We’ve almost reached the final season of Shonda Rhimes’ soapy D.C. juggernaut and honey, the white hats are off. They’re not just off, they’re on the floor, they got kicked to the curb, they’re mottled with gutter water and bent at the edge. There are no white hats left; just sludge-colored berets. It’s intense.
We head into the final Olivia & Co. go-round having borne witness to the complete transformation of Kerry Washington’s steely central character. Is this a becoming or a destruction? Who can say. Gone is Olivia’s black-and-white morality (and with it, her blazing white suits — how many stain sticks does this woman own?). Like the pontiff Jude Law played on HBO last year, this Pope is a mess of contradictions: fully human but still somewhat otherworldly. It remains to be seen whether that other world is ultimately good or bad.
Maybe it will continue to be a mix of both. I remember a Twitter exchange from years ago between show creator Shonda Rhimes and former co-host of The View Star Jones. Jones bemoaned Olivia’s choice to break up with Senator Edison Davis (Norm Lewis) in favor of getting back together with Fitz (Tony Goldwyn), who was married to Mellie (Bellamy Young) at the time and expecting a child with her. Shonda, ever the wordsmith, responded to Star that Olivia made the choice she did “because this show is not a fairy tale and Olivia is not a role model.”
@StarJonesEsq OH! Just read these tweets. Here’s the answer to this one: Because this show is not a fairy tale & Olivia is not a role model.
— shonda rhimes (@shondarhimes) January 27, 2013
Some might call that a clapback, but it’s also the thesis of Scandal. Olivia fancies herself a hero but she’s spent six years making compromises with the Dark Side, from her Darth Vader dad to her on-again, off-again affair with the president. Not to mention the two vice presidents she’s killed. Two.
The final season, which premieres tonight on ABC, promises to reckon with Olivia Pope’s past and her future. Season six employed an ingenious Rashomon-style storytelling technique to unwrap the events surrounding the election night assassination of Frankie Vargas. Employing a serpentine narrative full of trademark Scandal WTF-ery, the show took us from a “way too soon” shocking loss for Mellie to a complicated electoral challenge that ended up with Mellie being sworn in and Olivia taking over B613.
There were enough twists and turns on last season’s Scandal to fill a Chutes and Ladders tournament, but here are six things you need to know about season six to prepare yourself:
1. Season six was a conspiracy bonanza. A shady organization (Scandal-verse is chock full of those) conspired to get Mellie elected by tampering with voting machines (again, way too soon, Shonda). They were thwarted at the last minute by Olivia and Huck (Guillermo Diaz), who wanted to win fair and square. Not to be outdone, the shady organization then psychologically tortured Olivia’s dad, Rowan (Joe Morton), until he agreed to help them put Mellie — whom the shadesters wanted to use as a puppet — in the White House. Papa Pope was forced to assassinate Frankie Vargas, the Obama-esque governor whom Cyrus (Jeff Perry) hand-picked, setting the whole season in motion.
2. Speaking of Cyrus, though his choice of Frankie was initially calculated, he was apparently so beguiled by the magic of the Vargas campaign that he began to see the candidate as a chance at redemption, an arc that culminated in Cyrus being chosen as Frankie’s running mate. All that came crashing down when Cyrus was framed for Vargas’ murder and sent to federal prison.
3. Olivia, initially oblivious to the plot, sniffed out the wrong-doing (using her trademark gut) and went on a crusade to free Cyrus. This put her in direct conflict with her dad, who was trying to protect her life by keeping her in the dark.
4. Meanwhile, Olivia and Fitz’s relationship continue to be a giant shrug emoji. For Scandal’s 100th episode we were treated to a very bizarre glimpse into an alternative universe in which Olivia didn’t fix Fitz’s original election. He lost the presidency but divorced Mellie and married Liv. The two of them set up a modest lifestyle that slowly drove him to drink. It was a depressing. Also, Quinn (Katie Lowes) was a Bachelorette-style reality star with a strange accent and the whole thing just stressed me out.
5. Back in reality, the other Gladiators were having a rough go of it. Quinn and her assassin-boo, Charlie, bickered themselves into an engagement. And Quinn is expecting. Meanwhile, valmost died but was saved by the version of Olivia who lives in his “mind palace.” And Abby (Darby Stanchfield) got suckered into colluding with the shady organization, putting her on the outs with Olivia for much of the season.
6. Eventually, Olivia pieced together the conspiracy, discovering that Frankie’s wife, Luna, was behind the shady organization and her husband’s assassination. Olivia and Jake (Scott Foley) dispatched of Luna on the night of the Inauguration and then Olivia, in a stunningly Cyrus-esque move, glamoured Mellie into unknowingly funding B613 and declared herself the new head of the spy organization. Is Olivia destined to become her father? Who is there left to fight but herself? And will she ever get to make jam in Vermont with her face in the sun? Please?
So many questions! But don’t worry. Shonda never disappoints.
Catch my recaps of each week’s Scandal on Friday mornings. Photo Richard Cartwright via ABC.