Richard Cartwright/ABC
May 17, 2012 at 12:00 PM EDT

Tonight, ABC’s Scandal concludes its first season (10 p.m. ET). After last week’s steamy episode, which flashed back to the start of Olivia Pope’s (Kerry Washington) affair with President Fitz Grant (Tony Goldwyn) during his campaign before showing them officially saying goodbye (again) in the present day, the stakes couldn’t be higher. As we see in the promo below, the Vice President’s chief of staff Billy Chambers (Matt Letsche) takes his accusation that the president abused his power to take sexual advantage of White House aide Amanda Tanner (Liza Weil) public — and the audio sex tape that Billy wants people to think is with Amanda but is actually with Olivia gets out as well. Of course, viewers know that Billy was the father of Amanda’s baby and set her presidential tryst and this brewing scandal in motion. But now that Billy has killed reporter Gideon (Brendan Hines), the only one who’d figured out Billy’s connection, what happens? Will Olivia have to admit it’s her on the tape to save the president? Or will she and Cyrus (Jeff Perry) come up with a brilliant move to save both Fitz and Olivia? “I’m always terrified in interviews that I’m gonna say something that’s gonna really get me in trouble with Shonda [Rhimes],” Washington says, laughing. “I will say that when I read the episode, it was a real roller coaster. The thing about managing a crisis in today’s world [versus] 10 years ago, is that there’s so much more intensity because news is so much more immediate, and you have a sense of that in this episode, which is exciting — how quickly the stories change and evolve, and so how quickly your tactic and plan has to change and evolve.” (That tells us nothing, so Shonda should be happy!)

All she’ll tease about the Gideon story line is that the first 11 or so pages of the episode’s script read like a play. “We rehearsed it a lot, because we wanted to make sure that we honored that flow,” Washington says. See a clip below in which Olivia arrives to find Quinn (Katie Lowes) covered in blood, shaking, and wanting to call the cops. “You and I both know why we can’t call the police…. If we call the police, they’ll find out who you really are,” Olivia tells her.

Wow, this is gonna be intense, and she blows you away.” We tell Washington that while Mellie’s confession of a fake miscarriage was a brilliant political move, it made us feel better about Olivia and Fitz’s affair. “It’s funny, not everyone has had that reaction to her faking the miscarriage,” she says. “Some people see that as her willingness to do whatever it takes for her husband and his goals and desires. Playing Olivia, I felt like it was such a selfless act that it made me feel badly about getting in the way of their commitment to each other.” How will we feel about Olivia and Fitz at the end of the hour? “People’s interpretations of their relationship are coming at it from so many interesting ways — having to do with issues of marriage, issues of race, issues of age, issues of at-work romance — it’s hard for me to say,” Washington says. “At the end of the season finale, I think people will continue to have complicated feelings about who they are and the choices they’ve made.”

Read more:

GALLERY: ‘Scandal’ joins readers’ picks for TV’s 24 sexiest scenes

‘Scandal’: Who’s STILL talking about last week’s sexy flashback episode?

EW’s season finales HQ with calendar, walkups, recaps, and postmortem interviews

Shonda Rhimes’ political drama: Sex! Murder! Olivia’s suits!
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