The following contains spoilers from the opening minutes of the Scandal Season 6 premiere.
Scandal‘s Season 6 premiere was filmed six months ago, prior to series lead Kerry Washington’s maternity leave. That makes the outcome of the ABC drama’s fictional presidential election — in which the female candidate lost by a narrow margin, leading to a (briefly) contested vote — all the more eerie.
In the delayed, long-awaited (and then delayed again) Season 6 launch, titled “Survival of the Fittest,” First Lady-turned-Senator Mellie Grant lost the presidential election by a narrow margin, after Pennsylvania Governor Francisco Vargas unexpectedly flipped the Grants’ home county in California. Mellie immediately sought to contest the vote, but that boondoggle was promptly shut down by Olivia, who urged Fitz’s ex to instead bow out gracefully, and then coached her through a (painful) concession phone call.
Besides, the vote was rendered moot soon enough, when Vargas was shot during his election night acceptance speech, fatally. Since Mellie’s rival was felled weeks before the electors would convene to formally appoint him POETUS, sitting president Fitz found himself in the position to sway that vote, in the direction of either Mellie or Vargas’ running mate, Cyrus Beane. After some consideration, Fitz publicly threw his weight behind his former chief of staff — just as Olivia and the gladiators unearthed a deleted FBI tip line message implicating Cyrus in Vargas’ murder!
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Given that the premiere was filmed in July/August (Scandal is currently in production on Episode 8), cast member Katie Lowes concurs that “nobody” at that time could have predicted the real-world election’s outcome and subsequent electoral college drama. Yet as spooky as the “art imitating life” might have proved to be, the series’ stars on Tuesday, Nov. 8 were focused on the actual drama playing out.
“What was weird was the actual election hit us so hard that we couldn’t even realize [the connection],” Lowes, who spent October campaigning for Clinton, shares with TVLine. “When [Trump won], I have to be frank, I wasnt even thinking about Scandal at all. But, when it hit me a week or so later what the content of the first episode was, it was like a ton of bricks. I was like, ‘Ohhh… myyyy….’ It was this slo-mo moment where everything starts playing in reverse.
“We shot that in July!” she reminds. “We thought this was going to be a totally different situation.”
Darby Stanchfield, who plays Abby, says with a shrug, “Sometimes parallels or coincidences happen,” before marveling at series creator Shonda Rhimes’ ability to, planned or not, reflect real-life headlines. “Listen, I constantly wish I was in the writers room to witness Shonda Rhimes and her writers’ ability to come up with these storylines. I want to be in there and hear, first of all, what they’re saying and how they’re getting the story, but also afterwards, to hear what they’re talking about. Because you know they’re changing [the script] all the time.”
“I’ve heard Shonda say that they track all the news like a hawk, and then just basically say, ‘OK, lets come up with a plot where if the wheels were to come off the cart. Let’s write that,'” Stanchfield continues. “So there you go. Do I need to say more?”
“Shonda writes characters, she’s not thinking in those terms [of attempting to mirror real life],” says Lowes. “But she has said on numerous occasion that they do write things in advance that do freak her out, eerily. Like, there is no way that anyone would ever know what was actually going to happen in real life.”
One thing is certain, however: as Scandal’s own Election Night plays out, social media will be abuzz. “After Trump was elected, ‘Olivia Pope’ was trending the next day, because so many people were saying, ‘Olivia Pope, fix it!'” Lowes recalls. “I’m now curious to see what goes down on Twitter on January 26th.”