By Natalie Abrams
Updated January 10, 2016 at 12:00 PM EST
Credit: ABC

Scandal will be taking a big leap when the Shondaland series returns next month.

ABC’s political fixer drama will be making a six-month time jump from the events of the winter finale, in which Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) ended her relationship with Fitz (Tony Goldwyn), moved out of the White House, and got an abortion.

“Everybody has evolved into the next phase of their lives,” Goldwyn tells EW. “Fitz is unfortunately alone without Mellie [Bellamy Young], without Olivia, and sort of without Cyrus [Jeff Perry] in the sense that the trust between Cyrus and Fitz is broken. Cyrus is still working for him, but it’s a troubled situation, so Abby [Darby Stanchfield] is taking up that slack in terms of who he leans on, but Fitz is very much alone — the guy alone on the top of the hill.”

In the wake of everything that’s happened, Fitz dives headfirst into being America’s leader. “He’s trying very hard to focus on work and making the last year and a half of his presidency meaningful and effective,” Goldwyn says. “He’s doing pretty well on that. He really is obsessed with work. You know there’s a ticking bomb in there somewhere for him, that he’s trying to function well. I don’t want to give anything away, but he’s trying to find his way.”

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That ticking time bomb is the fact that Fitz does still love Olivia. “In my opinion, absolutely,” Goldwyn says. “I think he’s miserable, but he’s not showing it. He’s being very stoic.” However, Goldwyn notes that Fitz would be rather devastated should he discover what Olivia did. “Second to the death of his son, that’s the worst thing that could ever happen to Fitz — to find out that Olivia was pregnant with his baby, had an abortion and did not tell him,” he says. “That said, he got beyond the fact that her father was responsible for murdering his son. There’s no logic to Fitz’s love for Olivia, so I think he could get past it. I think he would have to because he’s in love with her. It’s going to be horrible if he finds out.”

Meanwhile, OPA’s fearless leader has really moved on after her brief foray into the limelight as the First Mistress. “Olivia is trying to figure out what her new life is,” Goldwyn says.

“She’s so different,” Katie Lowes adds, echoing Washington’s recent sentiment. “Shonda Rhimes has done such a great job over the five seasons to really peel away at people’s characters and show you different sides of them. Yet again, when we come back, there’s a whole new evolution to Olivia.” Like, for instance, the fact that Olivia Pope, who normally wears dark and earthy-toned clothing, is sporting a rather salaciously red dress in this TGIT promo.

As for the other lady in Fitz’s life, “Mellie is chasing her ambitions to become President of the United States,” Goldwyn says — and given the fact that POTUS is in the last year and a half of his presidency, Mellie should be in full campaign mode when the show returns, which will seemingly mirror the real-life presidential election.

Scandal returns Thursday, Feb. 11 at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.

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

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