”We are going to fix this!” Filming is under way for Scandal’s third-season premiere, and Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) is at it again. This time, however, the client is none other than herself — and she’s not too happy with how Pope & Associates are handling things. The press has discovered that Olivia is the president’s (Tony Goldwyn) mistress, so her staff has concocted a canny plan to get her out of the spotlight…but this time the boss lady ain’t biting. ”We’re only doing what you wouldn’t do for yourself,” whispers Harrison (Columbus Short).
All the Gladiators are here for this pivotal moment — all except for their fearless leader, creator/executive producer Shonda Rhimes, who’s off building more hornet’s nests for her characters to kick. But Rhimes doesn’t have to be present to find out how her script was received — she already heard all the oh my Gods she needed at the table read. ”We had no idea what was coming,” recalls Washington. ”It was pretty exhilarating. We made shocked, googly eyes across the table at each other!” Adds Rhimes later, ”I want the actors to get to have those oh my God moments when they turn the page. We’re really trying to keep the quality of the show where it was last year.”
There’s a lot to live up to: Scandal’s May finale was a doozy, pulling in a series-best 12.2 million viewers and featuring the mother — or should we say father? — of all twists: The man who’s been plotting against Olivia is her dear ol’ dad, Rowan (welcome aboard the crazy train, Joe Morton!). If that wasn’t enough, President Fitzgerald Grant also retreated to his wife, Mellie (Bellamy Young), after Olivia spurned his offer to become the First Lady; ace spy Jake (Scott Foley) was tossed into a nasty subterranean purgatory for killing a B613 agent to save Olivia; chief of staff Cyrus (Jeff Perry) was carted to the hospital because of a bad ticker; and mini-ninja Quinn’s (Katie Lowes) newfound thirst for torture freaked the heck out of her sensei, Huck (Guillermo Diaz). Couple that with the still-simmering scandal over how Olivia, Cyrus, and Mellie conspired to fix the election for Fitz, and it’s no wonder that Rhimes describes the show as always feeling like ”there’s a lot of balls up in the air.”
Not that she intends to let any of them fall. Rhimes was so invigorated by last year’s climax that for the first time in her 10-year career she postponed the requisite summer hiatus so she could keep writing. ”There were so many places to go, and we were on such a high after last season,” explains Rhimes (who in her spare time still oversees Grey’s Anatomy). ”It was really exciting, so writing the premiere episode wasn’t like exercising a tired muscle. I was just on the 23rd mile of a marathon.”
Washington, for her part, was beyond grateful for the hiatus. ”I felt so exhausted,” says the actress. ”I literally called my doctor because I felt like my adrenal glands were depleted, like I had no adrenaline left because I had spent nine months operating at this Scandal intensity.” Shortly before shooting began for the new season, she got something even better than a dose of B12: The TV Academy honored her and Dan Bucatinsky (who plays Cyrus’ ambitious reporter husband) with the show’s first-ever Emmy nominations in the lead- and guest-acting categories, respectively. (Washington is the first African-American actress in 18 years to receive a nod in the Lead Actress in a Drama category.) ”That was exactly what I had hoped to see,” Rhimes says proudly. ”The celebration of the work means we can keep doing the work.”