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The Covert Career Wisdom of "Scandal"

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past five years, you know that Scandal is the super twisty political fixer drama created by Shonda Rhimes. Shonda is the showrunner, writer, producer and multi-hyphenate every-woman who has built her own multi-media empire, Shondaland, which you may know for some of her other TGIT hits — Grey’s Anatomy and How to Get Away With Murder. Most recently Shonda made waves across the TV industry for ending her nearly 15-year relationship with ABC Studios to sign a multi-year production deal with Netflix for new original content.

Now as Scandal begins its seventh and final season on Thursday, let's take a look back at some of the career lessons we learned from watching all the over-the-top plot twists in the first six seasons of the show. Years from now in light of our current political climate we’ll be writing think-pieces about whether shows like Scandal normalized the idea of political figures doing extreme things for the sake of victory. I suspect that will all come once the series concludes, but first here’s a primer for those of you who haven’t been following along this whole time.

Scandal stars the fabulous Kerry Washington as a flawed fixer, Olivia Pope, who in early seasons was probably best known for swooping in and ‘handling’ all of the crisis’ in the DC Beltway with her crisis management firm Olivia Pope and Associates (OPA). She was also probably the most visible side-chick in the history of side-chicks for the fictional Republican POTUS, Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn) — because his wife Mellie (Bellamy Young) and his Chief of Staff, Cyrus Beene (Jeff Perry) were aware of and looked the other way so often.

Olivia also had a team of “Gladiators” who helped her to save images and careers for some of Washington DC’s most elite in Abby (Darby Stanchfield), Quinn (Katie Lowes) and Huck (Guillermo Diaz). There are many other characters who weigh heavily in Olivia’s universe — like her meddling mostly villainous Dad — Papa Pope (Joe Morton) and her sometimes creepy, stalker, murdering lover/fake brother Jake Ballard (Scott Foley).

Seeing Olivia and her team swoop in to fix all sorts of over the top political scandals while her own life was getting utterly destroyed was a form of escapism because it seemed so far removed from reality. Now, we realize perhaps the imaginations of Shonda Rhimes and her writers weren't nearly as far afield as we thought.

In fact, there are so many career lessons to be gleaned from Scandal during the first six seasons and so much that mirrors the struggles and the decisions we make in our real lives. Consider the following lessons learned.

The Scandal Situation: Olivia hands Quinn the keys to OPA after Quinn steps up for a client she believes in. Quinn saw a situation that seemed unwinnable, that was messy and it required her to go above her Olivia’s head to approach the POTUS for a pardon. Quinn does this fully expecting to lose her job or to be reprimanded. Instead, her risks paid off and Olivia made her the head honcho for OPA because she proved she was willing to go the extra mile for the best interests of her client.

The Takeaway: Shoot your shot and stand up for yourself when you truly believe in something. Taking this sort of risk may not always pay off, but you’ll know that you’ve done your best work.

The Scandal Situation: Fitz managed to choose not one, but two VP’s that were intent on backstabbing him and grabbing power. Sally Langston (Kate Burton) was his first Veep, probably most well known for killing her husband and yelling "Yum yum crispy piggy” in a pious tirade once tried to power-grab her way to the Presidency after Fitz was shot in an assassination attempt. Fortunately for Fitz, his Chief of Staff at the time, Cyrus Beene was there to defend against her attempts to take power.

The Takeaway: You need alliances to survive in the workplace, but be careful of striking them up when you don’t necessarily share the same values because they could speed up your career demise.

The Scandal Situation: At the outset of the series, Abby Whelan was one of the OG members of Olivia’s band of Gladiators in suits. She was lusting over her colleague, Stephen (Henry Ian Cusick) and hoping to raise her profile enough to get a better office one day. Abby proved herself to be a pretty formidable Gladiator and does such a good job at OPA that she’s eventually recruited to become the Director of Communications for the White House before becoming Chief of Staff to Fitz during his last term as POTUS. Fitz tells her she’s the most powerful woman in Washington DC in an earlier episode. That’s why it was a shocker when she decided to pitch Quinn on hiring her as chief of staff for OPA in the final moments of the season six finale.

The Takeaway: Sometimes you have to follow your heart and make decisions that don’t always make sense on paper even if it means taking a step back for a bit of time to get yourself back on track.

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(Images via ABC)

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