[SPOILER ALERT: The following story contains spoilers about Thursday's episode of Scandal. Read at your own risk.]
Are you ready?
No turning back now.
OK, it was...
Rowan (Joe Morton)!
That Papa Pope was the one who pulled the trigger isn't that surprising — he was the most obvious suspect after all — but the reason behind it is: He did it under orders from that Mystery Group that Mystery Woman (Zoe Perry) works for, because they took Sandra (Tonya Pinkins) — Rowan's "one who got away" and a fellow paleontologist from his college years — hostage.
Well, killing Frankie was the last resort. Theodore (David Warshofsky), the head of the Mystery Group, wants Mellie (Bellamy Young) to be president and had told Rowan to make it happen. Yes, another fixed election, folks! Rowan, who agreed to it on the condition that they release Sandra when it's over, tries to go through every non-murderous means possible with minion Nelson McClinctock to ensure a Mellie victory, including rigging San Benito County's (!) machines.
When Olivia (Kerry Washington) realized what he was up to and un-rigged them, thus guaranteeing Mellie's loss, Mystery Woman orders Rowan to kill Vargas on election night and frame Cyrus (Jeff Perry) for it or Sandra will be no more. Rowan sneaks under the floorboards of the stage and wrestles with going through with it for what seems like hours, but ultimately shoots Vargas — the third and final shot in the head after the lock eyes.
Naturally, Mystery Group refuses to let Sandra go because she's Rowan's "weakness" and Rowan would do whatever they want for her. So Rowan takes matters in his own hands and shoots and kills Sandra himself. "I have no weaknesses," he says. "No one owns me." But he's not free from the Mystery Group's grip yet: They have a person on his other "weakness," Olivia, who is ready to kill her whenever they give the word. "Cyrus in jail. Mellie in the White House. Make it happen," Theodore says. "Then the real work begins."
Does the Mystery Group have Rowan right where it wants him? What's Rowan's next step? Does he regret killing the love of his life or Vargas? Morton answers our burning questions below.
Most people suspected Rowan killed Frankie. Did you think it would be him? What was your reaction when you found out?
Joe Morton: I think I was surprised when I read it because the episode before, it wasn't clear how it happened, so at the moment I read it, I felt surprised. I was surprised only slightly, I think. [Laughs] Never really surprised that he gets involved in these kinds of things. I was surprised that he didn't think of it himself and there was more to it.
Rowan hesitated before pulling the trigger and tries to go through different means to guarantee Mellie a win. Why do you think he went through with it? Was that the only way to save Sandra, which ultimately cost her her own life?
Morton: I think he was forced into it. The choice was Vargas or Sandra, and by extension, his daughter. I think he was put into a position where he tried every option possible not to have to do it and then finds himself in a position where it's impossible that he doesn't do it. He was in between a rock and a hard place.
Do you think he took the final shot because Frankie saw him?
Morton: That's a good question. I think he would've taken the final shot anyway. I think it just made it harder that he was looking at him. The other reason he didn't want to do it obviously is he thinks Frankie Vargas is a good guy and he should be the next president. He thinks Frankie has all the right qualities, so to take him out was against Rowan's own principles, but he does it because he has to. I think the fact that he and Frankie are eye to eye just makes it that much harder but still necessary.
Which do you think was harder for him: killing Frankie or killing Sandra? She was the love of his life and the Mystery Group was taunting him. But the way he said, "I have no weaknesses. No one owns me," and shoots her point blank in the head was so cold and abrupt.
Morton: Right. They were both difficult, but I think it was easier to kill Sandra just because he says earlier in the episode, "Anyone you love, anyone that's close to you is a weakness." So I think it's easier for him to do that because she's going to be in jeopardy no matter what than it was to kill Frankie.
He said Sandra is his one regret. Is it safe to assume he never tried to get back with her over the years because he knew she was his weakness?
Morton: Yeah, I think so. The only two people close to him are Maya and Olivia. Maya is in a hole somewhere. And Olivia is the one person he cares about. I think he instinctively knows she is a weakness of his, so he's constantly trying to battle back. There's no reason to scurrying around with Sandra behind their backs; that's not who he is. As Sandra says, he would view it as a weakness.
Do you think Rowan intervenes in Olivia's love life so much because he couldn't be with Sandra himself or because he doesn't want these guys to be her weakness?
Morton: I think he completely does not like Fitz (Tony Goldwyn) at all. [Laughs] He thinks he's weak and spoiled. I think with Jake (Scott Foley), he thought that was a possibility. He was like a son of his, so he could deal with Jake the way with Jake couldn't deal with what was going on, and actually that has actually made things worse and that's why Jake is now off the list. But again, I think what he is trying to protect Olivia from is weakness. Once you're in that situation, you better be in a situation like that with someone who can actually protect you. Jake could've protected her. I think that's why he's in her love life all the time — he thinks these guys will be a weakness of hers and put her in jeopardy.
This episode re-contextualizes his scene with Olivia from the premiere. Now we know he had just killed Sandra and her corpse was still there. How, if at all, does this affect him going forward?
Morton: He has to, for all intents and purposes, kill two innocent people he doesn't want to kill. Because he finds even temporarily someone to love, someone he feels comfortable with, even though it's an easy thing for him [to kill Sandra], I think it takes a big chunk out of him. There's a part of all of our jobs — whether it's we don't get a chance to spend time with our families or whatever it is — take us away from the things that we love. I think the problem with Rowan after Sandra is gone is that it takes a big chunk out of his soul. This is someone he obviously would've preferred to remain alive, but he recognizes that as a weakness and he recognizes that he would be in jeopardy from that point on. She would always be someone that could be tortured and hurt. In one sense, he's saving her life by killing her, but he's hurting himself.
What is this mystery group and why does it want Mellie to be president and Cyrus to be in jail?
Morton: That, you'll have to wait and find out. They're obviously trying to guide the election in a very particular way so they can put their person in the White House. But beyond that, you'll have to wait and see.
What does this Mystery Woman have over Rowan? She calls him "Coolio."
Morton: [Laughs] It's funny. I was at Access Hollywood and they said, "We didn't realize Rowan had a boss." I said, "Isn't it interesting you made an assumption that she is his boss?" We don't really know who she is. We don't know if she's working alone or if she's working with somebody else. Now we know she's working for someone else, so she's not his boss, but the person she's working for in the organization is his boss.
Are we ever going to find out her real name or will she forever be Mystery Woman?
Morton: I think eventually we do get her name, but don't quote me. [Laughs]
Rowan has always been so fearsome. What is it like to play him cowering to other people?
Morton: I don't think he's so much afraid of her per se; he's afraid of what she could do to Olivia, what they could do to Olivia. He knows she's his weakness and unless he can figure a way around it, he and she are in trouble.
What is Rowan's next step? They told him the "real work begins" after Mellie is president and Cyrus is in jail.
Morton: All I can say is, this whole season, things are shifting. Power is moving around. What we did a lot this season, like in Washington, D.C., if you're in an environment of power, people are trying to take your power or deflate your power so they can have it for themselves, and a lot of that is what's going to happen here.
Is Rowan going to find out that Jake didn't kill Jennifer?
Morton: Eventually, yes.
Does Rowan actually enjoy dinosaurs and paleontology?
Morton: I think he does. Everybody has a hobby and I think that's his. I think it's underscored by the fact that's what he and Sandra did when they were young, when they were in college. I think it's a real genuine interest of his. I think he takes it metaphorically as well, understanding the difference between being prey and the predator.
And it's tragic now — her bones are lying next to the bones of dinosaurs.
Morton: Right. That's a great point. She unfortunately was the prey.
Scandal airs Thursdays at 9/8c on ABC.