Spoiler alert: The story includes details about the Season 1 premiere of ABC’s Scandal.
Welcome to Olivia Pope’s world. Shonda Rhimes’ Washington DC drama kicked off its seventh and final season on ABC tonight, with Olivia taking control and showing everyone, including her dad and President Mellie Grant, who is the boss. “You cannot have it all Olivia,” Eli warned her a few minutes into the premiere, set 100 days into Mellie Grant’s presidency. “Watch me,” Olivia answered with a swagger, a line that served as a title of the episode.
In it, we got a glimpse of the new QPA (Quinn Perkins & Assoc.), with Quinn taking over Olivia’s OPA. Its first case, locating a missing American scholar in a country with ties to Islamic terrorism, reunited the gang with their former boss as the subject turned out to be a kidnapped CIA operative. While Jake advocated killing the hostage before he starts talking and convinced Mellie to authorize a strike, Olivia went behind their backs and extorted the country’s ambassador by threatening to kill his child until he agreed to free the hostage. Olivia proceeded to put Mellie in her place. “You do not ignore me; I’m right always; and There is only us,” Olivia told her menacingly, with Mellie ultimately pledging her loyalty. In the episode, Olivia also tested the loyalty of Vice President Cyrus Beene who almost took the bait but eventually resisted the temptation to go against the President in order to further his own agenda.
On the romance front, there was no trace of Fitz in the premiere (though he is not expected to be MIA for long), and Olivia ended her casual hookups with Jake. In an interview with Deadline, Bellamy Young, who plays Mellie Grant, talks about that final scene between Olivia and Mellie, in which Olivia asserts her dominance, what’s ahead for their union and for Mellie as a woman in power and a single woman in the White House, will she ally with Jake, when Fritz will be back and more.
DEADLINE: Let’s start from the end. It seemed that Mellie was starting to forge her own path, make her own decisions, and then she was dressed down by Olivia. Is this how her presidency will be? Will Mellie be able to do anything her way or everything will be dictated by Olivia?
YOUNG: I think it’s going to be an interesting season in terms of who has the power. Olivia, of course, has all the power for good because she’s a staff member in the White House, but also the power for evil because she’s got B613 under her control. But Mellie has great hopes and sees a future that they can build together and sees history, right there. They can touch it, the two of them, together.
But there is so much that Mellie does not know about what Olivia has done and what Olivia is doing, and so, as much as I know that Mellie wants them to be a team, I can only imagine that the road will become more, and more divided, and the stakes between them higher, and higher, because they’re sitting on a big tub of kerosene and it’s just like one match away from an absolutely incendiary situation.
Does Mellie want them to be a team? Absolutely. Does she want to go about that by giving Olivia her way all the time? Not at all. She’s a strong, empowered woman, and she wants to do what’s best for the country. But I also think she’ll come to trust Olivia less, and less, as we go along, and she finds out more and more about where Olivia’s morality is these days.
DEADLINE: Were you surprised that, in the situation with the kidnapped CIA operative, Mellie was the one who proceeded to authorize a killing, and Olivia, who seems to be turning darker by the day, was the one who moved in to save him?
YOUNG: It’s nice to live in Shondaland where everything is gray, not black and white. I think Mellie definitely made that decision as counseled by Jake because she thought it was the best way to keep the Republic safe. Never with a light heart and never with ease, but thinking that, of course, time is of the essence, and that was the surest way to keep the most people safe.
I’m not sure that Olivia wouldn’t have gotten to that decision, but pushed and made her actually be a better person and find a better, higher road. I’m not sure that Mellie made an evil decision in that. It’s just one that makes me thankful every day that I am not in a position of power in that way, that I am not the president because I think those are calls you’re called upon to make.
DEADLINE: Mellie conferred with Jake and followed his advice on the hostage situation. Are the two forging an alliance?
YOUNG: That I don’t know. It hasn’t happened yet.
DEADLINE: What about the relationship between Mellie and her Vice President Cyrus? In the premiere, there was a loyalty test for him, which he passed. Are the two of them good, or will there be more friction going forward?
YOUNG: If there’s one thing Mellie knows is that you can’t trust Cyrus. She also knows that there’s no one better at this game than he is. He’s a beast, he’s a monster, but he’s her monster. It’s that old adage, right, ‘Keep your friends close and your enemies closer’. She will never underestimate Cyrus but will always be grateful for him being on the team, and will always be endeavoring to keep him on the team.
DEADLINE: Will we see the ex-First Husband? Fitz was MIA in the premiere.
YOUNG: Yes. You’ll see him. It’s very soon, in fact, and you’ll get to spend a lot of time with our beautiful Fitz and see how he’s handling this transition, because it’s a big deal. He’s got to figure out who he is and where his life is going, and does that include Liv and/or Washington. So, you’ll get plenty of time to watch him on that journey very soon.
DEADLINE: Being a single woman, will Mellie be dating? Is she still in a relationship with Marcus?
YOUNG: When Mellie dreamed about being a president she never imagined it would be this lonely, she definitely imagined Fitz would be at her side, he would have so much experience and they would be not only husband and wife but real partners. She finds herself lucky enough to be realizing her dream but realizing that she is alone. So often women in powerful positions intimidate men, so in addition to being alone, being divorced in the crucible that is the White House, how does she meet people, what’s proper when you are in that position?
It was very different when we saw Fitz having a revolving door there for awhile of girls coming and going from the White House that Abby had to oversee, that’s nothing a woman in power can pull off.
Definitely her connection to Marcus is still there, and I think when souls connect that deeply, it never goes away regardless of circumstances. I want to imagine that they will try and find a way to be companions again. Of course that relationship is thorny from every angle, race, age, position, It will be interesting to see who Mellie can find as a peer who can accept her in her power, and how she’ll find companionship in that lonely, lonely office.
DEADLINE: What more can you tell us about the final season. How deep will it go into the Mellie Grant presidency? Will it cover the entire term?
YOUNG: I don’t know about that. What I can tell you, it’s a very existential season for Olivia. She is at a moral crossroads, and we are all just pawns on her chess board, and it has been interesting in the subsequent scripts that we’ve read and shot, to see how her heart moves, and where her mind goes, and for the rest of us to suffer the consequences, or triumphs thereof, and Mellie is doing her best.
She’s fully aware that as a woman in power so many little tiny details are assessed before the substance of her administration is noticed even. So she’s working twice as hard to be as wonderful a president as she can be because she knows the opportunity at hand, and she knows that all things are possible with Olivia by her side.
But it’s also a question of — she’s the first single female president, handling loneliness and power as a woman, and it’s Shondaland, so that will be explored. I feel like it’s a beautiful thing to get to see Shonda’s reaction to what’s going on in the world right now. I feel like every script that we get is a very timely response to life as we know it, and it’s been incredible to be on a ride where, we started the first season, it was operatic, it was great. The stakes were so high, and we were rather outrageous. To have been outpaced by life, and now to have become in seven seasons, some people’s sanctuary and haven, and what they go to, to sort of rest, and think, it’s almost nostalgic, but we’re hoping to give people a little hope again. People who are not feeling it right now, and I just can’t personally, as a fan, I can’t wait to see where Shonda brings this ship into port.
DEADLINE: You mentioned hope. The season started pretty dark. Will it get even darker or it will get a little bit more hopeful as it goes along?
YOUNG: I don’t know, and that, like I say, as a fan, is what I am interested to find out is where Shonda’s heart is. Does she believe that you can have love, and power, and be a decent human being? Will Olivia have to leave Washington to find her soul? Will she sacrifice her soul and stay in the game? I’m so curious and in as much as we shot so far, it could really go either way.
DEADLINE: What about the current political realities, will we see any topics, like immigration, reflected on the show?
YOUNG: Well, definitely our writers are not going for anything ripped from the headlines. So there’s nothing one-to-one correlation, but there are just bigger themes about race, racial injustice, and gender politics. Things that sort of go unspoken in our daily lives, but are now getting a little light shone in their direction and Shonda, and our writers are taking this opportunity to contribute to the dialog, into the cultural discussion.
Almost every episode there’s a monologue that makes me really proud to be a part of the show. Something that really moves the conversation forward in a thoughtful, inclusive, loving way, and I know from my politics as a citizen, that’s a voice I’m looking for right now. I hear a lot of dark. I hear a lot of despair. I hear a lot of things that make me afraid, and I am looking for the person who’s giving me hope, who’s reminding us all to love and include each other, and so to be a part of a production that can keep that in mind, and hold space for that it makes me really proud, really proud. I’m so excited for everybody to see the season.
DEADLINE: There were a lot of voters who wanted to see a woman in the White House. How does it feel playing the character of the first female U.S. president? Do you feel extra pressure?
YOUNG: Well, it’s an unbelievable honor, especially because the words and thoughts, and actions that come out of Mellie’s being are coming out of Shonda and our incredible writers. So they’re based in power, but coated with grace and always mindful, and flawed. She makes these horrible mistakes and then she recovers. She grows. She learns.
I remember how much it meant to me personally as a viewer to see Dennis Haysbert be president on 24. It’s just a part of acclimating our country to the sight of women in power, and this whole season with Olivia, and her moral quandary but having all power in all directions, with Quinn being in charge of OPA, being her husband’s boss, being a mother; Mellie being in the White House.
It’s really a year of a conversation about gender politics and a wonderfully enjoyable, passive indoctrination to hopefully getting Americans, if not the world, used to seeing the world with that, that’s been ahead of us for a long time. But used to seeing women in powerful positions, being complicated, bringing the full force of their being. Doing the best that they can, failing, succeeding, being human, but just being human first and being female second, you know, and not forgetting their femininity but also not being bound, or in any way pinned in by it.
I figure it’s a real season of transcendence in that regard, so I couldn’t be any more proud to get to be a soldier in that particular, you know, that little moment in history for this Shondaland.