Chapter 23 of 30 from Shonda Rhimes

Scandal Case Study: "It's Handled"

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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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Shonda Rhimes

Shonda Rhimes Teaches Writing for Television