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Arts & Entertainment

Scandal Case Study: "It's Handled"

Shonda Rhimes

Lesson time 10:49 min

In this case study, Shonda discusses how the scene between Olivia and Rowan Pope in the season three premiere of Scandal cleverly uses dialogue to reveal who the characters are, and the importance of the scene in the show's story.

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So in looking at-- I think it's the season three premiere of Scandal. And we're probably in-- I think it's probably the third scene. You're standing in the airplane hangar. You know, Olivia is with her father. And he's basically told her that she needs to get on the plane and disappear for the rest of her life, which ultimately, by the way, becomes the entire point of the season for him, that he's going to get her on that plane. The scene is really important because it has to convey a lot of stuff. We've only just found out that this man that we've been seeing on and off for quite a bit of season two is actually her father, which has kind of never occurred to most people. So this scene has to convey an entire back story of a relationship in one scene. And it also has to give us a whole bunch of other information about him, because up until now he's just been sort of a shady figure. We've known he's kind of bad. We've known he's been sort of moving pieces on the chessboard of their political lives. But we haven't known who he really is. So then he shows up, he basically says, you're going to get on this plane, I'm furious. And then you discover basically based on what he says that he knows everything about her. He knows that she's slept with the president. He knows that she's fixed an election. He knows everything. And he basically lets her know that he is such a power player in this town that he knows exactly what they're going to do to her to destroy her. He's a better fixer than she'll ever be, basically. And the way he speaks to her, not just the way, you know, Joe Morton who's an amazing actor, acts the scene, but the language he uses to speak to her suggests that he is the one person in this world who is far more powerful than she is in terms of how he perceives her. And what I really loved about putting this scene together was it's the first scene that you watch her-- you watch Olivia Pope become like a little girl. Like, she literally, language-wise, never gets to finish a sentence, really, and then starts to become this very sort of-- I mean, there's literally not a sentence in here that she finishes herself. She becomes this kid when she's talking to her father. She starts to mumble. She sort of never really gets anywhere. And it's one of the first times I've truly had to write a lot of stage direction in that, because it was important to me that we understood that. I think I say, you know, right before our eyes, Olivia gets smaller and muted, because you want to understand the power that her father has. Olivia's inability to finish a sentence, Olivia's inability to interrupt, Olivia's inability to do anything but mumble, I mean she mumbles twice as good, basically. She can't even raise her eyes. That silence conveys her lack of power. It conveys her lack of authority, and it conveys how much she both respects and fears...

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This class was wonderful. Shonda shared a wealth of information about the writing side of television, as well as, the business side. Thank you!

Not a big fan of screenwriting myself but this definitely got me more intrigued!

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Apple C.

Joe Morton embodied Papa Pope. He is one of my favorite actors. I hope I can cast him one day.

Chava G.

Papa Pope, is phenomenal in this scene, Olivia is reduced by the vitriol of His words and their meaning, You have written them so well. By the way you should know, you always get it right.

ernest C.

describing "who-the-characters-are" Shondra, that's where i am NOW. Right here, where there's just a beginning of something going somewhere. In my mind i know where it's headed because i carry a dream; but, in my heart i know "THEY JUST DON'T UNDERSTAND & THINK THEY ARE MORE WORTHY TO KEEP THE INHERITANCE".


I know what Shonda means about having to be twice as good to get half as much. Been hearing it my entire life.


I am always amazed at the way successful writers are allowed to break the rules that would immediately send the script of a relatively new writer's script in the trash of professional readers. I was taught that a film script should not exceed 120 pages. Sorkin says, 120 pages would barely get him to Act Two. Kushner's Lincoln was over 300 pages. I was also taught that your script should not direct the actors. That speeches should be kept to a minimum... blah, blah, blah. Nice to know those rules can be broken and the result can often be a compelling, entertaining work of art.

Michael O.

Grateful you provided script for Season 3, Ep 1. Value in comparing this with the pilot, getting a rough idea of series arc from beginning to launch of Season 3. I love the actors, especially Joe Morton. But I'm set back on my heels by over the top delivery. I understand the motivation; wonder if that might be tempered with colors and levels of fury, indignation, etc. Very astute analysis beginning with "This was the scene where Blackness showed up." I was completely unaware there was a old guard/new guard division in the Black community. That was a revelation.

Steffanie B.

This is by far my favorite, vulnerable even if not seen, it is unearthed, you have to have a vulnerability to write, to feel, to let it out and to think out loud about old school... verses new modern post racial... I can't even talk about it... I love your heart, mind and soul! Thank you for this class and your amazing writing skills that just leap into our hearts.


This class is like a gift that keeps on giving! I listened to them without taking notes, then went back listened intently while taking notes and using the workbooks! No matter what you THOUGHT you knew about writing for TV, this course is a level up! Shelia Buchanan

A fellow student

I'm really glad she discussed this scene and season 3. While I loved this scene, I feel season 3 is where Scandal lost it's way. When Olivia got on that plane at the end of the series, I said, Papa Pope had a goal, worked towards it, and achieved it. He became the main character. What was Olivia's goal in that season?

Flor Martha F.

Sensational! The scene is realy great in this context. What a great explanation! Thanks.