If there are three objects that represent Scandal, they’re red wine, popcorn, and the white hat. (And maybe the torture devices that Quinn, Huck, and Charlie have used over the years.) The wine and popcorn are pretty self-explanatory — and gladiators everywhere will likely watch the series finale with Olivia Pope’s favorite snacks in tow — but the white hat is a bit trickier. In the early days of Olivia Pope & Associates, Olivia talked about the so-called white hat in a metaphorical sense. But in season 2, David gave Olivia an actual white hat — and it just made a comeback in season 7.

In Scandal’s early episodes, it was easy to think that many of the show’s characters did what they thought was best for the United States. That doesn’t mean that all of their decisions were lawful — even Olivia was in on the Defiance election-rigging — but it was always, as Olivia would say, for the good of the republic. Fast-forward to season 7, though, and Washington hasn’t been great for any of the show’s characters. Even Olivia and David have lost their moral footing in recent seasons. Does Olivia’s white hat still have any meaning at this point?

It was a sad twist that when the physical white hat resurfaced in season 7’s “The Noise,” it was when the FBI raided the OPA (now QPA) offices after arresting Charlie. FBI officials unceremoniously pulled the hat from its box before leaving it on the floor. The scene didn’t need dialogue to get its message across. And as Scandal comes to a close, it seems fitting that none of the main cast members are wearing white hats, literally or metaphorically.

Olivia, as of last week’s episode, is back to being the “old Olivia” in Abby, Huck, and even Quinn’s eyes. She’s decided to sacrifice herself and out B613 publicly, convinced that telling the truth is the way to go. It wasn’t long before that, though, that she almost poisoned Cyrus with cyanide-laced wine. And earlier this season, the QPA team, along with Marcus and Fitz, staged an intervention for Olivia in Vermont (even though Huck and Quinn have done enough on their own to disqualify them from ever holding an intervention). Olivia is making amends for her past, but it’s still just the beginning of her apology tour.

As for everyone else, well, they’ve had scandals of their own, too. David dropped a federal investigation into a sugar company to secure an endorsement for Susan Ross — which, ironically, resulted in her dropping out of the presidential election. Fitz may be doing meaningful work at his newly founded institute, but let’s not forget when he killed Verna with his bare hands, while looking her in the eyes. Charlie, Huck, and Quinn are harmless QPA associates now, but it wasn’t that long ago that they were using torture to get what they needed. And Mellie’s the one who asked Olivia to kill Cyrus in the first place. (Jake and Cyrus have always been evil, and it’s not worth listing their disqualifications for being white-hat wearers, a title neither of them has ever sought.) Arguably the show’s best moral compass is Marcus, whose biggest scandal was sleeping with his mayoral opponent’s wife and hiding while she was killed. But Marcus (unfortunately) always seems to be in the background of the Scandal storylines, rather than someone who’s driving the plot forward.

And yet, even if the “scandal” is that everyone in Washington is corrupt, the white hat still holds meaning. Rowan said it best in season 3’s “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” when he told Olivia that “everyone is worth saving.” There’s a reason that conversation was at the forefront of Olivia’s mind just before she gave her testimony about B613.

“There is, incidentally, a point. If there are no more white hats, if the deck is always stacked, and if everyone you love is a monster, there is, in fact, someone worth saving,” Rowan told his daughter. When she asked him who that was, he responded, “Everyone! Everyone is worth saving. Even the monsters, even the demons. Everyone is worth saving. In the face of darkness, you drag everyone into the light. That is the point. At least, I’d like to think that is the point of you.”

Even if everyone in politics is as corrupt as Scandal might have you think — and that seems pretty unlikely — that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t value our country, and the power of democracy. During the discussion about her B613 confession, Olivia tells Fitz and Mellie that all of them were the villains, and now she’s trying to make it right. (Fans will still have to wait until the finale to find out if her confession worked.)

And maybe that’s the real lesson Scandal’s been sharing all along. No matter how dire things get, or how much individual people make us lose faith in the system, democracy and justice are still worth fighting for. That’s a pretty great message for the show to end on, especially in 2018.

What are you hoping for in the Scandal finale? Let us know @BritandCo!

(photo via ABC/Mitch Haaseth)