Scandal: What exactly does that Olivia Pope portrait mean?
Warning: This story contains major spoilers from the series finale of Scandal. Read at your own risk!
Though Scandal signed off Thursday by giving a number of its characters definitive endings — RIP, David Rosen! — Olivia Pope’s story closed in a very ambiguous way.
While she was ultimately victorious in saving the Republic from the corrupt Cyrus (Jeff Perry), Olivia’s (Kerry Washington) story was left open-ended. Mellie (Bellamy Young) tried to lure her back to the White House, but Olivia declared she had spent enough time helping clean up other people’s messes, and she was ready to do whatever she wanted for herself.
However, the final moments of the series finale featured two young women sometime in the future standing in awe of Olivia’s painting in the National Portrait Gallery, a place typically reserved for photos of presidents and first ladies, of which Olivia could’ve eventually gone on to be either.
“The juicy part is the question isn’t answered, so we all get to talk about it for the rest of time, and have our ideas and maybe our ideas will change as we change,” Young tells EW. “But representation means everything. It’s really beautiful that it’s up there. That portrait in particular, if you freeze frame and really look it over, it’s done like all the great oil portraits of time, and it tells a story and that story is huge and really encapsulates what we’ve been doing for seven seasons in one beautiful piece of iconography. I was mesmerized.”
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Though the cast was still reeling from learning about the tragic death of David Rosen, Scott Foley says that final moment involving the portrait threw everyone during the table read. “There was 20 or 30 seconds of silence,” Foley says. “No one knew what to do after we were done reading it, and I spent a little of that time thinking to myself, ‘That’s a good way to end it.’ Shonda did a little thing where she left a little nugget up there for fans’ interpretations as to what may have happened with Olivia — whether she went on to become President, why is her picture in the portrait gallery?”
“I think everyone is going to go away with a different answer to what that means to them,” Guillermo Diaz adds. “To me, my first thought was, ‘Oh, Olivia Pope becomes president,’ and these young black women are seeing this portrait of the first black female president. That’s what I took away from it.”
The older of those young women, by the by, is Rhimes’ daughter Harper. “For me, she is the future, that enigmatic hope, but nobody’s fool on her face,” says Young. “Looking at it and knowing how far is between here and there, that whole last moment is the whole show for me.”
As EW previously reported, Washington says that Rhimes does know the definitive answer as to Olivia’s future, but it’s unlikely she’ll ever share that factoid, something costar Darby Stanchfield can appreciate. “It allows for discussion and everybody can interpret it the way they want,” Stanchfield says. “I like endings like that, that allow you to participate and don’t just spoon feed you and it’s tied up in a bow.”
Adds Tony Goldwyn: “It’s just so classic Shonda to leave the audience with something where they’re like, ‘Wait, what?’ and just wanting more.”
The final moment was also particularly prescient, as the cast received the finale just ahead of a very similar real-life moment. “We read the script and the next day that big image came out on Twitter of the little African American girl looking up at the Michelle Obama portrait,” says Katie Lowes, who actually visited the National Portrait Gallery when the cast shot parts of the final episodes in Washington, D.C. “I felt really proud to be part of the show.’ I know the end’s ambiguous, but it made me feel proud to be part of a show to make an ambiguous statement like that. I got to be part of a show that was entertaining, but also thought-provoking.”