“Scandal” is no stranger to making political statements — as seen in a recent episode, which tackled the defunding of Planned Parenthood and saw Kerry Washington’s Olivia Pope getting an abortion — but in the midst of the presidential election cycle, Shonda Rhimes’ ABC show is going to up the ante.
“Shonda and the ‘Scandal’ writers have done a really brilliant job in this second half the season, in particular, of really playing to what the political climate is in our country,” Darby Stanchfield who plays White House press secretary Abby Whelan on “Scandal” tells Variety. “You see some really fun references to what’s going on. It’s unmistakable. There will be no doubt that people will watch our show and talk more about the primaries and more about the presidential race.”
For one, former First Lady Mellie Grant (Bellamy Young) has her eyes set on running for president of the United States this season, clearly striking the iron while it’s hot in regards to Hillary Clinton’s place in the current race — though Young’s character is a Republican.
The series has included more storylines that draw parallels to hot topics among the presidential candidates such gun control and police brutality, as seen in the powerful Season 4 episode “The Lawn Chair,” which dealt with the events in Ferguson.
So far, there have been no apparent Donald Trump references (he’s made his way into about every other form of media, though, most recently with a Johnny Depp FunnyOrDie parody), but Stanchfield promises upcoming episodes will become talking points as the race heats up.
“How Shonda and the writers are setting out their White House climate in ‘Scandal,’ it’s a really fun water cooler show for what’s going on in our country,” she says.
As for November’s controversial midseason finale, in which Pope terminated her surprise pregnancy, Stanchfield says that the strong reaction — which had conservative groups describing the episode as “Hollywood’s moral depravity on full display” — did not catch her off guard.
“I wasn’t really surprised. I think we were all kind of prepared on some level for there to be a reaction just simply because of where this country is at on the subject of abortion,” Stanchfield says on behalf of her “Scandal” team.
“I think it highlights how abortion is a very divisive, hot topic in our country. It’s not something that is settled on by everybody — there are people who are strongly for it and strongly against it, and one of the beautiful things about Shonda’s show is how she really explores topics that our country is debating about and need to be examined and talked about,” Stanchfield adds. “So for me, it was evidence of her really hitting on subject matter and doing it quite bravely on network TV on this issue.”
Despite the polarizing response to political storylines that mirror real-life issues, Stanchfield says she’s glad the conversation is happening. “It’s always really fun for me to be a part of a show that is provocative and makes audiences think and makes audiences have conversations — conversations that hopefully will be had by other people who have other points of view because I think it’s really good for everybody to be talking and sharing ideas, and we’ve got to work it out as a nation.”
“Scandal” airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on ABC.