[WARNING: The following story contains spoilers about Thursday's Season 6 premiere of Scandal. Read at your own risk.]
Scandal's Season 6 premiere was titled "Survival of the Fittest" — and one person definitely did not survive.
Picking up on election night, Vargas (Ricardo Antonio Chavira) narrowly beats Mellie (Bellamy Young) by taking the crucial state of California (!), tipped by San Benito County. His triumph is short-lived, though, because he gets shot three times during his victory speech, including through the brain, and eventually dies.
Terrible news, of course, but this means Mellie still has a chance for the Oval, since Fitz (Tony Goldwyn) has to endorse someone else to be POTUS. (Shout-out to the hilarious scene in which David [Joshua Malina] has to explain to Fitz — the president — how electoral votes work. Guess that's what happens when you win a rigged election.)
Nudged by Rowan (Joe Morton) — who had apparently offered Olivia (Kerry Washington) and Mellie help in San Benito during the campaign but got turned down — Liv is convinced VP-elect Cyrus (Jeff Perry) is behind the assassination and sets out to prove it. Meanwhile, Mellie, after initially saying she's done chasing her dream, has a change of heart following a mature, civil chat with Fitz and decides that she does want Fitz to back her as president.
It's all looking good for Team Mellie until Liv becomes convinced she's wrong about Cyrus after seeing him in a shaken-up stupor from the shooting, paving the way for Fitz to endorse Cyrus for POTUS. He makes the announcement just as Charlie (George Newbern) finds a deleted voicemail to the police from the night of the shooting. It came from Jennifer Fields, a campaign staffer, who said Cyrus killed Vargas. Jennifer Fields is now dead after a cabin explosion.
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"I know you killed him," Liv whispers to Cyrus later. "And I'm going to prove it."
Will she? And will she get Mellie into the White House? Is Cyrus actually Vargas' killer? We caught up with Young to get the scoop.
Did you know beforehand that Mellie would lose?
Bellamy Young: No, not at all. We did the first five episodes back in July. When we sat down for the table read, we were all stunned. The quality of the scripts this year — they just keep surpassing themselves. It's such a gift and such a joy to work somewhere that keeps surprising you. It's so strange because we shot it all last summer and the world is very different than what it was and than what some of us thought it might be. Shonda [Rhimes] went on record saying this season was supposed to arc out with a Russian hacking story, and look what happened in the real world. Unbelievable. But now everything is up in the air. I'm so excited to see what's going to happen this season.
Mellie initially tells Liv that she was done running for president but changes her mind later. Do you think that was just initial shock, not just from the results but also Vargas' death?
Young: Yes, I really do. I think she was taking it very personally, and after losing little Jerry and of course the dissolution of her marriage, I think that was the fear talking. I think once she calmed down, she remembered this was her mission. It had always been bigger than her. If any of us let our fears stop us from living our dream, then all is lost, so I think she really pulls herself together in a very evenhanded way, in an almost un-Mellie way. She sort of breathes through it and comes out the other side like a Phoenix and really has an epiphany.
I also think a lot of the time we spend on the campaign trail with her, there was a little bit of ambivalence, a little bit of fear, a little bit of "Is this my time?" There was a lot of checking in with Liv and making sure she was pleased and everything was going right in Liv's eyes. I think that stopgap of fear after Frankie's death really allows Mellie to own it again. She wants it. She wants to be president. It's a very fruitful moment. All that's to come is so crazy, so I don't think Mellie will stop fighting.
Liv screams in her face that she, Liv, is not done running for president. Is Mellie dismayed by how far Liv is willing to go to win or is she taken aback that Liv still wants this for her, for them? They did get a lot closer last season and I'm assuming over the campaign.
Young: I loved over Season 5 watching Liv and Mellie's friendship deepen. I've always believe that they could've, should've, would've been such incredible friends in that little crucible that is D.C. — except, of course, for the man that they both love. [Laughs] But now that they're in a post-Fitz era, they're really able to show that particularly as women we can hold complex emotions. Yes, we have a history, but we also have a common vision and an incredible gift and together we're formidable. Trust comes from showing up for each other daily and they really did that on the campaign trail.
I think that moment in the den room in the White House, I think it doesn't terrify to Mellie to see Liv's truth. I think in those excited utterances of moments, we reveal ourselves to ourselves. It's much more a moment of Mellie holding a mirror so Liv could see herself. I think the trust that they've built, I don't think Mellie takes it personally or takes it as a weapon or as an affront. I think she's holding space for Liv to see how she looks in that moment and for Liv to go away and deal with that. I think they've come so far; they really, really have. We have to allow our dear friends space to grow and love and change because we're going to need the same thing.
It's reassuring to know that Liv is still backing her.
Young: Yeah, right? What she's being vehement about is her belief in Mellie. It's just that she's out of line in terms of dominance. Or is she? But I don't think that affects their relationship in any way.
I liked Mellie and Fitz's chat. She tells him he's weak and not power-hungry and slowly realizes that she does want to be president. It's like she realizes it's OK to still want it after all this.
Young: Definitely. When she says he's not power-hungry, his beautiful retort is, "Mellie, I'm Fitzgerald Grant III. Me wanting power is like a drowning man wanting a drink" or something like that. I think that sort of wry self-knowledge really lets Mellie get out of — she's in a really binary space: Should I run? Should I not run? Am I good person? Am I good wife? Am I a good mother? And that really allows her to be in a gray space. That moment for me never felt like, "I'm power-hungry and I'm OK with it." It really felt like, "I have wanted this all my life and that's OK." I think it's like when you're trying not to cry when someone hugs you. And you're like, "Ahh," and you break down.
I think if he had gone at her combatively, that conversation would've gone a much different way. But his kindness really also undoes her and all of that lets her settle back down to the truth. That's been her dream forever and she can't be this close to giving up her dream.
It seemed like he would endorse her and then Marcus (Cornelius Smith Jr.) gives her a heads up that he's picking Cyrus. Mellie takes it well, but what is her and Fitz's relationship like going forward? Does he have to explain himself to her or does she get it?
Young: I think what I can say about that is it's not a surprise. It's not the first time that he has not shown up for her. In her mind, she doubts it would be the last. It is another cut. It's like death by paper cuts at that point with Fitz. On top of losing the election and fearing for her life and caring for her son, that betrayal is small and unsurprising. I think in the moment it does not kill the dream in any way. I don't think in the moment it's like a "I will fight Cyrus" drive. But I think it doesn't surprise her in the least for Fitz to not have backed her.
I'm guessing Liv is going to tell Mellie that she thinks Cyrus killed Vargas. Is Mellie going to be part of Liv's mission to prove that he did it?
Young: Oh, I think that I cannot say anything about that! [Laughs]
What is Mellie's next move then?
Young: I will say that Mellie's dream is intact. It's risen like a phoenix from the flames. It went down when Frankie won, and when he died, Mellie's dream died in that moment, in him. But it has been reborn and it endures and I think she's really finding her way and finding her path. Her path is still to the Oval and she is surefooted in that. She just thinks that it might be more difficult that she thought and might take a little longer, but I still think she's walking her path.
Cyrus hasn't been sworn in yet, so...
Young: Exactly, exactly! There's time. There are ways. Washington is a surprising town.
We're led to believe Cyrus killed Vargas, but it can't be that easy. Is the season going to be unraveling the mystery of who actually killed Vargas?
Young: Oh, they'll kill me! That's not one I can talk about. I'm not entirely sure I know. We just picked up again [after a hiatus for Washington's pregnancy] and are done with Episode 6.
What about Mellie and Marcus? Something definitely happened between them during the campaign and now he's working for Cyrus and Vargas, but she still clearly cares about her and gave her the heads up.
Young: I can say tune in next week! There's a lot of Mellie and Marcus. I think that is safe to say.
Do you ship them?
Young: [Laughs] Do I ship them? I think Mellie and Marcus bring out the best and the worst in each other and I think that's a sign of a great relationship. I think the willingness to show up and do the work and grow is the other element of a great relationship. They haven't proven that to me yet, but I really do believe they have a true connection and the possibility of greatness.
We got some Drunk Mellie in the bathtub knocking back champagne bottles. Will there be more Drunk Mellie, with or without tub?
Young: I think it's safe to say that Mellie is not looking into sobriety any time soon.
Young: I mean, a girl wants what a girl wants. We spend a little more time with her in the office so she can hide it in the drawers.
I'm sure she had it all over her campaign bus.
Young: Yeah, I feel certain those mugs were not coffee!
Scandal airs Thursdays at 9/8c on ABC.