SPOILER ALERT: This story contains details of tonight’s Season 6 finale of Scandal.
America’s first female President of the United States has taken office and survived an assassination attempt, but Vice President Luna Vargas is dead, thanks to Jake Ballard and a now truly all-powerful Olivia Pope – and that was just the last few minutes of tonight’s two-hour Scandal Season 6 finale.
About to launch into its now confirmed seventh and final season when Scandal returns in September, the Shonda Rhimes-created and Kerry Washington-led D.C.-based drama definitely set the table just now that the EP promised it will leave nothing on when it’s all over.
One thing that will be gone in that final season is the presidency of Fitzgerald Grant III, as the Tony Goldwyn-portrayed POTUS left the White House with ex-wife Mellie (Bellamy Young) now occupying the Oval Office. However, as tonight’s Goldwyn-directed “Transfer of Power” finale episode made clear, the real power is not with the new President Grant but newly installed WH Chief of Staff Pope.
Having handed over the reins of her crisis management firm to a pregnant Quinn (Katie Lowes), forcing the Veep to take her own life, and poised to put the formerly disgraced Cyrus Beene (Jeff Perry) in as the next VP, two-time Emmy nominee Washington’s Pope kissed Fitz goodbye, for now, and embraced what has long seemed her destiny. Add to that, the character based on real-life POTUS 41 aide Judy Smith cut her Emmy-winning Joe Morton-played father off at the pass and pressed him back into service as she reinstated the covert and dreaded B613 unit – under her command.
With all that in mind and with the end in sight with Season 7, I chatted with Goldwyn about tonight’s finale, where Fitz and Olivia go next now that he is no longer POTUS and what’s in store for the end of Scandal. The director of the feature Walk on the Moon and episodes of Dexter, Justified, several Scandals and that other Shondaland show that had a finale tonight Grey’s Anatomy, among others, big-time Hillary Clinton supporter Goldwyn also revealed how he found out the show was coming to an end, where the series fits in the era of Donald Trump and how you pull off a TV presidential inauguration.
DEADLINE: The first thing I want to ask you is how does it feel now to be ex-President Grant?
GOLDWYN: It feels a little weird for two reasons. Number one, I got kind of used to being the president. So all good things must come to an end, but people still call me Mr. President, so that’s cool. Also it feels weird because I have no idea what function my character will serve in the show, when I’m not president anymore. Shonda obviously has something in mind for one more season. So I’m really curious to see what she’s thinking.
DEADLINE: How did you find out that next year is going to be the last season?
GOLDWYN: We just found that out last week. Shonda called us and told us as a group. I had my suspicions that that might be the case
DEADLINE: Shonda has said for this final season that she intends to leave nothing on the table for the final season – what does that mean to you after tonight’s finale?
GOLDWYN: You know, I heard Shonda say that. I’m not sure what that means, but I trust her to her word because she has quite the imagination. I guess what I think that would mean is she’s going to push herself and her writers as hard as she can to break new ground and to do things in a way that she hasn’t done them before. You know, to keep reinventing the show and to pursue the themes of this kind of gravitational pull of power, to its inevitable conclusion, you know what I mean? She’s going to really go for it and not be on cruise control at all.
You know, she did not want the show to wind down, that’s why she’s ending it at the end of Season 7. She wanted to finish while her creative imagination was still on the rise, I think, as opposed to, “OK, well, we’re kind of done, so let’s wind things down.” That’s not what she’s interested in.
DEADLINE: It did look for a few minutes like Fitz would be moving from the Oval Office to the real center of power running B613 for next season…
GOLDWYN: Exactly, and then after signing that executive order he does an about-face because of Olivia and recognizing this ring of power that is such an important force on Scandal and such a corrupting force.
It’s something that Shonda’s really exploring, all the time. In Shonda, and all the characters are drawn to it, particularly this season. In a funny sense, Fitz, who’s had such a complicated relationship with power, is drawn into the dark side for a minute. Thinking and deluding himself that he will be different. And then with Olivia, it’s such a great twist in the finale. Olivia talks him out of it or holds a mirror up, and then she falls forward herself into it.
DEADLINE: It really sets everything up for Season 7, with Kerry’s character truly at the pinnacle of power like never before.
GOLDWYN: We’ll see what happens. I think that’s such an interesting twist that she’s now gone all-in to what can only be a pretty dark road.
— Bellamy Young (@BellamyYoung) May 19, 2017
DEADLINE: Speaking of that dark road maybe to come, you did double duty with the finale, directing as well as playing the outgoing POTUS. You’ve obviously directed episodes of the show before as well as a fair share of TV, but a finale is a different game, isn’t it?
GOLDWYN: Yeah, doing the finale was really cool because you are bringing all the threads together and, like you said, launching, you know, getting ready to launch into the next season. This one was particularly fun because we had just some big stuff with this whole inauguration of Mellie as President, which was a really interesting challenge. You know, I love doing things, as a director, where you create the illusion of a giant event when you have limited resources. So we created this whole inauguration, which had to look awesome and impressive, because it was the finale, and it was the inauguration of the first woman president. So that turned out pretty well, I think.
That inauguration scene had hundreds of thousands of people at it. It was huge. Biggest crowd ever. Period. #Scandal
— kerry washington (@kerrywashington) May 19, 2017
DEADLINE: Talking about the notion of the first female president being inaugurated, that didn’t happen in real life, but instead we have scandals that almost make the scandals of Scandal look trite with President Trump. As someone who was a very open and vocal supporter of Hillary Clinton in last year’s election, how does this finale feel as you play out what’s one new presidency onscreen and another reality in real life?
GOLDWYN: Shonda has said, the night after the election, the writers, they all sat down and they were like we have to completely re-conceive our season. That was because they had really anticipated that Hillary was going to win, and Scandal was going to be doing something very different. Now I don’t know what that was exactly because I wasn’t privy to that.
I do know I feel like what they’ve done now is we’re kind of a bizarre counterpoint to what’s going on in the Trump White House.
You know, we could not be more outrageous or theatrical than what’s actually happening. Yet even though Shonda’s not literally commenting on it, I feel that somehow we’re this weird alternate reality that is in reaction to what’s happening in Washington now. I don’t even know quite how to describe it, but it feels very relevant. I don’t know if it’s emotionally or with the darkness of it, but something in Scandal this year feels very much connected to what’s happening in our political reality.
DEADLINE: Do you mean like how people used to say back in the early 2000s that Martin Sheen and The West Wing almost stood as the unofficial opposition to the Bush II White House? Do you think that’s a role that Scandal is going to play in its final season, with Mellie in the White House?
GOLDWYN: I don’t think it can because we’ve already thrown down as a very different thing. We were the opposite of that before because in the Obama years, there was this unassailable kind of first couple, and so we became the alternative of that, where we were this fundamentally corrupt and crazy, chaotic, scandalous house of power. So now that we have the Trump administration, we can’t whipsaw back and have Mellie be this sort of Martin Sheen-like president, because Mellie …well, Mellie is a complicated lady, you know? She’s more like Lady Macbeth. So honestly, no, I don’t think it can be like an unofficial opposition. But I do think Shonda has a lot to say, and she finds a way to say it, and so what we do will be very connected, I think, to what’s happening in Washington.
— shonda rhimes (@shondarhimes) May 19, 2017
DEADLINE: Conceived and executed before it was official that Scandal was going to end next season, what do you think fans of the show will take away from the Season 6 finale?
GOLDWYN: What Shonda’s so brilliant at, I think, will leave the fans, after the finale, feeling both satisfied and very frustrated — particularly with what happens with Olivia and Fitz. I was really so happy about was the way that that relationship evolved in that episode. It felt, you have that beautiful ending, which is very emotional, and yet it was kind of earned, and it wasn’t sentimental or obligatory, I think. It ultimately ends in a bittersweet way, and then later with Cyrus, it ends in a very dark and disturbing way for Olivia.
DEADLINE: You mean that last line about now being the most powerful person in the world feels right for Olivia?
GOLDWYN: Yes, that’s the greatest last line. Part of what makes it great for me is wondering what is that going to cost her. So, Shonda has done this thing where you feel so satisfied that Olivia has reached the pinnacle of power, and yet you know it ain’t going to go well for her. That’s a very dangerous place to sit.
There’s great satisfaction to Mellie being the president and the first female president, and yet she’s not the most powerful person in the world. It is her lieutenant, Olivia, who has the real power. Think of this, the threat of whoever was behind this conspiracy to murder Frankie Vargas and Mellie, you know now it was Luna, but there’s still plenty of threats out there. What I’m saying is I feel like there still feels there’s plenty of danger in our world. So the audience has that sense of satisfaction and yet jeopardy and instability, and that is what I think is what makes Scandal such a satisfying show.
DEADLINE: To that end, the evolution of their relationship and that dramatic public kiss before Fitz got on the helicopter, where can things go for your character and Kerry’s Olivia now?
GOLDWYN: (laughs) First of all, I really have no idea, and I never know what Shonda’s going to do. I also don’t really enjoy speculating too much because I love being surprised by her. But since you asked, I imagine, just as people, Fitz and Olivia can’t — they can’t stay away from each other, you know? They’ve tried before and they’ve been unsuccessful, so I feel like this pull between them is going to be unavoidable. I don’t know if it’ll end up working.
My guess is that Fitz is going to move forward and try and develop his new life, starting his foundation or whatever. I suspect, having no idea, at the same time that somehow the vortex that Olivia’s going to find herself in — as Cyrus says, the most powerful person on the planet — is going to have a cost. It will cost her in some profound way, and Fitz will, I can only believe, somehow have to either have to or want to step in. Whether Olivia reaches out to him or he reaches out to her, I don’t know, but I feel like there’s another round that they need to go that’ll deepen their relationship even further. I don’t know if they should be together or not, you know, because I don’t know if the circumstances of their lives will allow that, but I know they can’t be apart.
— Scandal (@ScandalABC) May 19, 2017
DEADLINE: We certainly saw that in alt-reality version of things in Episode 10 of this season and Episode 100 of the series, “The Decision,” where we glimpse the outcome of things if Olivia hadn’t stolen the election for Fitz. He became a cable news host and they are married — though not so happily, it seems. What was that shift out of Scandal‘s usual narrative lane like from your perspective?
GOLDWYN: I thought it was fascinating. It was a brilliant concept to do that, and it was very illuminating because to see all of the characters, function and evolve so differently. Because of a different set of circumstances, they literally became different people, and that allowed us to see what Olivia and Fitz’s relationship would be if he wasn’t the President of the United States and she wasn’t this sort of uber-successful person with access to all levels of power.
Like you said, their relationship sort of stumbled, and then they found each other at the end of it, which was kind of beautiful, you know? What I thought was most interesting about it was even though you got to know these characters, in that circumstance, it was completely different from the way that the actual reality evolved, and I felt that it informed our understanding and our relationship, as an audience, with these characters in the Scandal reality.
— Tony Goldwyn (@tonygoldwyn) May 19, 2017
DEADLINE: There’s another last year of that Scandal reality coming, but after that, for you, are we going to see you directing more post-Scandal?
GOLDWYN: Definitely a lot more directing. You know it is an interesting assignment being episodic television director. I view it as like a great workout. You come in, you have to make decisions fast, but you’re doing only part of the job that one does as a feature film director or as a show creator.
Directing Scandal I’m really, as an episodic director, servicing Shonda. I’m there to bring her ideas to life, but all the final decisions are hers, even the cut. I turn my cut over to her, and in this case it was like 20 minutes too long because she needed to see everything that was written and shot. Then she makes the final decisions about structure and what the final cut of the show’s going to be. So, you know, for me, probably in the future, I would direct more on a show that I loved like Scandal; it’s fun. But to me, the great job is either directing a feature film or being on a show where I’m also an executive producer, where I’m really involved in every stage of it. That is the most exciting.