Olivia Pope standing in the sun may not be in the cards by the time the series finale of Scandal rolls around.
After seasons of fighting injustices for her OPA clients, the former white hat-wearing fixer Olivia (Kerry Washington) finally made it to the White House this season alongside President Mellie Grant (Bellamy Young). But the road to power has been paved by dirty deeds, which include murder, blackmail, and betrayal, punctuated in the fall finale by Olivia all but calling her father Rowan’s (Joe Morton) bluff, resulting in the supposed death of Quinn (Katie Lowes).
When the show returns Thursday, an anguished Olivia now faces a choice between her moral core and her quest for power as Scandal surges toward its series finale. “It is a very complicated time in terms of how Olivia conceptualizes her role holding the level of power that she holds,” Washington says, noting that Olivia will struggle between those two sides.
The question remains: Can Olivia Pope be saved? It’s a query many fans probably expect to be answered with a simple “yes,” but Scandal doesn’t necessarily traffic in black-and-white resolutions; most characters on the show have lived within the gray. “For me, one of the things the show has always been about is about redemption, and the idea that everybody’s worth saving and everybody deserves another shot,” Washington says. “Honestly, when I hear your question, I wonder what that means to you, because some people would say she doesn’t need saving, she’s arriving in the maximum potential of her power.” To be fair, Olivia has had people killed. “Lots of people on our show have people be killed, and sometimes for good reason,” Washington retorts, before relenting in regard to pregnant Quinn’s fate: “I understand killing a child in utero is really challenging.”
But when asked if it would take everyone in the Scandal-verse to gather around to bring Olivia back from the dark, Washington shakes her head. “I just think that a lot of what I’ve learned from working on Shondaland is I’ve learned to question our assumptions about what happy endings look like,” Washington says. “So when we say, ‘Will it take everyone to pull her back from the darkness into redemption?’ it reminds me of when we say, ‘What guy do you think she’ll end up with?’ I don’t know that the point is to be pulled back into something. I don’t know that the point is to wind up with someone. I think her journey may be about something else.”
“I think we have to be careful,” Washington continues, “particularly in our expectations, because we don’t have a lot of time left. For me, I would say rather than telling anybody else what to do, because I want you to hold onto whatever vision you have, but for me, I’m trying to be very careful with my expectations for what kind of ending I think she deserves or should have, or even fits in a framework of what’s appropriate or desired, because I think from the very beginning, Olivia has been a character that has broken molds and rejected expectations. So I don’t know that it’s going to be about pulling her back to anything.”
That’s not to say Olivia won’t suffer guilt over Quinn’s perceived fate. “When we met her from the very pilot, she was suffering guilt from sleeping with a married man that she was in love with,” Washington says. “Life is sometimes about trying to make sense of contradictory desires, feelings, and actions, and I don’t know that the end result is going to be about alleviating all guilt and shame. I don’t know how human that is to walk in the world with no guilt and shame.”
Scandal airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.