The Rookie creator teases secrets still to unpack this season
Note: This post contains spoilers and plot details from the series premiere of The Rookie.
Castle alums Alexi Hawley and Nathan Fillion are back at it again, taking down bad guys on television.
The premiere of ABC’s highly-anticipated police drama The Rookie found Fillion’s John Nolan facing down a host of challenges, including a mentally ill parent, a domestic abuse case that is not what it seems, a shootout with a felon who broke his parole, and perhaps worst of all — a lot of flack from Sergeant Grey (Richard T. Jones) for his age and the assumption that his career in the LAPD is mere mid-life crisis.
We also met the other rookies, fresh out of the Police Academy with Nolan — Jackson West (Titus Makin), the son of a big-wig commander in internal affairs whose path has always been law enforcement, and Lucy Chen (Melissa O’Neill), a gung-ho child of therapists who also happens to be carrying on a secret relationship with Nolan. The rookies paired off with their training officers, Tim Bradford (Eric Winters), who revealed untold emotional depths when running into his drug addict wife on a routine shakedown (and who quickly found himself wounded in action), and Angela Lopez (Alyssa Diaz) and Talia Bishop (Afton Williamson), two ambitious officers with dreams of being detectives.
As they navigated a typical day in the LAPD, which found them staking out crime scenes everywhere from Hollywood and Highland to the iconic Circus Liquor, the rookies and their officers came to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses (West freezes up in a shootout; Nolan is too emotionally invested; Chen is…actually really good at her job). One day in the life finds them learning that though they can’t change the past, they can make a difference today. Nolan also grapples with Grey’s assumptions that he’s using the force to rediscover himself, and those words might actually hold some grains of truth.
We caught up with showrunner and creator Alexi Hawley to get the lowdown on how this premiere sets up the rest of the season, how John and Lucy’s relationship can transcend that “will they or won’t they?” line of questioning, what each of the rookies and their commanding officers has to prove, and much more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: For John and all the rookies, this season is about proving themselves. But John has the issue of his age bias and Sergeant Grey’s fear that he’ll bring a flurry of mid-life crises to the force. How much worse is it going to get for him with Grey? Will he ever be able to prove himself to this guy?
ALEXI HAWLEY: It’s a one-step-forward, two-steps-back scenario for the most part. Nolan has to prove himself every day in every episode why he belongs there. Nolan actually did say at the end of the pilot that Grey was right, that he was there for potentially the wrong reasons, and he didn’t really understand what being a cop meant. But now he does. He will be raked over the coals from time to time, but there will also be moments where he gets an “‘atta boy” or something like that.
How much is John going to be grappling with whether Grey might be right?
It’s more about what being a cop is. Episode 2 leans heavily into the idea of his civilian life versus his cop life, and who he was before and who he is now. Because he is in his 40s as opposed to in his 20s like the majority of rookies, his life experience is much more ingrained, and therefore, it’s harder for him to adjust and change. It’s the old-dogs-new-tricks idea, but there’s several moments in the second episode that are about who you were as a civilian and who you need to be as a cop. And: are you going to be able to make that transition given that you’re potentially less malleable than normal rookies?
We know John and Lucy are together, but their relationship has to be kept a secret. But Talia’s already found out. How hard is it going to be keeping this a secret from others on the force, and how much will that weigh on them?
It’ll definitely weigh on both of them. The stakes are very real and the unfairness of the stakes are also very real. The impact on Lucy would be much different than it would be on Nolan. We don’t shy away from having that conversation. They have to tread carefully, especially now that Talia does know. Does Lucy tell Nolan about it? When does she do that — if she’s going to? How does he react if she tells him? All those things are fertile ground for drama and add obstacles to their relationship.
Will we see what brought them together at the Academy?
We don’t really see the Academy. We talk about it throughout the season, and there’s an episode coming up that involves one of their instructors from the Academy coming back into their lives. We definitely touch on it, but we’re never going to go see it, so to speak.
Tim has now been shot, but he also has another problem –- the chance encounter with his addict wife. Will we see her again? How much will that inform his arc this season?
We definitely see her again. And it plays a fairly big piece [in] his story line. We’ll start to unpack who Isabel, his wife, really is, and what happened between them as she became a drug addict. The risks and stakes that come along with that relationship now that he’s a cop and she’s on the other side. It’s a really dynamic story, and it’s really emotional. What I loved about it in the pilot is it came out of nowhere, which is where we live as a show is the unexpected. It totally makes you rethink him in your mind. Going into that scene, you have a picture of him as this guy who is the drill sergeant from hell, and all of a sudden you get hit with this. You start to understand that maybe some of his behavior is based in some of the pain he’s experiencing on a personal level.
Talia and Angela want to become detectives. Will we see more of that journey this season?
We will. The ambition both of them have is a driving force for them. There’s always a bit of a competition. If there’s an open slot, there’s probably only one, so it’s going to be something that not necessarily comes between them, but definitely pits them against each other at times.
There’s the line in the premiere: “This job is a magnifying glass, it reveals everything, especially parts you try and hide.” How many hidden secrets do we still have to learn about all of these characters?
A lot, obviously. Ultimately we know a lot more about Nolan just coming off of the pilot and seeing him in Pennsylvania and the bank robbery that started it all, but there’s still a lot to unpack about who he was and who he is becoming. He is literally a man who has changed everything about his life… He’s having this out of body experience, and there’s a big question for him of “Who am I, even?” Not just as a cop but as a forty-something-year-old man? How do I square who I was with who I am? With everybody else, there’s a ton to unpack on what they walked into the show with and the secrets that they have.
Jackson froze up during the shootout and got a stern warning because of it. Is that going to be a recurring issue? How much of his problem is the pressure he feels to live up to his dad?
There’s a bit of that, but I also think the reality of it is getting shot at is different than going to the shooting range, and the violence and chaos of that event is what caused him to freeze up. He has never done it before. He never imagined he would in that moment. That is a huge thing for him to overcome because it just came out of nowhere. So it will definitely play a part. Especially in the first part of the season. Because if Lopez can’t trust him to have her back, then that’s a huge thing. And yet his father’s a VIP, so what can she do that won’t [reflect poorly] on her? There will be some stakes to it, but we also have some fun with it, especially in episode 2 — her putting him in harm’s way on purpose to see if she can recreate it because she needs to know whether he’s going to freeze up on her again.
Will we meet his dad this season?
We do get to meet him around episode 8 and 9.
How much more will we learn about Lucy and her parents? That relationship seems to feed her a lot.
It definitely does. So far, we’re not meeting them necessarily right away. But I do think everybody’s reasons for becoming a cop are different, and in the way that Nolan had this cathartic moment and felt like he wanted to help people and do something that mattered. Tim says about her — you joined up to piss off your parents, which is ultimately kind of true, only to discover that she’s actually really good at it and she loves it. But as someone who’s grown up with analysis as the way they operate, even with Tim, it’s a question of overthinking things as opposed to viscerally feeling them. There’s a lot of stuff to do there.
Can you tease something you’re really excited about this season?
What’s really fun in episode 4 is we switch up our rookie and training officer pairings. As Talia said in the pilot, “We’re not partners.” We embrace that on the show where there are times where we want to keep the audience and our rookies on their toes, so we definitely make them slightly uncomfortable pairings in episode 4, which are a lot of fun, but also push the drama along.
What is coming up next week?
Nolan keeps getting put into situations where his instincts that he had in his old life are not helpful to him as a police officer. That’s both comedic and emotional. There’s an abduction story in this episode, which is really dynamic and puts him in a powerful place. At the same time, Lucy is stuck with a temporary training officer while Tim is on the mend. And then as I said earlier, Lopez challenges Jackson to go through some high risk situations to see how he operates.
The Rookie airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on ABC.
The Rookie (TV series)