Natalie Abrams
October 05, 2017 AT 10:00 PM EDT

WARNING: This story contains major spoilers from the season 7 premiere of Scandal. Read at your own risk!

Scandal kicked off its final season on a bit of a different note. There was no clear cut villain, no hint of a season-long battle that viewers would watch Olivia Pope and/or the new Quinn Perkins & Associates tackle. The lack of clear and present danger raises a very intriguing question: Is Olivia Pope the new threat?

The premiere set up Kerry Washington’s white hat-wearing political fixer as one of the most powerful women in America. Yes, even more powerful than the first female POTUS Mellie Grant (Bellamy Young). As Mellie’s Chief of Staff — and also secretly the head of B613 — Olivia spent the beginning of the end blackmailing a senator to pass an education bill without batting an eye, she tested Cyrus’ (Jeff Perry) loyalty by dangling a juicy carrot of being the next POTUS, and she went around Mellie and NSA head Jake (Scott Foley) in a bid to stop them from killing a captured spy — though she did so by threatening to kill a foreign ambassador’s son.

Side note: Let’s be honest, it seems Olivia did it for two reasons: 1) She felt the power slip away from her when Jake got Mellie agree to kill the spy, and 2) she saved the man’s life because Huck (Guillermo Diaz) actually expected she’d allow the government to kill him, so she wanted to defy that and prove she still wears the white hat. But does she? Or does Olivia’s thirst for power ultimately make her the new villain?

Richard Cartwright/ABC

“That’s interesting,” Washington told EW during a recent set visit alongside other reporters. “I never thought about it in those terms. I don’t know if I have enough bird’s-eye view to answer that yet. I’m not sure I can answer that yet.”

It certainly wouldn’t be a shock for Olivia Pope to let power go to her head and ultimately turn dark. Among her more questionable choices throughout the series include rigging an election and killing not one, but two different vice presidents. Even when Mellie rose to challenge her in the premiere, Olivia made it quite clear she’s the boss — Mellie can either be an asterisk or a monument in history, and only Olivia is the one who can achieve that. If even Mellie cannot stand up to her, can anyone challenge her? Will QPA need to rise to the occasion? “I would say all of that’s possible,” Washington says. “I think it’s never as if the person who sits on the throne is unchallenged — there’s always other people who want to be there. So I think part of what we’re discovering is, who can you trust?”

The members of QPA certainly feel that way as well, particularly when it comes to their former boss. “Olivia is definitely being looked at as one of the threats by Huck, especially because he’s seeing her transform into being the head of B613 and that’s really scary and odd for him,” Guillermo Diaz says. “Right now, I feel like she is the one threat. I can’t think of anything else.” Adds Darby Stanchfield: “She’s a force to be reckoned with.”

After struggling for years to stand in the light, it’s particularly interesting for Olivia to find herself in this position. Let’s not forget, she chastised Fitz (Tony Goldwyn) in the finale for nearly taking over B613, and yet moments later did that very thing herself. “Fitz is not aware of the dark threat on Olivia’s soul,” Goldwyn reminds. “His last interaction with Olivia was her attacking him for almost slipping down that slope himself, when he decided to take over B613, so he thinks she has been wearing the white hat and he honors that. If that changes, Fitz will be profoundly alarmed and concerned.”

Surprisingly, the former head of B613, Rowan (Joe Morton), also Olivia’s father, was among the first to recognize this potential threat. “What we established at the end of last season where Rowan actually said to Fitz, ‘She is the disease, she is the problem,’ which is why he tried to give B613 to Fitz, because that would have been the check and the balance,” Morton points out. “So at the moment, it’s sort of like — and this is not to blow my own horn — but like Terminator II, the terminator comes back and he’s no longer the terminator, he’s now on the good guy’s side. And the Terminator turns out to be Linda [Hamilton]’s character. And so the same thing is true here: We have all shifted and we understand the difference between good and bad, and Olivia is just doing whatever the hell she wants with no sense of morality whatsoever.”

Indeed, Olivia seems to be taking a tip from her father in pushing away any emotional ties. For instance, Olivia quickly ends her current dalliance with Jake in favor of a no-strings-attached fling with a reporter. “I don’t know if she sees men as a weakness, but anything that jeopardizes her ability to show up for the republic is potentially a problem,” Washington says. “So everything has to stay right-sized in her world. The relationships are not the most important thing right now, unless that relationship serves and enhances her ability to wield her power in the ways that she needs to.”

Even so, Washington insists Olivia’s power moves in the premiere are born out of lessons learned. “She’s trying to do everything differently,” Washington says. “She has seen a lot of people in these same positions make mistakes that she doesn’t want to repeat, so she is trying to be in this position of power and have it be a place of service, have it be a place where she is doing what’s best to defend and protect and uphold this democratic republic. Hopefully she takes all of that wisdom with her and doesn’t walk down those same paths, but I don’t know for sure.”

But could her overconfidence end up being her undoing? “Anything is possible,” Washington admits. “Look, if she had it all figured out, there would be no show. It’s sort of like in the first season, she was seemingly perfect, she had it all in OPA, but her personal life was a mess. And now we get to see her again in the place where it looks like she has it all professionally. But it’s not going to be simple.”

“So I don’t know exactly how that’s gonna unfold over the entire season, to end the series,” Washington continues, “but I can tell you that it’s really challenging me as an actor and surprising me. I feel just as excited and nervous and honored and determined toward excellence as I did in our pilot. That’s what this team and this material and this show brings out in me.”

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

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