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'Scandal' star Darby Stanchfield on Abby's abusive past

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SCANDAL Baby Made A Mess 02
Eric McCandless/ABC

Four seasons into Scandal and Abby Whelan (Darby Stanchfield) is still somewhat of a mystery. Viewers have slowly learned that Olivia’s (Kerry Washington) right-hand woman was previously in an arranged political marriage, in which her husband, Charles Putney (Michael Trucco), physically beat her until Olivia freed her from her wedded nightmare.

But Abby’s past will come back to haunt her during Thursday’s episode when Charles shows up at the White House, forcing Abby to relive her worst fears. “It’s such a revealing and beautiful episode that Shonda [Rhimes] and the writers wrote,” Stanchfield tells EW on the set of the ABC political fixer drama. “It tells a specific story of the abuse victim and all of the PTSD and all of the symptoms that go along with someone who has been abused. There are multiple things, like feeling like they’re not safe, being paranoid and physically hiding.”

Charles’ arrival at the White House will dredge up old memories, bringing out a new side to Abby that viewers have yet to see. “It’s pretty great because you think Abby has really gotten on with her life—and she has, she’s pulled herself up and Olivia’s helped her get out of it—but as soon as he’s even mentioned, she goes back into this behavioral pattern of what it was like when she was with him, of talking softly and feeling unsafe, just all of those characteristics,” Stanchfield says. “It also just gave me an insight into what Abby used to be like being around him now. Abby pretty much talks at full volume in your face, but when we did the scenes when they’re together, there’s a lot less eye contact and a lot more of making herself feel small.”

Fortunately, Abby will once again find help from Olivia in dealing with her abusive ex. “Olivia really comes to Abby’s aid again,” she says. “With Abby having no where to go, she immediately turns right back to the only person she has in life, which is Olivia. Their friendship is stronger than any man she has in her life right now.”

Lest viewers think Abby will completely revert back to her meek days, Stanchfield promises she will confront her husband on her own. “Abby does stand up for herself,” she says. “There’s a pretty incredible arc for Abby that happens in the episode. Olivia got herself out of the relationship last time. No one saves her this time.”

Scandal airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.