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Shonda Rhimes on that surprise 'Scandal' return

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ABC

It wasn’t POTUS or Jake who finally saved Olivia Pope, but a former Gladiator.

During Thursday’s episode of Scandal, original OPA member Stephen Finch (Henry Ian Cusick) was revealed to be working with the Russian outfit that bid $2 billion for Olivia (Kerry Washington), which would effectively give them control of the President of the United States (Tony Goldwyn). In truth, Abby (Darby Stanchfield) had called in a favor from Stephen in order to prevent Olivia’s certain death—the White House planned to bomb the exchange lest the nation’s biggest secrets fall into the wrong hands.

“We had been thinking about the idea of him coming back actually for a long time,” executive producer Shonda Rhimes tells EW. “As far as I know, he immediately said yes. It was an immediate, ‘Absolutely,’ and then he and I were on the phone together, which was nice.”

Cusick concurs: “When the call came in from my agent, I jumped at it. It was super cool that Shonda invited me back to be in the show. It was completely unexpected, but I was delighted to bring Stephen out of the box once again. I loved Shonda’s idea of keeping it a secret, which is pretty hard to do in this day and age. It was such giggle for all of us. I had no idea what Shonda had in store for Stephen, I knew I would do it anyway–but I am so pleased that she gave me kick ass story line! The question is, will he be back?”

The Lost alum, who now stars on The CW’s The 100, left the series after the first season. It was mentioned during the second season that Stephen had quit OPA for a normal life with his never-seen fiancée—though Stephen was revealed to be living a less than normal life working out of St. Petersburg during Thursday’s episode.

“It had been our solution in this story because of the idea that we knew that he had never gone and been normal and because we knew he had been our idea of redemption,” Rhimes says. “It was the only sensible solution when you think about Olivia’s life, where she’s gone and where she’s been. Nostalgically for her, I think she believes that he’s safety and home, whether it’s true or not. If you think about the fact that she has no family—her mother basically let her go and her father basically told her she didn’t exist anymore for him—Stephen was the last of the Gladiators who had no beef with her in any way, shape or form. She hadn’t abandoned him. There was no baggage there, so that was why.”

Unfortunately, Rhimes is coy on whether Stephen will ever return, declining to answer if that was her form of closure for the character. “It was a lovely moment,” she offers, further staying mum when asked if OPA will be adding new members to its crew. They may need the help now that Olivia appears to be suffering from PTSD after her time in captivity. “She’s a very different person than we’ve seen before,” Rhimes says. “It’s amazing what Kerry is doing.”

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

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