Nothing reels audiences in and leaves them salivating for more like a good plot twist.
Shondaland shows thrive on plot twists, as Shonda Rhimes knows exactly how to shock fans and keep them hooked.
This has played a major role in the longtime success and staying power of Shondaland shows like Scandal, How To Get Away With Murder, and Grey's Anatomy.
The best twists not only surprise audiences, but also challenge their thinking and push forward character and plot development. It's no easy feat, yet Shondaland shows have managed to do just that time and time again.
Even more importantly, these television series have pulled off many impressive twists beyond the unexpected demises of prominent or popular characters, often going to a much more intricate and intriguing level.
Still, with so many twists at work, inevitably some will backfire and negatively affect the shows in the long run. While these missteps don't ruin the shows, they can hurt overall momentum, development, and audience engagement.
Since this list will discuss many twists in-depth, fans who are not caught up on their Shondaland shows should be wary of major spoilers ahead.
With that said, here are the
15 Plot Twists That Hurt Shondaland (And 15 That Saved It).
30 Hurt: The Truth About Wes' Demise (How To Get Away With Murder)
How To Get Away With Murder surprised fans in season 3 when it was revealed that Wes Gibbins was the deceased individual under the sheet.
Wes was arguably the heart of the show, the moral compass of the Keating 5, and the most important character besides Annalise herself.
This twist ultimately hurt the series due to how the show handled the aftermath.
It was disclosed that a completely new character called Dominic terminated Wes.
At first it seemed like this was done at the behest of Laurel's father in relation to his business schemes, but later it's suggested that Laurel's mother was actually the real mastermind.
The truth is never made explicitly clear and eventually the arc became frustrating and unsatisfying for fans, which overall lessened the recent quality of the show.
29 Saved: Stephen Finch's Return (Scandal)
There's nothing more frustrating than when a beloved character disappears with barely any in-universe explanation. That's what happened with Stephen Finch, the charming series regular from season 1 of Scandal who was no longer part of the show as of season 2.
This error was later rectified with his stunning return. After a series of harrowing episodes in which Olivia Pope fought to survive against her kidnappers, they sold her on the black market to the highest bidder.
That mysterious bidder arrived in the form of Stephen Finch, who was intent on saving his old friend and colleague from her dire situation.
His longtime absence from the show made his return completely unexpected and gave his character the satisfying closure that was previously lacking.
28 Hurt: George's Passing (Grey's Anatomy)
Grey's Anatomy is no stranger to characters perishing. Sometimes this worked well and it can occasionally be powerful, creating an entirely new arc. The passing of George was not one of those instances, however.
George was a beloved character and brought a lot of heart to the show. Much of that heart was never recovered due to the loss of George.
Beyond the immediate plot twist, the long-term effects of George's loss and what it meant for Grey's Anatomy needed to be taken into more consideration.
Behind-the-scenes dynamics convinced T.R. Knight that George had "expired" as a character.
While this certainly was a driving factor in the decision to write George's passing, it doesn't make up for how it was poorly handled and the negative effect it had on the overall show.
27 Saved: Disposing Of Sam's Body (How To Get Away With Murder)
It was revealed in the How To Get Away With Murder pilot episode that Sam Keating was deceased in the flash-forward.
The real twist came later on when Wes-- the moral compass of the show-- was the one to end him. This became even more intriguing as Annalise guided Wes on how to dispose of her husband's body and cover up what happened.
This forever changed what audiences thought they knew about Wes, Annalise, and their relationship.
It also changed the nature of Wes' relationship among the Keating 5. No longer could they see him as an innocent, naive kid out of his depth as he took charge to salvage the situation and accept responsibility for his actions.
26 Hurt: Sally Langston's Sign From God (Scandal)
Despite her long road to getting into office, Sally nearly thew it all away after impulsively slaying her husband Daniel Douglas.
Her religious fanaticism convinced her that she needed to confess her sin to the world. This would've spelled doom not just for Sally, but for many of the principal political players in Washington, D.C.
On the brink of confessing during a political debate, Fitz cut her off in a way that hurt his performance in the debate, but prevented Sally from spilling the beans.
Sally took it as a sign from God that she didn't need to confess and should stay the course to the Oval Office.
Even for Sally, this was just too ridiculous, as was the idea that Fitz would throw a debate and bolster Sally's chances in the race.
25 Saved: Sam's Affair With Lila (How To Get Away With Murder)
How To Get Away With Murder's first season took a fascinating approach of revealing early on that Sam would perish while keeping the identity of who was behind Lila's demise a secret until the finale.
This raised a number of questions about Sam's relationship with Lila and the role he played in her loss of life.
That question became juicier than ever when Annalise confronted her husband with incriminating evidence on his phone of an affair with Lila.
The deadpan manner in which Annalise began the confrontation was a brilliantly acted, savage moment on behalf of Viola Davis. It was the perfect cliffhanger and made fans reconsider what they knew about Sam and how the affair would contribute to his eventual end.
24 Hurt: Michael Alluring Cyrus (Scandal)
The demise of James Novak-- Cyrus Beene's partner and better half--remains one of Scandal's most heartbreaking developments. That made it all the more uplifting when Cyrus seemed to find love again in the form of Michael.
Realizing that Michael was an adult worker alluring Cyrus as a scheme of Elizabeth North's just felt wrong.
Cyrus was already ruthless in politics and what should've been a positive, healing experience outside of work instead made him more conniving than ever.
Back-pedalling to make Michael fall in love with Cyrus despite the manipulations didn't help, nor did the forced political marriage that the two underwent.
Their relationship could never work because of such a beginning and especially after the story of Cyrus and James, this one just felt downright depressing.
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23 Saved: Burke Leaving Cristina At The Altar (Grey's Anatomy)
Being left at the altar seemed like a purely devastating development for Sandra Oh's character Cristina Yang.
Beyond the shocking devastation, the twist became more than that as it allowed Cristina to develop in new and empowering ways.
Isaiah Washington's character Preston Burke held Cristina back to an extent. Without him, Cristina grew into a more compelling individual and arguably the best all-time character on Grey's Anatomy.
Highly inappropriate language during a disagreement on set led to Isaiah Washington leaving the show and his character Burke, a change that seems like it should've hurt the narrative.
Instead, the writers actually turned it into a positive thing through how it served Cristina's development and her overall role on Grey's Anatomy.
22 Hurt: The Hapstall Twist (How To Get Away With Murder)
Instead of each episode featuring a case-of-the-week, season 2 of How To Get Away With Murder mostly revolved around the Hapstall case.
It had a promising beginning and remained intriguing for a while. At a certain point, it began to drag on and it was eclipsed by the backstory of Wes' mother, Annalise, Frank, the Mahoneys, and how their shared history influenced present events.
The show tried to save the Hapstall case by introducing the secret Hapstall child Philip Jessup, a creepy character seemingly very guilty of the crimes for which Catherine and Caleb were being accused.
Learning that Philip was actually innocent and Caleb-- who Michaela became romantically involved with-- was the guilty one didn't help the storyline at all.
The Hapstall case became too convoluted and had long lost its captivating presence by the time the big twist came in the season 2 finale.
21 Saved: Command Being Olivia's Father (Scandal)
The world of Scandal was forever altered by the emergence of the covert government agency B-613, which was run by a shadowy figure only referred to as "Command."
Unveiling "Command" as Olivia's father at the end of season 2 was one of the show's best twists.
It made fans reconsider everything they knew about Olivia. While she was solving political crises and getting politicians elected, her father was secretly running the world.
The relationship that ensued between the two characters became one of the most complicated and emotional ones on the whole show, and their shared scenes feature some of the best acting in all of Shondaland thanks to the unparalleled chemistry between Kerry Washington and Joe Morton.
20 Hurt: Denny As A Ghost (Grey's Anatomy)
It's always tempting to bring back popular characters in a television show, especially in a show like Grey's Anatomy where so many beloved characters frequently perish.
The show took this too far, though, by bringing back Denny as a ghost not just once, but twice.
Ghosts can work well on shows like American Horror Story, but the concept inevitably didn't work well for Grey's Anatomy.
To make matters worse, Katherine Heigl's character Izzie became romantically and intimately involved with Denny's ghost. To say that was highly uncomfortable to watch would be the understatement of the century.
19 Saved: Frank's Role In The Demise Of Annalise's Baby (How To Get Away With Murder)
How To Get Away With Murder fans knew that while Frank could be quite resourceful and reliable, he was also shady and kept many secrets.
It was another thing entirely to learn that Frank played a major role in Annalise losing her baby. She'd trusted Frank for all those years, all the while not knowing how integral he'd been in her life's greatest tragedy.
It was a game-changing twist for Annalise, Frank, and their relationship.
The reveal also gave fans the long-awaited answer of why Frank terminated Lila for Sam in season 1. Sam knew about Frank's role in the loss of the baby, keeping it a secret with the promise that Frank would owe him a favor one day.
Sam cashed in on that favor by telling Frank to end Lila, forcing Frank to fulfill the debt he owed Sam.
18 Hurt: Andrew And Mellie Had An Affair (Scandal)
Fitz really didn't know how to pick a running mate.
After his first second in command Sally Langston resigned and ran against him, he picked Andrew Nichols, a man who had an affair with Fitz's wife Mellie and hated Fitz's guts.
Even by Scandal logic, it's hard to accept that Fitz was blind to all of this and remained insistent that Andrew be his running mate, not to mention warnings from Olivia that Andrew was a dangerous and unwise choice.
What makes the twist worse is that Mellie engaged in an affair with such a greedy, disgusting individual like Andrew. He was beneath her, and Mellie was too smart for that.
In the long run, it cheapened Andrew as a character and the dynamics between him, Mellie, and Fitz never really worked.
17 Saved: Cyrus Was Behind Amanda Tanner's Demise (Scandal)
In season 1 of Scandal, it became immediately clear that Cyrus was a seasoned and formidable figure in the political arena, one that Fitzgerald Grant was lucky to have by his side.
It seemed that Cyrus would go far to protect the legacies of himself and Fitz, but there was also a line he wouldn't cross.
Discovering that Cyrus was the one behind the demise of Amanda Tanner-- the woman America believed to be Fitz's full-on mistress-- proved that no boundaries would stop Cyrus.
He would do whatever deemed necessary to protect himself and Fitz, even lying straight in Fitz's face when asked if he was responsible for what happened to Amanda Tanner.
Moving forward, this made Cyrus one of the most dangerous characters on the show.
He could be resourceful like no other while also taking any means necessary to achieve his ends, all of which kept other characters and the audience constantly on their toes when it came to Cyrus.
16 Hurt: Simon Made The Annalise Posters (How To Get Away With Murder)
Season 3 of How To Get Away With Murder opened with many mysteries, including the one about who was behind the posters being spread throughout campus accusing Annalise.
It turned out to be law student named Simon Drake, who was a rival of the Keating 5 introduced in season 3.
Nothing much came from the reveal, though. Simon didn't face any consequences for his actions, as Annalise and the Keating 5 basically let it go to focus on other, more pressing matters.
Beyond resenting the Keating 5 and Annalise, the motives behind Simon's actions also went mostly unexplored.
What began as an intriguing mystery fell flat with little consequence or significant influence on the overall story.
The underwhelming nature of this twist ultimately hampered Simon's whole character, making it even more difficult for him to ever take on a particularly intriguing or developed role.
15 Saved: Fitz Won His First Term By Cheating (Scandal)
Tony Goldwyn portrayed Fitzgerald Grant as an honorable, noble, charismatic. This made it all the more devastating to learn that he won his first term in a rigged election.
To make matters worse, it was rigged by the people he trusted most, Cyrus Beene, his wife Mellie, and Olivia herself.
While the public couldn't see it, learning the truth altered Fitz's entire attitude and how he handled the presidency.
It drove a wedge between him and the people he cared about and thought he could trust the most. He would move on to an extent, but the truth would always haunt him and Olivia.
It changed the nature of their relationship and how they engaged in politics, making it truly a game-changing twist.
14 Hurt: Cristina's Exit (Grey's Anatomy)
It's always difficult to watch a longtime character and brilliant actor leave after being such a delightful staple of the show.
This is what happened with the exit of Sandra Oh's character Cristina Yang from Grey's Anatomy.
The aftermath of her exit was particularly challenging, as many of the show's key developments felt lacking in emotional weight and resonance without Cristina's distinctive presence.
This was especially true with Meredith Grey, as the hardships she faced moving forward were too cruel and practically unbearable without her best friend Cristina by her side.
13 Saved: Jake Was Protecting Olivia (Scandal)
It became clear very quickly that Jake Ballard was more than he appeared. His interest in Olivia was far from personal and their meeting was not happenstance. Watching her on numerous television screens in his apartment was downright creepy.
What came as a surprise was that Jake was actually following orders to protect Olivia and save her life.
The orders came from his old Navy buddy and Fitzgerald Grant, but he was also secretly following agenda of the head of B-613, Olivia's father himself.
This twist saved the show, as it cemented Jake as a resourceful, albeit complicated and unpredictable character.
Such a beginning ensured his relationships with Olivia, Fitz, and Olivia's father would never be straightforward, and that made Jake a highly entertaining character to watch.
12 Hurt: Annalise Triggering Isaac (How To Get Away With Murder)
In order to practice law again, Annalise needed to undergo court-mandated therapy. She was assigned to the therapist Isaac Roa, played by Jimmy Smits. Viola Davis and Smits getting to share the screen together was an exciting prospect.
Unfortunately, this potential was undercut by lackluster writing, much of which featured scenes of Annalise and Isaac yelling at one another at the top of their lungs.
They tried to spice it up with the twist that Annalise-- even though she was the patient-- was a trigger for Isaac. She triggered the substance addiction that he'd overcome and the guilt concerning his daughter taking her own life.
This only made the Annalise-Isaac dynamic more toxic and difficult to watch rather than saving it, which was a shame considering the immense talent of both Davis and Smits.
11 Saved: Olivia's Mother Was Alive And An International Terrorist (Scandal)
Shonda Rhimes seemed to feel strongly that Olivia Pope would not have an easy time when it came to her parents.
First, she found out that her father was the head of the covert government agency B-613. Later, she'd discover her mother Maya Pope hadn't passed away in a plane crash, but had actually been imprisoned by her husband for many years since she was an international terrorist.
Maya made Olivia vulnerable in a way that no other character could.
Making Olivia think that she was innocent and had been wrongfully imprisoned all those years, Maya managed to manipulate Olivia. She arguably challenged Olivia's core more than anyone else in all of Scandal.
In her own twisted way, Maya really loved her daughter and performed many of her ruthless deeds out of that love.
The plot twist that served as the foundation of Maya's character ensured that regardless of the storyline, her character always gelled well with the show.
10 Hurt: Huck Torturing Quinn (Scandal)
Huck and Quinn began as one of Scandal's best relationships. The two quirky, incredibly talented and resourceful outsiders were drawn together and helped one another out in countless ways, both personally and when it came to cases for Olivia Pope and Associates.
That's what made it so disappointing when Huck kidnapped and tortured Quinn in season 3. In his mind, Huck was helping Quinn and doing what needed to be done.
Licking your friend's face and pulling out their teeth while holding them hostage can never qualify as helping, though. It was disturbing and felt oddly possessive.
Huck and Quinn would repair their relationship, but it was never as strong as it used to be because of what Huck had done.
9 Saved: Meredith's Secret Family (Grey's Anatomy)
The twist that Meredith Grey had a secret family saved Grey's Anatomy because it opened up so many possibilities for the show.
It added more depth to Meredith and her whole story, putting her in a different light than fans were used to while also incorporating more fascinating characters.
These characters entered the story with a strong foundation given their link to Meredith, allowing them to seamlessly become part of the larger narrative.
A show like Grey's Anatomy needs significant scope, and the secret family helped provide that like never before.
8 Hurt: Simon Accidentally Shot Himself (How To Get Away With Murder)
Seasons 1-3 of How To Get Away With Murder thrived on building up to an eventful night of bloodshed and deceit. Fans would get glimpses of flash-forwards of this night until the timeline caught up, and then the rest of the season would deal with the fallout.
Even though season 4 took the same approach, it became the weakest season of the show as the events of the fateful night were quite underwhelming.
Instead of someone significant perishing in dramatic fashion, Simon Drake accidentally shot himself while tripping over an office chair at the Caplan and Gold law firm.
It was downright ridiculous and also caused the whole season to suffer because the show never did a terribly good job of developing Simon and getting fans invested in him.
7 Saved: Meg Manipulating Huck (Scandal)
As if Huck wasn't already paranoid enough, his girlfriend in season 2 got close to him as part of a plot to take down the leader of the country.
So when Huck met Meg in season 6-- a sweet, anxious, meek woman-- both fans and the characters around him were naturally wary of her given Huck's dating history.
Eventually, Huck became convinced that Meg was in fact manipulating him, and he nearly went to a very dark place in retaliation.
She responded in innocent terror, and everyone felt badly for thinking her to be someone she clearly wasn't.
Everyone finally trusted her-- and that's when she was revealed to be an assassin manipulating Huck the whole time. This was a brilliant twist because it really messed with audience expectations and emotions based on Huck's past and personality.
6 Hurt: Season 6 Villains Working For Luna Vargas (Scandal)
Season 6 seemed to break new ground for Scandal by introducing the most fearsome villains yet. This mysterious handful of individuals seemed to have endless influence and control.
They even managed to get Rowan Pope-- Command himself-- under their thumb. All of this whet fans' appetite about who these formidable individuals were and who they worked for.
Sadly, the answer wasn't very satisfying. They worked for Luna Vargas in her convoluted scheme to become Mellie Grant's running mate.
The problem was that Luna wasn't even introduced until after her husband-- Democratic nominee Frankie Vargas-- was slain. Even after her introduction, the show didn't dedicate anywhere near enough time to developing her character and making the eventual truth about Luna feel like satisfying payoff.
She was too inexperienced to pull off what she and the mysterious individuals working for her accomplished, even if Cyrus was the one to give her the idea in the first place.
5 Saved: Bonnie Was Pregnant (How To Get Away With Murder)
Bonnie and Annalise have always shared an intimate, yet turbulent relationship. New layers were added to their relationship by revealing that, like Annalise, Bonnie had once been pregnant and lost her child.
This provided further insight into the Annalise-Bonnie dynamic, as they needed each other on a deeper level than either of them ever realized.
In addition, Bonnie is consistently portrayed with a fierce, no-nonsense attitude not just in the courtroom, but also on a personal level with other characters.
This twist unveiled a more vulnerable and thus more human to her, allowing fans to look beyond her usual facade.
That Bonnie doesn't know the full story of what happened to her child also adds more intrigue to the season 4 cliffhanger of Gabriel Maddox.
4 Hurt: Michaela And Marcus (Scandal/How To Get Away With Murder)
Shondaland finally answered fans' hopes and dreams with a double-header crossover of Scandal and How To Get Away With Murder. Watching Olivia Pope, Annalise Keating, and their brilliant teams working together to fight for justice was a blessing.
Not everything worked in the crossover, though.
The episodes put Michaela Pratt and Marcus Walker close together, as they were forced to work together, eventually sleeping together.
If the relationship had continued past the crossover, the twist could've been a good thing. Both relentlessly dedicated to their fields, both Michaela and Marcus shared a lot of the same passion and beliefs.
Instead, both went back to their respective shows and the spark of a promising relationship was snuffed out.
Its main effect after the crossover was irritating drama between Michaela and Asher, only serving to prove the Michaela-Asher relationship didn't feel natural, especially when contrasted with the chemistry between her and Marcus.
3 Saved: Annalise's Past With Wes' Mother (How To Get Away With Murder)
Annalise's relationship with Wes took on a whole new meaning when audiences found out that she had a history with his mother Rose Edmond.
His mother was an important figure in a past case of Annalise's. Later learning that her client assaulted Rose and needed her cooperation, Annalise shifted her focus to to helping Rose.
The complicated and tragic situation led to Rose taking her own life and the loss of Annalise's baby.
These circumstances provided a stronger context for Annalise's relationship with Wes.
Her motherly nature towards Wes and that special concern and interest in him was rooted in what happened to him in childhood as he lost his mother, something for which Annalise blamed herself.
Annalise lost her own child during that time, making Wes the child that she always wanted and him the person in need of a mother.
2 Hurt: Derek's Passing (Grey's Anatomy)
Striking down a leading character can be an effective move, but it can also backfire horribly.
Grey's Anatomy dealt with the backfiring avenue with the passing of Derek "McDreamy" Shepherd. The charm and heroism that Patrick Dempsey brought to the role drew many fans in and kept them hooked and constantly returning for more.
That was lost with Derek's demise, feeling like an alienating move towards the fans. It also felt like an unnecessary slap in the face to Meredith Grey, who had already endured so much unbearable loss and suffering.
The show undoubtedly lost some serious star power as well with the departure of Patrick Dempsey from the cast.
1 Saved: Cyrus Eliminating David (Scandal)
Cyrus was always a dangerous character, but Scandal took him to new heights in seasons 6 and 7.
His merciless scheme to get into office pushed him to his darkest place yet, to the point where audiences questioned if he had become irredeemable.
The series finale answered this question once and for all as Cyrus terminated Attorney General David Rosen.
Unlike his past dark deeds, Cyrus did the dirty work himself this time instead of sending a lackey to do it. David was a constant source of hope, idealism, and integrity on a show riddled with backstabbers.
Ending David's life not only made Cyrus irredeemable, but it also added a powerful emotional weight to the series finale.
Are there any other plot twists that you think hurt or saved
Shondaland? Let us know in the comments!
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