[Warning: This story contains major spoilers from Thursday's episode of Scandal. Read at your own risk!]
Scandal lost one of its own on Thursday in one of the most shocking scenes of the season. After Jake (Scott Foley), as the new head of B613, killed the two women connected to White House mole Publius, James Novak (Dan Bucatinsky) attempted to run for his life. Unfortunately, he didn't make it very far, as Jake brutally shot and murdered him in a sloppy, gruesome way so he could pin it on an amateur.
Next to James' dying breaths, Cyrus' (Jeff Perry) sudden, agonizing breakdown during a White House press conference was the episode's most heartbreaking moment. Perry delivered an Emmy-worthy performance, as the guilt and grief ate at the usually ruthless chief of staff. Lest we forget, even if Cyrus didn't directly order the hit on his husband, he's at as much fault as Jake is for ordering Command to protect the Republic. TVGuide.com caught up with Perry to find out what it was like to say goodbye to his TV husband and how James' death will affect Cyrus moving forward.
How shocked were you when you found out that James was going to die?
Jeff Perry: I was gobsmacked. Dan Bucatinsky is a dear, dear friend, so it was a wild mixture of emotions. It was grief, just like these characters are practically real. With the personal colleague hat on, I was so crazy proud of Dan and the accomplishment of his work throughout the journey of this relationship. I said, "Danny, you left it all on the floor and it's the most beautiful work. I can't think of a recurring character that brought such range and such richness." I felt personally really grateful because I'm a lover of great fictional relationships. My wife, [casting director] Linda Lowy, got to work on one of them: Connie Britton and Kyle Chandler on Friday Night Lights. That was an incredibly rich, complicated real marriage. I thought [executive producer] Shonda Rhimes had created that with James and Cyrus. I felt really satisfied, grateful and hurt.
How difficult was your last scene with Dan?
Perry: We had a mourning period as actors. We had a couple of weeks to work it out for different scenes and had time together. It had its challenges in our hearts. As actors, you really welcome the challenge and hope you can do it justice, so there's always some performance anxiety because this is pretty deep material.
Cyrus has always been the tough guy, but in this episode, we saw him break down. What was it like playing this vulnerable side of Cyrus?
Perry: When I step outside the character, I feel like an audience member. It felt heartbreaking. I really pity him and have a sense of empathy for him. This man of a certain era who is wired the way he's wired for political strategy and chess moves has fallen in love for the first time and for the right reasons. James is a guy who would, inch by inch, drag him into being honest with himself and more courageous, unburdening him and allowing him to go to a state dinner dance with his head up and say that he loves this man. That could never have happened to the Cyrus of years prior. I thought that was tremendously touching.
Even if Cyrus wasn't knowingly involved, he pretty much told Jake to do this. How will Cyrus be dealing with that?
Perry: There is a chain of events and crucial bad decisions and misjudgments, whatever their intent, and it is heartbreaking and carries with it a tremendous amount of guilt. It makes me sad talking about it. Really, from the time he thought that horrible idea would be a good one — that he basically pimped his husband out in a strategy to keep Sally (Kate Burton) politically in line — from that point on, which was all of Cyrus' doing, he ignored the warnings. He created this horrible chain of events. There will be a lot of guilt.
How will James' death change Cyrus?
Perry: I think it has to change him. I feel changed by that. I don't know if we can even tell yet, because it will take some duration and episodes so it'll go into the next season, of what Cyrus is going to become. How is this single father, who has almost no connection to this child, going to react to that? How is he going to try to do his job? There's an aspect of the larger plot of reelection now having a greater pressure. We've got to do some good, and we have to make sure Fitz (Tony Goldwyn) will stay in office to be able to do that, or so many things will have been in vain. That's very much in Cyrus' heart: "I can't let this all be in vain."
Olivia (Kerry Washington) and David (Josh Malina) want to take down B613. Would Cyrus want to be a part of that in order to make Jake pay for killing his husband?
Perry: Part of Cyrus says, "Get them out of here. Get them off the face of the Earth. I don't like people pulling strings that are more powerful than what the Founding Fathers hoped for." At the same time, there's a very pragmatic, political and organizational side of Cyrus that says, "Wait a second, this is how the world needs to work. Some things need to be deeply covert; it's the only way the machines run. Some things have to stay off the radar to get done." The moral struggle with that question is popping up all over the place with these episodes.
Do you think James' death will ultimately help or hurt the election?
Perry: You can tell that the storytelling is suggesting that Cyrus and Fitz both see an opening that they can't battle Langston and Reston (Tom Amandes) with the NRA and gun lobby, so let's go the other route and try to steal some votes from the left and come out in favor of stricter gun law. How long-lasting that will be and how much of a factor that will be in the election remains to be seen.
Adnan Salif (Nazanin Boniadi) gave the Grant campaign money and we know that she's working with Maya Pope (Khandi Alexander) on something nefarious. Will Cyrus come to regret letting Adnan back into the country?
Perry: Quit reminding me of the things that Cyrus has done wrong. It's not nice of you. [Laughs] This is going to be added to his list of regrets and trying to rectify his own bad judgment.
How does this season finale compare to last year's?
Perry: There is an exhilarating, scary level of expectation-busting that these writers keep bringing. I thought eight months ago that maybe this better be a European miniseries because I don't know how you keep this up. They keep being fearless and organically following the possibilities that are true to the characters and the scary possibilities we could go. Basically, they're asking what feels authentic and what feels frightening. That seems to be the unspoken mantra in what's leading these writers. This finale is as shocking and as surprising, and in hindsight, this is what Scandal does. Not to try to share unearned glory or anything, but I was always such a fan of Breaking Bad and Vince Gilligan and his staff's work. They set up the premise that some really bad things have to happen for it to be truthful. And the Scandal writers likewise seem pretty fearless about that.
Were you surprised by James' death? Hit the comments.
Scandal airs Thursdays at 10/9c on ABC.