing black ops group B613? Were the children admiring her portrait hers (with Fitz)? After exchanging trademark “Hi’s” with Fitz (Tony Goldwyn), would they stand in the Vermont sun together to make jam? That’s all to be debated.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Rhimes as well as stars Washington, Goldwyn, Young (Mellie), Scott Foley (Jake), Katie Lowes (Quinn), Darby Stanchfield (Abby), Malina, Diaz, Joe Morton (Rowan) and George Newbern (Charlie) on Thursday night at a benefit for the Actors Fund, where all the Gladiators turned out for one final live script reading and fielded questions about that surprising death and more.
On the significance of Olivia Pope’s portrait — seemingly painted over a copy of the Constitution — hanging in the National Portrait Gallery:
Washington: I went to visit set that day and was floored by the imagery of what it means to have Olivia up there. I’d never venture to try to describe what message that final moment would send; that is for Shonda or academics — and for each one of us.
Young: The pessimist in me thinks that you slip into an idealized world where it’s the perfect end to our story but then I think about the older child in the scene — played by Shonda’s daughter, Harper — her face is what we’ve been trying to do: show that representation matters. Everybody needs to see themselves on TV and know that their full potential is their full possibility, and there it is on the wall for all to see. Look at the bracelet Olivia is wearing, the “We the People” on the side. The choice of clothing that Olivia is wearing, the style of her hair … it’s all critical and so beautiful. I love that none of it was answered and we all get to talk about it forever.
— Scandal (@ScandalABC) April 20, 2018
On leaving Fitz and Olivia’s relationship open-ended:
Rhimes: It ends the way it ends simply because Olivia is very clearly no longer taking care of anybody else and she’s no longer standing behind somebody else, pushing them into power. And she’s no longer interested in that kind of power, which speaks to a whole other kind of power — which I thought was very interesting.
Washington: He’s there but it’s not about them. I’ll leave the question about if it’s a fitting ending between them to the fans.
Goldwyn: The fact that he’s able to finally connect with Olivia in a mutually consensual, forward-moving, healthy way — to have a positive effect on their world and community — was his greatest dream. They do get their happy ending. It’s slightly ambiguous, but for me, they did. It’s the perfect ending. I loved that it wasn’t an obligatory, schmaltzy ending in Vermont because that’s not what the show is about and it wouldn’t have been true. It’s about Olivia and her journey.
Lowes: It sends a message that Olivia doesn’t need to be in a relationship to be happy. She feels more like she knows who she is — a strong woman, standing in the sun, on her own.
— shonda rhimes (@shondarhimes) April 20, 2018
On the decision to kill David:
Rhimes: We were still writing the finale two weeks before the table read. Josh and I had a beautiful and emotional phone call. He seemed very honored because his character meant something. When we first talked about it, I was upset about it because I’ve been a Josh Malina fan since Sports Night. It was very emotional because he realized that I had all this faith in him.
Washington: The show explores the idea that power corrupts and when you’re flying in those circles that close to the sun, you have to be careful. It was very sad for his character — and for Abby. I was shocked — and then excited because it was going to be quite a finale.
Goldwyn: Any one of us could have gone — except for Olivia, though that would have been really dark. But it worked brilliantly and you feel bad for David because he’s not someone you would have expected. He survived this long! And it sent a larger message about politics in D.C.
Young: None of us wanted to die and I wish none of us had. It’s really crushing and probably right that the person wearing the white hat was the person that died in this situation. Shonda has always said Scandal was a story about the centrifugal force as you get drawn into around the [Oval Office] and the uglier side of life that David resisted for so long. Cyrus was allowed to let the beast that was always within him out. Good lost, but in the end, good won.
Stanchfield: I did a double take when I found out it was David who died. I read ahead and immediately lost my ish and cried the entire table read. There’s something symbolic about this one character who resembles — or is the face of all the good — and that he doesn’t survive. … I was sad about that. Even though the guy with the white hat doesn’t make it, I feel a sense of hope in a very Shonda Rhimes way.
Lowes: I loved David Rosen and thought we were all safe. I’d heard a rumor that Shonda wasn’t going to kill anybody and thought we’d all be fine and that we’d make it! I thought she’d kill a side character. I was shocked. I was sad about David but sadder for Abby.
Diaz: The big message of this final episode is that the truth will set you free and the truth will prevail. That’s something the current administration in the White House right now could learn a lot from watching this episode. Having that satisfaction that possibly someone in the White House will be watching this episode is super satisfying.
Foley: I expected someone to die. The fact that it was David Rosen is sort of apropos. It wouldn’t be Scandal if the right person died all the time. He was sort of the last beacon of hope or white hat of truth and justice.
Newbern: It was a really good choice because he was the only good person — the only true white hat — on the show and it was poignant that he would get it.
“I’m the Attorney General of the United States. I’m the bitch of the United States of America.”
— Scandal (@ScandalABC) April 20, 2018
On how their respective stories concluded:
Washington: No matter what, I’d be satisfied because my commitment in the life of the show was to be on this roller coaster called Shondaland and to really trust the writers. It’s easy to do when you’re working with such talented artists.
Goldwyn: I am very satisfied. This season, Fitz took a bit of a back seat after leaving the White House. But as a character, he really finished the way he wanted to: doing the work he wanted to be doing, having an impact. He’d come out of his darkness. And that Mellie stabilized in the Oval Office, that also is very important to Fitz.
Young: I am so proud of Mellie. I was so afraid she’d get impeached, or worse. I am relieved she got to stay in the Oval Office and proud that she was on track again. Especially after her talk with Olivia on the Truman balcony at the end when Olivia told her that she didn’t need her and was ready to stand on her own. Just knowing that she found her spine and found her stride. I loved that Marcus (Cornelius Smith Jr.) was beside her. I don’t know to what degree beside her, but that they were still together made me so happy.
Stanchfield: Am I satisfied? Yes and no. Yes, that it feels right in the overall picture of it; no, as the actor who plays her in that it’s a real heartbreaking moment. I got really comfortable with what was happening this season and I feel like I got the rug pulled out from under me.
Lowes: I’m so lucky that Quinn gets married, has her baby, has her job and has her best friend [Huck]. I thought Quinn was going to die years ago. Never in a million years did I think she’d be the character who would get a happy ending and she did. It’s almost full circle to the pilot: She’s a Gladiator in a suit, she’s a mom in a suit; she’s a wife in a suit. She’s a badass and it’s the ultimate message that women can have it all.
Diaz: Huck got the right ending. How I thought Huck’s story would end was completely different. What Shonda came up with is really sweet and satisfying. We don’t see his family at all and that’s what I was upset about. But then I accepted the fact that they’re leaving Huck with his everyday life and you see him in the next day or the next year — it doesn’t delve into his family life. We see him supporting Abby at the end of the episode at David’s grave and I’m happy with that.
Malina: I am, in fact, satisfied, yes. I feel that however you want to interpret it, Shonda gave David closure. I was delighted. Shonda and her writers did a fabulous job of wrapping up the many, many threads that began seven seasons ago and that with a very light touch made suggestions of what might happen in a future we will never see.
Foley: It ended the right way. I was concerned that Jake would get off the hook. He spent so many seasons doing these bad things and justifying them as protecting the republic. He was due. He had it coming his way. There’s a really great thing in the finale about him, once he’s in prison, being in his head and being OK with the memories he had of his relationship with Olivia. I choose to think that he’s going to be OK, even incarcerated.
Newbern: Every year I was surprised where they took him. The fact that he ended up being a Gladiator and ultimately getting the girl and having a baby was mind-blowing. I never could have seen that coming. It was very satisfying.
Morton: I am totally satisfied with how Rowan’s journey ends. He said and does what I was, in some way, hoping he would.
On the show’s legacy:
Goldwyn: It leaves parallel legacies, one is that it’s real and incredibly satisfying, mainstream, unapologetic entertainment — soapy fun and outrageous, high-octane appointment television. And two, built into its DNA is a social commentary where Shonda wants to talk about things that real people are dealing with in their families and relationships, and emotional, political and social subjects. The fact that she does that — and keeps those two parallel things going without one overwhelming the other is really extraordinary.
Malina: The offscreen message is all about loyalty and family and mutual support of your colleagues and friends and the onscreen message is more trust no one.
Foley: Offscreen, a successful show, written by, created by and starring black women is a huge thing. Because of Scandal, it’s not as big now as it was seven years ago when we started. It was a groundbreaking show. We changed the way that stories are told on television because we burned through so much and it set the bar a little higher for a lot of shows. Scandal will also be remembered in the current context of the political landscape in that when it initially aired, it was a show that was ludicrous in its portrayal of Washington and ever since the election [of Trump] last year, it’s not ludicrous at all; it’s almost tame. It’s hard to top everything in this current constant news cycle. Not that I blame anything for the show ending — because I think it was the right time for the show to end — but if we didn’t have happen what happened, maybe Scandal wouldn’t have ended so quickly.
Newbern: Inclusion and a lot of different viewpoints is a great legacy. I love that Fitz and Mellie were liberal Republicans. You always saw different points of view, though it was definitely a lot of Shonda’s political opinion. There’s a lot of dirtiness in Washington and Scandal showed a lot of that. It’s scary to think it’s at least that bad. It’s terrifying, really.
Morton: The show will be remembered for its bravery. That Kerry Washington was the first black woman to be a lead in a drama series in 40 years was pretty amazing. That a black woman ran Thursday night for a major network was pretty amazing. Kerry coming up with the idea to tweet live was brilliant. There are a number of things that this show started that other shows will pick up and will always remember it was Shonda, Scandal and all of that. Onscreen, the reality message is that not all the good guys make it. We live in a world that is so highly political and highly divided that we all have to work a lot harder to try to figure out who wears the white hat and is it really white or is it a little gray? Those messages came across in this last episode.
Betsy Beers, exec producer-Shondaland partner: I hope we’ve affected a change and that the change continues to happen. We always say this isn’t a trend; this is life. I hope people remember TGIT as an amazingly fun, emotional, character-driven, roller-coaster ride of TV that you want to come back to again and again because these people are your friends. I’m proud of the fact that our fans are Gladiators and love the show with such passion because they want to know these people. We all want to know these people. I want to take the lessons I’ve learned about crisis management from Olivia Pope. The relationship with power and that you have to have a lot of respect for power and power can’t control you. If power controls you, and you think you’ve become power it will eat you alive.
What did you think of the Scandal series finale? Sound off in the comments section, below. Stay tuned to THR.com/Scandal for full coverage of the series finale, including interviews with the cast. In the meantime, be sure to read our feature with Rhimes on the legacy she and Scandal leave behind and our guest column with Bellamy Young about what she learned from her time working in Shondaland. And if you’re feeling nostalgic, check out our Scandal oral history. To keep up with what each of the Gladiators are doing next, click here.
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