Shonda Rhimes is at it again. Just when I thought I had my bearings on the insanity surrounding Rowan (Joe Morton), Huck (Guillermo Díaz), Jake (Scott Foley), and the assassination of Frankie Vargas, a wrench is about to be thrown into the mix to change everything. On April 13, the 100th "What If" episode of Scandal will air, showing an alternate universe in which Olivia (Kerry Washington), Mellie (Bellamy Young), and Cyrus (Jeff Perry) never rigged Fitz's (Tony Goldwyn) election. At LA's Paleyfest, the cast tells me what fans can expect from the wild ride while reflecting on the OG episodes based on OPA (and the possibility of their return).
Every cast member I spoke with can agree on one thing: The episode is pretty shocking. "Shonda basically put the whole Scandal world in a box, shook it up, poured it out, so everything is topsy-turvy," Josh Malina (David) tells me. "It is gonna be the big whopper," Cornelius Smith Jr. (Marcus) says. "It’s like, what if x, y, and z didn’t happen, which changes how a, b, and c would’ve even started from the beginning." Morton compares it to the 1998 fantasy Sliding Doors. "Visually and psychologically... it just brings to the floor, that thing: If I made a left turn instead of a right, what would my day be like?"
The cast says it will be surprising, yes, but it will also show characters in a whole new light and also make fans laugh their asses off.
"There is the most laughter we ever had at a table read," Malina says. Laughter on Scandal? Now I'm definitely prepared for some surprises. During the cast panel, Darby Stanchfield says its timing is perfect for that very reason. "Where it’s placed right now in our season — with Huck’s storyline getting really heavy — it’s oxygen to this fire and you laugh because you need to," she says.
And fans will get to see entirely new dimensions of their favorite characters. "We see different sides of the characters that we would’ve never fathomed that existed," Smith says. "I think that’s really juicy stuff to see." Goldwyn compares that process to a real-life dream. "You know in a dream, you learn something about yourself even though it’s not exactly your reality? It tells you something deeper about yourself?" he tells me, "That’s the way that episode functions."
Goldwyn continues to explain that the episode won't stand on its own, and it'll affect everything from there on out. "The things you learn about these characters and the way you get to know what contributes to, in a really substantive way, where the show then goes after that," he says. And the episode certainly makes Goldwyn see Fitz in a new light. "Human," he says. "He’s a guy who fails and tries to succeed and keeps stumbling through life trying to do right, as we all do."
The cast promises that the epic episode will not only deliver, but lead to bigger and crazier things.
"Fans are gonna be so psyched," Katie Lowes (Quinn) tells me. "[It] is a gift to the fans — the OG gladiators who have been loyal to us since day one. It’s inside, inside material," she says. Lowes loves how she was able to explore Quinn and herself as an actor. "I get to do the most exciting, most fun thing I’ve ever gotten to do in my career," she says.
Although the episode is anticipated to bring laughs and pure amusement, it surely won't slow the twisty plots down. "What will happen after all of this gets bigger and bigger, it's huge. And nothing you will have expected," Morton tells me.
Don't fans ever just miss the good, old, case-by-case days at OPA? The cast members surely do, and the assure me that fans shouldn't say goodbye to those days just yet even though everything's about to change.
"I just don’t put anything out of the realm of possibility with Scandal," Jeff Perry (Cyrus) tells me. "It could somehow even change its architecture or return to roots. Completely possible." Lowes agrees. "I just love boarding and I love the funk sequences, where we got the music and the case," she says. "I think that’s some of the backbone, great, original, episode stuff that Scandal did. That’s always in their back pocket of things they can do, sure for." Malina totally misses it and tells me he sometimes wonders where those days have gone. "I’m not convinced that we’ll never go back there," he says. "As crazy as the show gets, they have created the framework where they can reel it in... there are through lines they can revisit."
Shonda already has my head spinning and nostalgic emotions flying, and the episode hasn't even aired yet. Oh, the joy of being a Scandal fan.