‘Scandal’: Joe Morton Breaks Down What We Learned in the Eli-Heavy ‘Extinction’ Episode

Scandal - Kerry Washington, Joe Morton
Spoiler Alert
ABC/Eric McCandless
Kerry Washington and Joe Morton in Scandal

[Spoiler Alert: Read ahead only if you have watched Thursday’s episode of Scandal. Major plot points discussed below.]

With an episode called “Extinction” in a high-stakes series like ABC’s Scandal, it’s easy to be nervous about who may be meeting his or her own extinction. But the one big thing (or many big things) in this episode is that we got a whole lot of Eli Rowan Pope (Joe Morton), as we saw him more vulnerable than we typically do. We also saw him make some tough choices including (gasp!) being the one who ultimately pulled the trigger on President Frankie Vargas (Ricardo Chavira).

Morton talked to TV Insider about everything from seeing a past love, Sandra (guest star Tonya Pinkins), whether Papa Pope is a lonely guy and, of course, if he would ever do to daughter Olivia (Kerry Washington) what he did to Sandra. Read on and find out!

I feel that, for the viewer, any time we get more information on the past of one of our characters it’s really fulfilling. We found a past love of Eli’s!
Joe Morton:
It is pretty amazing. Those kinds of things are always wonderful clues as to who the character is and where he came from. It also makes [Eli’s work in] paleontology even stronger, in terms of an interest of his. It was terrific.

How was it just to play Eli a little lighter? We actually see him smile; he’s kind of flirty, and we don’t see him like that too often.
No, you don’t. His usual pattern is to say that anyone that you love, anyone that you have close to you, is a weakness. That’s why there’s never been that kind of thing in his life that we’ve seen before, other than Maya (Khandi Alexander). It’s great to see him like that and break down his façade.

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How would you describe his feelings for Olivia at this point? They’ve had such a combative relationship, but they’re still father and daughter.
His love for his daughter never really changes. It may alter depending on what’s going on, but it’s unconditional. All of this is happening because he wants to make sure that he keeps her alive and that she is not in danger, so he’s willing to put himself—or certainly allow himself to be—under someone else’s thumb because it threatens her.

Olivia asks Eli in the episode, “Don’t you ever get lonely?” and I’ve wondered that about your character over the years. Do you see him as lonely?
I suppose if you were to ask a monk if they’re lonely, after being sequestered for a certain amount of time, I think part of that answer is there is a difference between being lonely and being alone. I think there must be moments for Rowan when he feels beyond just being alone, that he feels lonely, and in some ways, Olivia probably feels the same way, but she handles it differently. She handles her loneliness by having a lover; he doesn’t do that, but I think she, for him, helps with the loneliness. That ability to sort of show up at the house, or for him to show up at her apartment, is how he shakes off some of that loneliness.

There was an episode in the same season when she was kidnapped, and then when she’s finally rescued and comes back, she actually comes by Eli’s house and they have a conversation out on that front porch, and they talk about reentry [into the world]. I think that’s what they do for one another. There’s this way for them to help one another and not just fight or compete with one another.

Joe Morton and Kerry Washington

Kerry has a great line, where Olivia says something like, “Don’t you believe in me?” We always want our parents’ approval, and she is no different, right?
That’s right, and I think that’s the beauty of their relationship. He’s raised her to be independent and be strong and even independent of him, but at the same time, he values her. He loves her and he adores what she has become. I suppose the cliché would be, she is the son he never had, if you will.

When he’s about to shoot Vargas and he initially can’t do it, is that basically because of Sandra?
In part it is, but what happens is he ends up killing two innocent people, which is more difficult than the other. Killing Sandra is not as difficult as killing Frankie, and I think because Sandra is in trouble, no matter what. If she remained alive, she would always be the target for this group of people that now seem to be “in command,” if you will. Whereas with Frankie, I think the fact that Frankie falls down, and actually they are eye to eye. You see the real hesitancy because Rowan feels Frankie is the real deal. He should be President of the United States, but he has to take him out. That’s one hesitation. Then, when they’re eye to eye, the other is to look innocence in the face and then destroy it. I think is a very difficult thing to do.

Eli had a weak spot with Sandra, and he gets rid of Sandra. Would he ever do the same thing to Olivia, because she is basically his only weak spot moving forward?
Olivia is his perpetual weak spot, and he would never do that to her.

Watching this episode, I feel like we really sympathize with him since we understand him better. Do you think the audience should sympathize with him?
I can’t tell the audience what to feel but what I believe happens is you see the chink [in the armor]. You see the vulnerability and you see him in a way we’ve never seen him before. He loses something by killing Sandra. I mean, not just her but some great part of his soul is destroyed by destroying her. I don’t think it’s specifically with him necessarily, but what I think deepens the empathy of his situation. Even in this situation, he is trying to do the right thing, but ends up having to do some really despicable things, and obviously to kill her and kill Frankie…if he were a cold-blooded killer and didn’t care about any of it, neither would the audience, but because he does, they do.

Scandal, Thursdays, 9/8c, ABC.