The series was left off of the network's new fall schedule, which was announced Tuesday, breaking up Shonda Rhimes' #TGIT lineup (new drama Notorious will take over its Thursdays-at-9 timeslot) and sending Gladiators into a tizzy.
The delay was widely expected to happen after Washington's pregnancy was revealed earlier this month. While ABC has not commented on the episode order, TVLine reported that the upcoming sixth season was cut from 22 episodes to 16 to accommodate Washington, which would also be conducive to an uninterrupted run once the show returns midseason. (During Washington's first pregnancy, which was in the middle of Season 3, Scandal's episode order was cut from 22 to 18, and the show aired from October 2013 to April 2014.)
But a midseason premiere means that Scandal's presidential election — which pits the Republican ticket of Mellie (Bellamy Young) and Jake (Scott Foley) against the Democratic ticket of Vargas (Ricardo Chavira) and Cyrus (Jeff Perry) — won't coincide with the real one in November. The drama mined a lot of storylines and material from real-life politics last season, including introducing a Donald Trump-like candidate with the return of Hollis Doyle (Gregg Henry) — although Rhimes has claimed that his offensive bluster was in the works before Trump gained momentum.
Young told TVGuide.com last week that the actors have no idea where in the timeline the show will pick up in Season 6. "But wherever we come back, if we come back on the campaign trail, it will feel through-the-looking-glass to find out that [Mellie's] in bed with Papa Pope (Joe Morton)," she said, referring to the finale reveal that Rowan had planned for Jake to run with Mellie all along. "Depending on when we come back on the show in Season 6, then it will start playing out," she added later.
Scandal seemingly has two options here: carry on with its election when the show returns — which would let Rhimes & Co. tailor their episodes with even more pointed commentary depending on what happens IRL — or do a time-jump and come back with the POTUS- and VP-elect (perhaps timed with next January's inauguration?). The show has done plenty of time-jumps before — it did a 10-month one in the middle of Season 2 — so that's not completely out of the question. But that would also deprive viewers of campaign fun and backstabbery, debates — you know the Shondaland crew wants to write some mile-a-minute debate Shondalogues — and the drama of election night itself. There's the option of flashing back to all those things, of course, but the suspense would be gone.
The delay, however, is a good thing for Scandal when you look at the bigger picture — and it would allow Rhimes to plot the show's endgame. Rhimes has always said that she never envisioned Scandal lasting as long as Grey's Anatomy, which is entering its 13th season with no end in sight.
"I think there's only so much Scandal you can tell satisfactorily. The Fitz-Liv thing can only be told so long and in such a way. It's not a 10-season or eight-season show," she said in November, a year after she said the show won't go past a Season 8. "I've already decided how long that is and what that's going to be."
She's not wrong. Scandal's heightened, fast-and-furious storytelling is not sustainable over long runs (tellingly, the show produced 21 episodes last season instead of the typical 22). Shorter orders and a longer hiatus would allow the show to tighten the arcs, trim the fat, as it were, and plot out its ultimate endgame.
And since we're sadly closer to the end of Scandal than the beginning, it would also behoove ABC to give the show an end date, like it did with another popular drama that also wasn't built to last forever: Lost. In May 2007, months after showrunners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse said they had planned on Lost ending after Season 6, ABC confirmed that would indeed happen, announcing a three-year plan to run the final three seasons of 16 episodes each — 48 total — uninterrupted starting midseason (it ultimately produced 49). Lindelof called the advance notice "incredibly liberating."
Scandal is nowhere near as heavily mythologizied as Lost, but given all the business Rhimes has done for ABC the past 11 years, the network arguably owes her a heads up about the finish line so she can plan ahead and end the series her way, and move on to create her next #TGIT hit.
All of this is to say, we're going to miss the lamps next season. And eagle wings. And monitors.