7 Years in Scandal-land

After seven seasons of neck-breaking plot twists, affairs, and operatic monologues, it’s hard to pick one moment that fully captures the rush and glory of Scandal, Shonda Rhimes’s ABC show that premiered in 2012 and ushered in a new television paradigm of difficult black female protagonists. Was it when Olivia Pope beat vice-president and stroke survivor Andrew Nichols with a chair? Or Papa Pope’s “Twice as good” speech? Or maybe, simply, the most defining scandal is the first: that a sitting Republican president would have an affaire du coeur with Olivia Pope.

Who better to reminisce on seven seasons with, on the eve of the show’s series finale, than Shonda Rhimes and her personal group of gladiators, the writers’ room? In true Scandal style, I was ushered into a room where Rhimes and 12 of the show’s writers were seated — only instead of a secret lair underneath the White House, it was a cozy living room in the heart of Shondaland studios in Hollywood — where we discussed the wildest plot points, the character they kept trying to kill, race, and the legacy of the show.

I’d like to go back to the beginning of Scandal. How did you decide on the affair as the Ur-scandal of the show?
Shonda Rhimes [creator, executive producer]: The messiness of having this job — where, this is what you do, but really your whole life is something that is obviously a scandal — was interesting to me. Plus, the confines of being in the White House: How do you deal with the horror of having a very public marriage? It’s as close as we come to having royalty. And also, just being somebody who’s supposed to be above that: You’re Olivia Pope — how do you have an affair?

Did the network have any notes on the pilot script?
Rhimes: I got one phone call, and the phone call was, “Can you do the entire thing, but can she not be having an affair with the president?” I remember it so clearly. My response was, “This is a show in which Olivia Pope is going to be having sex in the Oval Office with the president on the desk, somewhere in the first season. If you all aren’t interested in that, then you don’t need to make the show. I’m perfectly fine.” And then nobody said anything more. [Laughter.]

Was there ever pushback from the network about casting a black woman in the lead?
Rhimes: If there was, I didn’t hear about it. I like to imagine that there was. [Laughter.] I like to imagine that I said, “Olivia Pope is supposed to be black” and they hung up the phone and they were like, “Oh my god, she’s black!” [Laughter.] Honestly, that’s the part about working where I work. Everybody was always like, “It was so brave, and it was so awesome,” but nobody ever said no. Nobody ever said that this was going to be a problem.

They did only give us seven episodes. [Laughter.] But other than that!

Matt Byrne, co-executive producer: And then 13 coming back in season two.

Austin Guzman, co-executive producer: That’s why the show got crazy, because we were like, “Oh, we don’t have time to do election rigging and shooting the president!”

Rhimes: So let’s do it all at once! Right, that’s right.

Guzman: And that’s when the show got crazy.

Shonda Rhimes on the set of Scandal. Photo: Courtesy of @shondarhimes

What is your favorite murder on Scandal?
Rhimes: I don’t think we have favorite murders!

You could also do favorite scandal!
Chris Van Dusen, co-executive producer: I’m going to do favorite murder, because I have one. My favorite murder is Andrew Nichols.

Rhimes: I think it’s everybody’s favorite murder.

Van Dusen: Okay, done.

Rhimes: We all agree on that one.

Jess Brownell, story editor: We had this old man who was going crazy, and his young, hot wife was prancing around the house. The scandal was to not let the shareholders of his big company know that he was losing his mind. It was so fun to write! We laughed a lot about that.

Raamla Mohamed, supervising producer: My favorite scandal was the preacher who was dead and his mistress was under him.

Rhimes: I also really liked when we stabbed what’s-his-name in the neck with the scissors …

Everyone in unison: Gideon.

Rhimes: Blood was pouring out and he wasn’t dead.

Byrne: My favorite scandal was the Capitol Hill sexual harassment one, because I pitched it every year starting from season one and we finally did it in the final season. It’s an important story and it found its time.

Rhimes: Literally he pitched it every year, but it was perfectly timed.

Guzman: My favorite is David and Abby having to deal with the ponytail girl’s head in a box, because that shit is funny to me.

Rhimes: The head’s in my office!

Michelle Lirtzman, executive story editor: My favorite murder was Lena Dunham.

Rhimes: We didn’t kill Lena.

Lirtzman: Sue! Not Lena!

Guzman: Kinky Sue.

Let’s talk about everyone’s favorite murder: when Olivia beats Andrew Nichols to death with a chair. How did you break that in the room?
Zahir McGhee, co-executive producer: We wanted him to come back at some point and be a problem for Mellie. Matt pitched him ringing a bell, answering questions to the press. That was the initial idea. We wanted a reporter to be in front of him asking him questions about Mellie and he couldn’t speak, but he was dinging like Simon Says, “Yes. No.” The idea ballooned from there.

Rhimes: I will say this: This is a room full of people where I’ll come in the room and they’ll go, “We just came up with this insane idea!” You’ll hear these crazy pitches and it’ll be like, “She beats Andrew Nichols to death with a chair!” and sometimes I’ll be like, “That’s the worst thing I ever heard. How dare you?” and sometimes I’ll be like, “This is the greatest idea ever!” This was one of those greatest ideas ever. I don’t remember when it came.

Mark Fish, executive producer: I feel like a lot of our ideas surface and then go back under, and then find a way to come back up. A lot of our big twists are good ideas, but we’re not ready for it, and then it finds a way.

McGhee: I always find this to be a good example of how shit works, and how crazy it was in the beginning. Even Maya biting her wrists was born out of, “Oh shit, we have nothing,” and then you’re trying to figure out what it is. Jenna [Bans] pitched something like, Maya would ask for a T-bone steak and use the bone to slice her wrists. We stuck with it for a week because it was the best we had until Shonda finally came into the room and said, “Ah, that’s stupid, let’s not do it.” But we had like, an hour to come up with something else. Then Heather [Mitchell] said, “What if she eats her wrists?” [Laughter.] And then you’re like, “Maybe we wouldn’t do that if we had a week left, or two weeks left,” but it’s like, “Oh shit, we gotta do it.” That’s the one I always think of as super indicative of a lot of great ideas being born out of …

Rhimes: Scandal pace.

McGhee: Yeah, Scandal pace. We have to get this done.

My understanding is that there was a disagreement in the writers’ room about the election-rigging plotline. What was that conversation like?
Rhimes: It wasn’t that it was a disagreement as much as it was why Olivia was a part of the election rigging. Until we could come up with a good character reason for Olivia to be part of it, I could not get on board. Everything we do has to be born out of character. And once we got the right character thing, it was the perfect thing to do. Until then, it was just a plot point.

Byrne: Also, it does feel like any big idea we have, unless Olivia was at the center of it, it just wasn’t cool or sexy in any way, so she had to have been at the center of that story for us to care about election rigging at all. That was true of anything. She was the sun of the show. If she wasn’t involved with the story, the story lost interest and died.

Rhimes: It always did, yeah.

Fish: Also, season one ended with “Who is Quinn Perkins?” and we went into season two having to answer that question.

Rhimes: I remember at the end of season one the network and studio saying to me, “Well, what happens in season two? Who is Quinn Perkins?” and I said, “Well, when you pick us up for season two, I’ll tell you who Quinn Perkins is!” Everybody who came in for season two got a note that said, “So happy to have you for season two. We’re so excited that you’re coming. It would be really awesome if you came in with some pitches on who Quinn Perkins is, because we don’t know.”

What were some of the pitches?
Rhimes: I don’t even remember them at this point.

Byrne: She was the Lindbergh baby.

Rhimes: Oh yeah! She was the Lindbergh baby for a little while.

Mohamed: She was Russian …

Rhimes: She had a weird name, it was like “Bonnie Virftebar” or something.

Brownell: Jacqueline Hornbacher!

Rhimes: That was her name!

Mohamed: Matt and I used to write on the board and have to write “Hornbacher,” and after a while it was like, “Wow, this can’t be it!” [Laughter.] I won that argument.

In “White Hat’s Off,” Quinn’s identity is finally revealed. Photo: Danny Feld/ABC via Getty Images

What have been the biggest debates that you’ve had in the writers’ room?
Mohamed: I remember the lawn chair was a big debate. Black Lives Matter and all these things were happening at that time, and it was a decision between, do we tell the arc of what happens when a white cop shoots a black kid, or do we tell the wish fulfillment, where Olivia saves the day and the white cop gets justice? They’re both interesting stories to tell, but that was a huge debate between us.

Why did you decide on a just justice system?
Mohamed: For me, personally, I felt like you could watch the news and see the story where the white cop doesn’t get justice, but we wanted to see Olivia be the superhero that we signed up for and get justice for this kid.

McGhee: Shonda also came into the room and quoted Obama like, “I’m tormented about this decision, but I’m choosing hope.” Another thing in that episode was, we had just come off the arc of Olivia being kidnapped and coming back home, and we were dealing with that. The debate, as always, is how much is it about her and how much is it about this issue with the kid? We were back and forth. At one point we were ending the episode with Olivia back in her bed. Did we end it with her in the bed?

Mohamed: We talked about it.

McGhee: We were going that way, and we ended it with the body-bag shot of the kid. That was Matt very clearly saying, “We need it to end on the kid. This is about the kid, even though the show is about Olivia and she’s just been kidnapped, which is more powerful.” It ended up being a great choice to go out on the kid and not Olivia.

What was the discussion like around how to handle Olivia having an abortion?
Rhimes: We didn’t really have a discussion.

That she would never tell Fitz?
Rhimes: Oh, that discussion. There was a lot of discussion about that. I was like, “Why do they have to talk about it? I don’t understand.”

McGhee: We were all, minus maybe one person, onboard with the whole thing! [Laughing.] She can speak for herself if she wants!

Mohamed: I’m an Olitz person!

Rhimes: It’s good for America, I suppose. [Laughing.]

Mohamed: I have like, one season of being an Olake person, but then I went back.

Rhimes: It’s exhausting.

Mohamed: I know. I get really invested. But look, I have no comment on that. [Laughter.]

Rhimes: It broke her dreams [when Olivia didn’t tell Fitz].

Mohamed: It’s fine, I was fine.

Why was it important to have her not talk about it?
Rhimes: That just felt like who she was. Intrinsically, it didn’t make any sense that there would be a big story about it. That wasn’t the arc of what was happening. It was about Olivia getting the hell out of there. It wasn’t some act she did that had anything to do with him, or ended up hurting him. It was about her and her act of self-preservation.

Are there plot points or character choices that the actors have pushed back on or said, “I don’t know if my character would do that?”
Rhimes: No. I say it like that because nobody says “I don’t know if my character would do that” here, which is awesome. We have this amazing, collaborative world in which everybody accepts that their character would do it because the writers wrote it, and then we accept that their job is to make it happen in a way that’s super cool. We’re not going to tell you how to do it, you don’t tell us how to write it. And that’s what makes it so interesting, to see what they do and then come back to the room and go, “Oh my god, they did it this way,” and that affects what happens next. Right?

Byrne: Oftentimes, we feed off of the character and how they’re playing stuff. Jake is an example of that. He was just more interesting when he was straddling the line between darkness and light, and whenever we could push him in either direction and pull him back one way or the other, it was his performance that made it interesting.

Dan Bucatinsky (left) played James Novak, Cyrus’ (Jeff Perry) first husband on the show. Photo: Ron Tom/ABC via Getty Images

My understanding is that you decided Cyrus would be gay after watching the performance.
Rhimes: I don’t think I decided Cyrus would be gay after watching his performance. I watched a take of something and came back and was like, I figured out something. It wasn’t that I decided Cyrus would be gay, I decided that Cyrus was gay. It was like, “Oh, Jeffrey’s playing Cyrus as gay.” And it explained some serious backstory for me about why Cyrus had this problem with being the president of the United States, and I suddenly saw a whole world for him. Once we could expand that, I liked the idea of this very powerful man feeling like this piece of who he was was going to keep him from being president, but he was going to make a bunch of other presidents and watch all these people who were less intelligent than he was be in this role. That, to me, was how Jeff was playing it, and somehow that’s how it translated in my head.

The last election and the current administration feels like a TV show. How has that changed how you wrote the show and how you felt about the show?
Rhimes: Having Donald Trump show up post–Hollis Doyle was exhausting. It made coming up with story a lot harder because we couldn’t make up anything that was crazier than what was going on in real life. And so we switched our direction a little bit because we didn’t have to make the story crazy. I don’t think that was ever our goal. It became about what happens when corruption starts to eat away at you.

Severiano Canales, producer: It also made our jobs easier because we didn’t have to worry about people not getting the Electoral College, or how the Electoral College happens after the election. The buzzwords for that stuff are so in the public that you can develop a shorthand and then tell the story.

There’s a Time’s Up line in one …
Rhimes: That came before. I was watching and went, “Wow, he said ‘time’s up.’ That’s so weird.”

I thought that was referential.
Rhimes: No! Papa Pope says, “Time’s up!” I was watching, and I went, “Oh, my God!”

Mohamed: These are all written before.

Rhimes: Mellie [saying “time’s up”] was after. Rowan was before.

Well, the Russian hookers peeing on someone — that was a reference, right?
Rhimes: Yeah. [Laughter.]

Fish: There have been many cases where we’ve predicted the future accidentally on the show. In season two, we told a story about this secret technology that the government had that they were using to spy on Americans. Shortly thereafter, it came out that that was, in fact, happening in our country.

Mohamed: Also the Ohio voting machines that had been tampered with. We completely made that up …

Rhimes: We didn’t make it up.

Mohamed: Not make it up, but the fact that it was Ohio … [Laughter.]

Rhimes: I think it comes from the fact that we were all reading that stuff and we sort of extrapolate into the extremes. The problem was that the craziness was actually happening.

Are there some alternate story lines that you considered, but didn’t pursue?
McGhee: Our scripts were very fat in the beginning, and a lot of times, whole story lines would get lopped off. I remember writing one about Hal [Rimbeau] and Mellie. Mellie was seducing Hal, a secret service agent, to kill … I can’t remember. He was in love with her, and she would be like, “Help me put on my necklace, Hal!” And he’s trembling, like, totally erect, hard as a rock! [Laughter.]

Rhimes: Why, Zahir?

McGhee: It’s key to the story!

Mohamed: There was one where we were going to tell a flashback story about Rowan, about how B613 was formed.

McGhee: We wrote that. We read it at the table, but we didn’t do it. We kept threatening to do it later. It was very emotional.

Mohamed: He was the only black employee at the CIA and had a racist white boss, and it was about how he overcame it.

McGhee: At the end, he shot the guy, and that was when he decided, “I’m gonna be the fucking boss.”

Rhimes: For a while, we were going to have a B613 spinoff and that’s why we didn’t do it. I was like, “Let’s do a B613 show!” For like ten minutes, and then ten minutes went away.

Fish: Over the course of the seven seasons we would often pitch, “Oh, this character dies, that character dies.” [Laughter.] And Shonda would say, “Stop trying to kill X! Stop trying to kill Y!” But we would always take a stab at it.

Who were you trying to kill?
Rhimes: They wanted to kill Tom so much. [Laughter.]

Fish: We’ve killed him on paper a thousand times.

Rhimes: I would go, “Why?” Because I loved Tom! He was crazy in all the right ways and he would say these insane things. Talk about a co-star who came on and then did all kinds of amazing stuff. Then they would be like, “And now Tom’s dead!” Tom was so beloved and special to me! I was like, “We are never killing Tom!” But it was always really funny to me because I was like, “Tom is making it to the last page!” And it never happened.

Lirtzman: We all loved him. But he’s just so crazy and he’s killed so many people.

Rhimes: Storywise it always made sense. I just irrationally was like, “He cannot die.”

Fish: Which is why in the finale, Olivia ends up with Tom. [Laughter.]

What’s a plot point that you’re proudest of that you got away with?
Rhimes: I think we got away with everything.

Ameni Rosza, executive story editor: I was actually thinking the Frankie Vargas murder was a big stretch, but that gave us a whole lot of story. It’s a big buy that somebody could conduct an assassination like that, but it was so engaging storywise, the way Rowan was coerced into it. I think we got away with that.

Nicholas Nardini, story editor: That’s actually how a lot of the fun is generated, just by pitching these insane ideas and then trying to catch up to our own craziness. Trying to back-engineer what exactly was going on in that moment. We had a plot this season where Cyrus hijacks his own Air Force Two plane, which we imagined as a one-off episode, but it ended up informing the rest of the season, just trying to catch up to it.

How do you calibrate what the right amount of wildness is?
Rhimes: It just feels right.

McGhee: I also started to feel like seasons four to five was this organic thing where, we’re just trying to survive, right? We’re trying to tell stories, and we’re trying to do the best we can. Then we’d do a run of three episodes where I’d be like, “Oh shit, this is so dizzying!” and you go to each table read and you’re like, “Wow, that really played.” It’s like, three really great episodes. Looking back, I can’t tell you how those runs came together, but it would just happen organically. Then you might have a couple that were a bit softer and lulled a little more, and it would just sort of come back. I can’t really remember anything! It felt like it all sort of happened, and the good episodes seemed to materialize sometimes out of thin air.

Rhimes: Not thin air, though. This is a room full of writers who have really smart, fast brains and are constantly pitching great ideas.

McGhee: No, I’m basically saying that anyone could have done it. [Laughter.]

Race seems to become more explicit as the show goes on. Was that a deliberate choice or were you responding more to the political and cultural environment?
Rhimes: When Papa Pope showed up, I said to the room 1,000 times, “Blackness showed up.” When he showed up at the end of season two and she said, “Dad,” and at the beginning of season three when he’s lecturing her, it was a very different kind of blackness that showed up on the show. As her father, he was from a different era, he had a different attitude, and she was a very post-racial, post-Obama girl who thought she was living in a different world. He was from a very old-school world and he was like, “You let all these white people play you. You’re an idiot.” He’s from a world in which racism is real, and she was from a world where it was almost over with, as far as she was concerned. So yeah, race became more explicit because Papa Pope showed up and said, “We’re going to have this conversation. I have to remind you who you were.” And yet they always had that struggle, because he had raised this child to be this very privileged girl — this experiment raising a girl to be as privileged as any white man. He had raised a kid who was sort of useless in this conversation.

Mohamed: But I remember reading that speech you wrote, Shonda, in the season-three premiere, and when Papa Pope said to her, “You have to be what? Twice as good,” and it was like, “Oh, yeah, every black kid has heard this speech about how you have to be twice as good to make it.” And that resonated.

McGhee: It took another step when Marcus in the lawn chair called her out as a contemporary. These are two people who are roughly the same age and he says, “Yeah, you think you’re this, but you’re really not. I am really down here doing the dirty work that you’re unwilling to do. You’re up here in the clouds living some life that isn’t real, and you think you can come down here to help us out.” We all have this relationship with our parents, but to have someone else on the show who’s black say something like, “I’m a different kind of black”…

Rhimes: But also it was like …“You’re a fixer, I’m a fixer, but I’m really fixing and you’re up in the White House helping the Republican guy be president.” It was very interesting.

Mohamed: Also in season two, we had a case where Olivia walked in and Abby walked in first, and [the client] was like, “Oh, Olivia Pope, nice to meet you,” assuming that Abby was Olivia. I think we had subtle ways of bringing it up before that because you can’t ignore it, you know?

Rhimes: We had little markers.

I wondered if it was a bit of a Trojan-horse situation to get into race later on.
Rhimes: No, [it was always there because] that was who Olivia was. In order for her to work for a Republican, for her to be with this Republican, that’s a specific kind of person who’s living a specific kind of obliviousness, for better or for worse.

Speaking of the Republican Party, how do you square away the fact that, on the show, the Republicans are arguably more progressive than Democrats are in reality?
Rhimes: From the beginning, we were striving to stay as far away from any president that existed. We had Obama in office, so I was like, “I don’t want anyone suggesting in any way that we’re writing about a Democratic president.” So he became a Republican. I didn’t want it to seem like we were commenting on the Republicans because that would become a whole other thing. I didn’t want to make them villainous, and I felt it would be interesting to make Republicans who felt relatable. In order for me to do that [laughter], they had to be progressive because their politics were politics that made sense to me. Although, for instance, Mellie was someone who absolutely loved her guns and she would argue with Fitz about that. It gave us the chance to have a lot of conversations.

Rosza: Once we were in the world where we were wish-fulfilling a female president that the country didn’t get, we unplugged the dam as far as aspirational progressive policy.

Rhimes: Yeah, once it’s a woman it was a whole other story.

Nardini: And if I can just add, there’s something hotter about Olivia controlling a Republican. [Laughter.] There’s just something hotter about using that ticket to power and finding ways to use it for good.

Rhimes: I also felt like that is what’s interesting about it. One of the reasons why he was so progressive was because she made him that way. Who she is, and his relationship with her, had a lot to do with why he believed what he believed, because Fitz, let’s face it, wasn’t a guy who believed in a lot until he grew up later in the show.

So is Olivia a Democratic sleeper agent?
Rhimes: I don’t know that she would consider herself that … she claims to be apolitical.

Who was the most fun to write for?
Rhimes: Everybody would have a different answer. Rowan for sure. Cyrus.

Van Dusen: Rowan is fun because those metaphors he speaks in, you can have so much fun with that. The dinosaur stuff and the paleontologist stuff. A lot of monologues.

Mohamed: Charlie’s fun to write for because he has a fun, comedic wit.

Byrne: Huck too, because you can just use so few words to accomplish a lot.

What do you think the traits are of a Scandal monologue?
Rhimes: Oh, I don’t think that exists. It depends on who you’re writing for. There are a couple of monologues Mellie has delivered to Fitz, like the one where they’re standing on the stage where the Republican National Convention is going to be, and she goes, “This is my convention, and I’ve earned it.” That’s the kind of monologue that was so badass and amazing and feminist and strong. Totally different kind of monologue than Papa Pope, in chains, saying things like, “Papa was a rolling stone.” That only works if delivered by Joe Morton.

Guzman: But here’s the thing: When you’re writing those monologues, you’re hearing those voices. Like, you’re writing it for “Joe.” You know where Jeff Perry (Cyrus) is going to pick his pauses. Sometimes you’re very wrong, but at least in your head, you’re designing it that way.

Fish: I remember watching season one as a fan, and Jeff Perry has maybe the longest monologue ever on Scandal. I was so blown away by that. Was that the first monster monologue on the show?

Rhimes: That was the first big one. It’s the one where he talks about, “You’re going to take the revolver and blow your brains out.”

Fish: I loved the audacity of having a three-page monologue on a TV show. You learn as writers that scenes should only be a page and a half, that no one should speak for more than two or three sentences, that audiences just want to be thrown candy, two sentences at a time. Then here is this character giving a three-page monologue and it blows your socks off.

Are there other rules that you threw out the window that you learned in previous writers’ rooms?
Rhimes: Who’d been in previous writers’ rooms on other shows?

Rosza: I’ve been in other writers’ rooms, and I think a lot of shows have a, “One character has to win a scene, and it has to be really simple and linear.” And this whole thing has this Gothic, operatic quality to it and the actors embrace it. That just makes it such a joy.

McGhee: Also, I’m going to say this and maybe no one agrees, but it’s a little bit competitive in the sense that I’m like, “Oh shit, Michelle wrote a really awesome scene at the table.” I came in in season two, and I was a little bit intimidated by people’s work. It’s like, “I can’t deliver this outline or this scene in a way where it just makes sense.” We can do that, we can shoot that in a way where it totally makes sense, but I have to come up with something that Rowan has never said before in the most interesting way, and twist it so I can impress the other people around me. I want to do good for Shonda, and I want to impress the other people. So I’ve learned it’s about making it as interesting as possible. Don’t focus so much on the logic or what “has to” happen. Just make it really, really good, and it has a chance to sing on screen.

Fish: I’ve been in other writers’ rooms as well, and on other shows so much energy is spent on protecting characters and keeping them likable. Studios and networks would never let you have your protagonist be a mistress; they’d never let you have your protagonist bash in someone’s head who’s in a wheelchair and kill them; rig an election. All the “awful” things we’ve had Olivia Pope do, I don’t think would be allowed on any other TV show.

So the show generally seems to be more team Fitz.
Rhimes: What? [Laughter.]

Is there a split in the room?
Rhimes: We are all team Olivia. We are not team Fitz or team Jake. This is not a romance show. [Laughter.]

Mohamed: I agree! I am team Olivia! That’s why I said, that one year I went to Olake because I thought that was best for her. But I do love the romance. I’m a sucker for the romance, but I will flip. If Fitz isn’t acting right, then he has to go.

Why did you decide to give Olivia a reckoning this season, to make her be wrong?
Rhimes: Well, we always knew where we were going. But how we got there was going to be interesting.

McGhee: For a long time, we had been dancing around the reckoning, dancing around, “I occasionally do bad things and then I grapple with that.” I and some other people were very interested in, “Just be bad.” In the finale of season six, the Luna Vargas business, I’m like, “Yes. Let me just see you be evil.” She was never fully evil, but that was a place where I felt we had to go, and the only way back from that is obviously some sort of reckoning. But it was nice to finally have her be like, “I’m going to run the fucking world and do all the bad things and it doesn’t matter.”

Rhimes: The Oval has always corrupted, absolutely, no matter what. We always say that to be in the Oval is the center of corruption. No matter who’s there, the goal is to get through it without being corrupted.

Byrne: The closer you get to it the worse you become. That’s true of the world, as someone who was in that world. People really do only think about power in Washington. They only think about themselves and politics. It’s always first and foremost in everyone’s mind. That’s the truth I tried to carry into this show from the real world.

Do you feel like that is the political philosophy of the show?
Rhimes: I don’t know. Yeah, the pursuit of the Oval, which is the seat of power, can be absolutely corrupting. For most people it is. Is it going to be for Mellie? We’ll see. But I think what we’ve basically said is that anybody who’s touched the Oval so far has been corrupted by it.

Do you think there’s a line of irredeemability you can cross?
Rhimes: No. I think anybody can do anything and you can still love and forgive them. That’s what’s interesting about writing characters, if you do it right. Olivia can bash a stroke victim’s head in with a chair and you can still love her. You can still love them if they do it right.

What do you think the legacy of this show is?
Rhimes: Legacy. What is a legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden we’ll never get to see! I don’t know — somebody? I’m still editing the finale, so I can’t.

McGhee: It’s hard to say legacy. For me, it’s to generally take a step back and look at the landscape of TV seven seasons ago, and think about Olivia Pope and that there hadn’t been a black female lead on TV for that long, and now to look around and see what’s happening in TV. In seven seasons, we’ve forgotten a little bit that this was really awesome shit and really breaking ground in the beginning. That’s something that will forever make me proud: to watch the rest of the shows that are on TV right now and all the success people are having and knowing that there’s room because people like Shonda had a lot to do with that. And Kerry.

Mohamed: And that we can watch shows with diverse female leads who can do bad things and the audience will still follow them. There was a fear that if you’re not a white male lead, you couldn’t do anything. The character had to be precious and perfect, and they don’t have to be. We’ve seen more characters like that, and the audience has followed.

Byrne: I think the legacy is in the finale.

Everyone: Oh yes, yes.

Rhimes: Well done! That’s really great. It is!

Surely you remember the scene when Olivia’s mother Maya (played by Khandi Alexander) CHEWS THROUGH HER OWN WRISTS. Hamilton quote alert!
The Scandal Writers Room on the Craziest Twists They Wrote