During a recent visit to the Oval Office — that is, Scandal’s version of it, where the walls of the set have seen more beefs, brawls, and betrayals than a bipartisan Senate hearing — the president and his first lady are cozily cuddled on the couch. Meanwhile, his First Lady is nowhere to be found.
Scandal enters its fifth season with the blazing assertion that political fixer Olivia Pope and lame-duck President Fitzgerald Grant are finally together. No, seriously. After four tumultuous years of kidnappings, stolen elections, covert agencies, and home-size pours of merlot, the star-crossed lovers of D.C. are going legit.
“I found myself really inspired by the idea of what would really happen if we let everything change for real,” series creator Shonda Rhimes tells EW. “Now we’re in season 5 and I’m thinking, why not?” she laughs. “I think Olivia has come around. A lot of last season was about healing all of her damage and getting her to a place where she can see the two of them together. … When we last saw her, she was standing on the balcony, and Fitz says to her, ‘What happens now?’ and she says, ‘Whatever we want.’ It’s a big ‘whatever we want.’”
The creative latitude also applies to the actors playing the embattled pair, Kerry Washington and Tony Goldwyn, both of whom are eager to navigate the uncharted waters of an Olitz romance that’s been plagued by years of false starts and promises of Vermont jam. “I’m excited to see what happens when Olivia follows her own rules and has to practice what she preaches,” Washington tells EW. “From season 1, she’s always said to clients, ‘You have to tell the truth, that’s the only thing I ask of you.’ But this relationship was always an exception to the rule, which meant there was always a disconnect in what she believed and how she behaved. And so for Olivia to say, ‘I’m done hiding, I’m done lying’ … I’m excited to see what that allows her to discover in her life.”
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Goldwyn says Fitz is also “very aware” of what he’s about to do — if they take their relationship public. “We live in a modern world, and it’s the hiding and the lies and the equivocating and the agendas that get people into trouble,” says the actor. “Fitz, for a couple of years now, has been operating under the opinion that if they just told the truth and put it out there … I think he believes in what they have, but it’s been thwarted every time. I don’t think he underestimates the gravity and impact of it.”
The couple is also keen to point out the effect that the long-awaited pairing will have on Scandal fans, who seem to be split on their shipping loyalty. “There are people who don’t really think Olivia and Fitz should be together,” admits Washington. “Whether they’re Olake [Olivia and Jake] or whether they just don’t think it’s the healthiest relationship … there’s a lot of voices out there. But I really love that our fans are invested emotionally, and I’m excited to be on the roller coaster with them. There will be some people that are thrilled and some people that are sick to their stomachs — and I’m in for all of it!”
“Last year was so frustrating and difficult to navigate as an actor because we were just apart the entire season,” Goldwyn adds. “This is very refreshing for us to be mutually together, for the first time ever. For the moment, anyway. We’ll see how long it lasts.”
Sorry, did you expect smooth sailing? Spoiler alert: This is Scandal! Sailboats aren’t built here without a few bodies going overboard. In last season’s bonkers finale, first lady Mellie (Bellamy Young) and ex-chief of staff Cyrus (Jeff Perry) were both unceremoniously ejected from the White House, which would suggest that there’s a possible team-up for a pair who shares the same bone to pick with Fitz.
“Our first episode back is a real kick in the teeth because I think it’s the first time Mellie figures out that she’s really alone,” says Young. “She’s burnt so many bridges for Fitz, for the sake of their relationship, for the sake of this administration — and it’s similar with Cyrus — so for them to be banished from the White House makes them realize they’re like turtles without shells. They have nothing because they’ve sold their souls to stay where they are, and she realizes she has to build something for herself.”
It starts with Mellie’s newfound place in the Senate, which she successfully earned last season (albeit at the cost of a few dozen murdered jurors). She’ll set her eyes on the presidency, although there are still two more years in Scandal’s storyline before those Hillary Clinton comparisons could happen. “That’s not the intention, although I reserve the right to change my mind at any time,” teases Rhimes.
Viewers will, however, see the effect that a happy Oliz will have on Mellie, who Young thinks will never quite get over her soon-to-be ex-husband.“She’s long ago given up on getting his fidelity or devotion, but she can live so long on tiny little crumbs that turn his head ’til the end,” says Young. “As they’re slamming down her coffin, she’ll still be trying to get some little moment of warmth or softness from Fitzgerald Grant.”
But there’s no grand plan to off Olivia — it’s not that kind of show (well, it is, but even Shondaland has its boundaries). “It would be so much easier to vilify the other woman, but it’s hard to vilify because it’s Olivia Pope,” Young says gleefully. “And everyone’s a little in love with Olivia Pope.”
Scandal premieres Sept. 24 at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.
With additional reporting by Natalie Abrams.
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