The seventh and final season of “Scandal” started without the former president, Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn). As Mellie (Bellamy Young) was working through her first 100 days in office, Fitz was up in Vermont, trying to live a normal citizen’s life. But the third episode of the season, entitled “Day 101,” will see a return for the former president.
“We find Fitz literally hours after he’s left Washington,” Goldwyn tells Variety. “We find him that night arriving at his house in Vermont, and it’s an extraordinarily disorienting experience for Fitz.”
“Day 101” doesn’t just refer to the pivotal turning point for a presidency, but also denotes the day Fitz makes a big move with a protester who is sleeping under a statue he deems racist, as well as the day Fitz plans to return to Washington, D.C.
“He agreed to stay out of the public eye for 100 days, and I think he has felt based on the agreement he made with Olivia that it was best for her if he kept his distance,” Goldwyn says. “She needs to be who she needs to be, and she can’t do that in a relationship with him. She needs to have the sole focus of making a president and sticking by that president and being the center of power the way she is.”
But before he can make his triumphant return to Olivia (Kerry Washington) and the city he called home for eight years, though, he will go through quite a tumultuous experience learning how to do things on his own for the first time. Goldwyn talks with Variety about how Fitz spent his time in Vermont, what ultimately brings him back to Washington, and how he hopes to close out the series.
There has to be an element of culture shock for Fitz living in Vermont. How will exploring that time with him show new layers of the character?
For the past eight years he’s lived in this tiny bubble where he never had to do a single thing for himself – he wasn’t even allowed to do anything for himself. He had a body man next to him at all times. If he needed a pen, someone was there. He was literally in a totally controlled environment, and add to that the fact that he was governor two terms before that, he’s lived a very cloistered life. So now he’s independent, with the exception of a small Secret Service detail, so he very much wants to be normal, but it’s completely bizarre to him. He doesn’t know how to take care of himself, so he will run into obstacles on that basic level. Also, he was living for the past eight years in this intense pressure cooker where there was always a fire burning and his agenda was packed every second of every day, and now he has nothing to do. That is very weird. Should he take a vacation? He doesn’t know how to do that.
Do you think he was lighter in those moments?
Part of it is very liberating. He’s excited to be on his own. It’s difficult, but he wants to be a regular guy, and he insists on being a regular guy. He pushes his Secret Service detail and wants to drive the car. They’re like, “You can’t do that,” but he says, “I’m going to do it. I’m going to do what I want to do.” He insists on driving, and he hasn’t been behind the wheel of a car in eight years. He wants to go grocery shopping by himself, and what does that mean when the ex-president of the United States walks into a small town grocery store by himself? People freak out. And he doesn’t know how to shop. We deal with all of these fun things. He doesn’t know how to cook – he has to teach himself how to cook – and he’s excited to do all of these things, but he doesn’t know how, he’s like a baby in that way, so we had some fun with that. And also the cool thing is we really get into, for the first time, the relationship with Marcus [Cornelius Smith Jr.], which has both darkness and light to it.
How will Marcus and Fitz deepen their professional relationship, and is it in jeopardy from having Mellie between them?
Fitz knows there was this deep connection between Marcus and Mellie, and he welcomes that. He thinks Marcus is a good dude, and he wants Mellie to be happy. He’s not jealous or anything. The thing with he and Marcus, Fitz is sort of at sea [in Vermont], and Marcus has a tremendous opportunity, but he realizes he’s Fitz’ servant in a way, and he’s not having that. Fitz sort of unconsciously treats Marcus in that way because that’s how he’s used to treating people, and he doesn’t mean to be demeaning, but Marcus wants to get to work, and Fitz isn’t ready to do that. Tension develops with Marcus because he feels he did not sign up to be one of his hand-servants, and they come into real conflict there. It becomes a cathartic thing to both of them, and they both call each other out on some really deep stuff.
Obviously there are some new struggles for Fitz that come with all of this. Where does Olivia fall in?
The final thing that shocks and takes him by surprise and is perhaps the most difficult thing is he walks into this house in Vermont, and the entire reason for that place’s existence is Olivia. He built the place for her. The house was completely intended to be the house where he and Olivia raised a family together. So he walks into this cavernous house and hears the voices of children that were never born, and that’s painful for him. And it sets him adrift.
Would you say Olivia is the main reason he returns to Washington?
100%. He realizes how profoundly Olivia is in trouble, that galvanizes Fitz. He realizes somehow he’s going to get back in there and try and pull her out of the black hole before she disappears into it. And at the same time, he realizes he can do a lot more on the ground in Washington than he can in Vermont.
What was going through his head when he finally returned, only to find Olivia getting off the elevator with Curtis (Jay Hernandez)?
It’s painful, but under the circumstances I think he’s not shocked. I think he’s trying to put it in the context of where Olivia’s at. I think it’s super painful for him to see her making out with anyone – that’s really tough. But he has a higher purpose. It would be devastating for him if he came back after doing what they had agreed on and Olivia’s in love with some hot young guy. That would be really rough for Fitz in a conventional [way]. But he knows she’s in a dark place, and he knows Olivia has a kind of predatory inclination towards men who aren’t Fitz. I think he always felt, whether he’s right or wrong, that her relationship with Jake had an aspect of that – that it was a more transactional thing for Olivia. I think he never doubted that he was the real love of Olivia’s life. Whether he’s right or wrong, that’s what he felt. And now he’s seeded in that context.
What’s the biggest obstacle for them going forward?
Olivia, in some sense, has become her father – or is heading in that direction. And I think Fitz sees it as like an exorcism he has to perform to get in there. She’s swallowed the hook. In the finale of Season 6, Fitz almost did the same thing, and Olivia shamed him out of it. He thought he was the answer and could fix things with the white hat, which is exactly what Olivia thinks she’s doing, but she’s deeply deluded. She’s already done terrible things and is on the way to maybe do more. Fitz recognizes that demon, and he’s got to get in there. But I don’t think he knows how. He knows how formidable Olivia is and how resistant she is to his intervention in anything. That’s been an on-going problem, but in this case, it’s an act of love, and it’s going to become his mission, I think. If I know Fitz, he’ll sacrifice everything for that; he will fall on the sword to save her from herself.
Do you think – or do you want – Fitz to be the one to be able to pull Olivia back?
I do. For me, both Fitz and Olivia have gone through and are continuing to go through a real gauntlet in their own self-awareness and their own personal journeys, and I’ve always believed if Fitz and Olivia could connect on some higher plane, they could live a very productive, healthy and happy life together. But they both have to get through their darkness and demons to do that. I don’t know what Shonda [Rhimes] has in mind, but I do think it’s possible for them to do that, and whether they end up together or not, I would like to see them both do that.
“Scandal” airs on Thursdays at 9 p.m. on ABC.