"We still finish every table read and go, 'That's not the season finale?!' It's pretty crazy. The table read we just did sent us all spinning. We need for the next table read to happen right away, but we're scared because something is happening that's terrifying." That's how Scandal star Kerry Washington describes the second half of the ABC political thriller's third season.
When we last left the Gladiators in Suits, Washington's top fixer, Olivia Pope, had just been burned by her mother (Khandi Alexander), who it turns out was the real terrorist of the family and was last seen talking to her daughter while standing in front of the White House. Meanwhile, Papa Pope Rowan (Joe Morton) is out of a job after Fitz (Tony Goldwyn) -- whose re-election will be a major theme in the remainder of season three -- tapped Jake (Scott Foley) to head B613.
Over at OPA, the fixers are down one Gladiator after Huck (Guillermo Diaz) tortures and removes Quinn (Katie Lowes) from the family with the newest recruit running back into Charlie's (George Newbern) arms.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with the cast at the Television Critics Association's winter press tour to get the scoop on what's ahead when the Shonda Rhimes drama returns on Feb. 27 for the remainder of season three. Here are 10 things to know.
1. Expect to see a window into Olivia's emotions.
"It's definitely on her mind," Washington says of finding Mama Pope. "What was most interesting for me was the more that we're learning about who her parents are, the more of a window we have into Olivia's emotional reality. I really like that and that's a lot about what this next part of the season is about."
2. Sympathy for Rowan.
Washington says that Olivia's relationship with Rowan will be far less strained when the season resumes. "There was that great scene when Rowan is in chains and Olivia has that realization that they've both been bamboozled by her mom," she says. "So Olivia starts off this second half of the season with a lot more compassion for Rowan because in some ways, they've both been victims. That's where she is. You'll have to watch whether he is in a similar place or not."
3. It's not a question of if Olivia will have a role in Fitz's re-election campaign, but more of how she makes that decision.
"Whether she's involved or not, how those decisions get made is really interesting and unexpected," Washington teases. Adds Diaz of how OPA will respond after Liv makes her decision: "We're going to stand behind whatever Olivia wants to do. She does choose someone and we completely back her. You might see Huck in a suit in one of these upcoming episodes, too." Anyone else think Huck would make an excellent bodyguard?
4. Quinn will search for a new identity.
Lowes says Quinn, following her banishment from OPA, will struggle to find where she fits in. "Quinn has struggled so much with her identity over the first three seasons. Because Lindsay Dwyer was stripped from her and because she doesn't have a dad, family or home life, it's a question of, 'Who is she?' And now she doesn't have OPA and that's who she figured out who she was," Lowes says. "It's complicated and sad." As for if the now ex-Gladiator will fight her way back into OPA's good graces, the actress previews it'll be a "dirty and messy" process that may or may not come with her finding a "whole new identity."
5. Sorry, Charlie.
For those rooting for an eventual romantic pairing between Huck and Quinn, don't hold your breath, as Lowes says the latter's romance with Charlie may be here to stay. "There are definitely feelings there between Charlie and Quinn; Quinn couldn't have a normal boyfriend-girlfriend relationship right now; she's not like that anymore," she says. "The closest she could ever have to a boyfriend lies within Charlie. But I do think she's between a rock and a hard place and she has nowhere left to go." Adds Diaz: "Quinn is doing her own thing -- she's sticking with Charlie. Charlie is the only one who's showing her love right now."
6. Huck won't feel bad about ousting Quinn.
Lowes says Quinn will question if she needs a family anymore and explore if she can even fit back in with OPA at all, while Diaz notes the former B613 baddie won't feel bad about torturing Quinn. "The episode we see on Feb. 27, we're going to see Huck and Olivia have a really intense scene," Diaz says. "I don't think Huck feels bad about what he did to Quinn. He only feels bad that Olivia is going to be upset with him and look at him with these eyes of, 'What the f--- have you done?!' That's the only reason he feels guilt or regret for doing what he did. But as far as Quinn, he's still standing his ground and he doesn't think she belongs at OPA anymore at this point. It's weird to see him so staunch and not budging on what he feels. It's a bit upsetting." But is there hope for Huckelberry-Quinn? "I still have hope that Huck and Quinn will mend their relationship," Diaz says. "I oddly feel that what he did to her has brought them closer in a really weird way. He pulled out her tooth and tortured her and something about that has brought them even closer and when -- and hopefully if they do become friends again -- their friendship has gone to another level of closeness."
7. Jake will get "dark."
Diaz says sitting atop of B613 might change Jake. "There are these little things that start to seep in, little moments where you see that darkness come from Jake -- and it's really interesting how they're doing it," Diaz says of his former partner in crime. "No one at B613 is sane. There's something off with all those people at B613, and that's really interesting to see Jake start to show that."
8. Finding Mama Pope is on the agenda.
"We're only one script ahead and we haven't seen her yet," Diaz warns. "But you know she's going to come back with guns blazing! Finding her is going to be on their agenda; I don't know if it's at the top, but it's Olivia's mom. They're not going to drop that so easily."
9. Back on the campaign trail and up to no good.
First lady Bellamy Young says the series will spend a lot of time with the campaign in the second half of the season. "There will be all sorts of machinations trying to get us back in the White House for another four years," she says. "We will be joined by the amazingly talented Jon Tenney, who will throw a wrench in the works in the very best of ways." As for speculation that Tenney will play Mellie's new love interest, Young remained mum, offering only that viewers will be "amazed" to see what kind of a role he has.
10. Information is dangerous, James.
New White House press secretary James (Emmy-winner Dan Bucatinsky) warns that David Rosen (Josh Malina) has information connecting him with Daniel's death. "They say information is power and information on a show like this is so dangerous. James and Cyrus' (Jeff Perry) relationship is going to get tested more than it was last season. Now James is going to be in the White House as the press secretary, and [to be] that close in a job in this administration during a re-election with David Rosen sniffing around with evidence is so palpable that I feel like the relationship, our professional lives, our ambition, the truth -- it's all a big stew of danger and threat. How do you survive that?" As for James' steamy affair with the vice president's closeted husband, Bucatinsky says it's all part of the fabric of Scandal. "The affair was all about showing the world -- and Cyrus -- what James is made of. The whole show is everybody gets taken to their cliff and it's sink or swim. What are you made of? Everybody proves what they are made of on this show and it's why it's so exciting. None of us really know what we're made of until we read it on the page."
What are you looking forward to seeing? Hit the comments below with your thoughts. Scandal returns on Feb. 27 on ABC.