By Maureen Lee Lenker
May 11, 2020 at 02:00 AM EDT
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Eric McCandless/ABC; Inset: Image Group LA via Getty Images

The Rookie (TV series)

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Warning: This article contains spoilers for Sunday's The Rookie season 2 finale, "The Hunt."

It's been an eventful second half of his rookie year for John Nolan, but we truly don't know how he's going to get out of this one.

In the latter installment of The Rookie's two-part season finale, Nolan (Nathan Fillion) found himself in his greatest danger yet. After realizing that his mentor and friend Detective Nick Armstrong (Harold Perrineau) was likely an informant for the Armenian mob, he set out to prove it. But Armstrong stayed one step ahead of Nolan, planting the damning evidence against himself in Nolan's house to frame him.

With the cops bearing down and Armstrong seemingly pulling the strings, Nolan appeared to be in very hot water as the second season of the ABC crime drama came to a close. While The Rookie hasn't been renewed for a third season yet, series creator Alexi Hawley is already looking ahead to how to conclude this cliffhanger. So we caught up with him to break down the implications of this betrayal and what might lie ahead for Nolan and the gang.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The coronavirus pandemic has shaken up season finales for many shows. Was this your intended stopping point, or did this end up becoming the finale because of production being shut down?

ALEXI HAWLEY: We got super-lucky, because our last day of shooting [California Gov. Gavin] Newsom shut down the state. So this is exactly what our end goal was. But we only do 20 [episodes]. I guess the people who did 22 got cut short, but we just got in under the wire.

When you introduced Detective Armstrong this season, he immediately became a fan favorite. Did you know since the word go that he would be a dirty cop, or did that decision come later?

We knew from go. I knew that this was always the end goal, that there were mysteries and secrets under the surface that we would explore, and that he was a complicated character. That being said, I worked with Harold back on The Unusuals way back when, and he's a brilliant actor and a great guy. So I was super-excited to get him for the role. And during the course of the season, I'll be honest, I went a little back and forth. He's so great on the show, do we change course? But we have to do what's the most dramatic and the most impactful storytelling-wise, and so this ultimately was. It's meant to be provocative and it's meant to be upsetting. It's upsetting to no one more than Nolan because they're friends. Armstrong's a mentor, and that sort of betrayal is powerful.

Can we expect Harold to return next season, at least at the start?

Yes. That has always been the plan. It's really a three-parter. Two-part season finale, but the third part is 301. He would come back to tell the other side of that story, the cliffhanger and everything.

Where do we go from here? John has the reputation of being a boy scout, but Armstrong has been on the force much longer. Who will the force believe, and how might it impact Nolan's relationships with Harper, Grey, Lucy, and West?

It's going to put everything to the test. As we were considering what our cliffhanger would be, I feel like the best version of it is you paint yourself into a corner where the audience is like," How the hell is he going to get out of that?" That's obviously what we're going to figure out when we come back. Not that I don't have ideas, but it's going to be a challenge, and the obstacle is enormous. Armstrong has a lot of credibility and respect inside the department, and Nolan's just a rookie. So it's going to be a big hill to climb for Nolan. But I think that's where the excitement is. That's where the fun of that story will be on the other side of the season.

John trusted Nick as a mentor, which has been incredibly important to his development on the force. Going forward, might this make him more wary, or how is it going to affect how he bonds with potential mentors?

I do think that it will have an impact, that sort of betrayal, the reality of that. There's a lot of discussions about Nolan and not wanting him to be naive. I do think that he's a realist. He's been through a lot. I just think that at the end of the day, he's a man who's chosen to see the world with the positive. That will be challenged here. In the same way that on a personal level, I've worked really hard in Hollywood not to become cynical about the business, which is easier some days than others. But once you cross over to that cynical, bitter side, you can't come back, and I see Nolan the same way. This will shake him to his core, that somebody that he truly cared about betrayed him and what he thought they both believed in. But can he still come out of it feeling like people deserve the benefit of the doubt and all that kind of stuff? That's going to be his struggle in season 3. Just how do I retain my values and my worldview when they've been shaken to the core?

It seems like Tim and Rachel are going to give long-distance a shot. What lies ahead for them? It’s been so nice to see Tim romantically happy most of this season.

It really has. What he went through with Isabel in season 1 was a life-changing experience and was really difficult for him. We definitely rolled into the season wanting to see a different side of him, without losing who the character is. We've established since the pilot he's character who has a lot of rules, but to see him go and stop her on the way the airport to basically undo what he'd spent the episode saying, which is, "There is no future in a long-distance relationship; I'm just going to rip off the band-aid, it's better this way." For him to actually undo that shows some personal growth on his part, and also the softer side of him. But obviously it's tricky, long-distance relationships.

How about John and Grace [Ali Larter]? It seems like there’s a lot of unfinished business there, and one has to assume him going through this ordeal is going to somehow shift her feelings?

When we landed on this as a path, I thought it was really organic. It felt real. It's something that Nolan experienced himself going into the pilot and this idea of staying together for the kid. That sort of commitment to your family even being more important than your personal happiness. It's going to be a struggle, but Nolan does love her. But at the same time, if she does come back to him, does he forgive this? There's a lot to unpack there, and we'll just have to figure out what the proper path is for the two of them. But Ali is great, and they have great chemistry. I like that their relationship is complicated, and I'm sure it will remain that way.

The rest of them — Lucy and Emmett, Jackson and Sterling, Angela and Wesley — can we expect to see those relationships continue and grow next season?

Absolutely. On a practical level, you're always challenged in terms of actor availability. The actor who played Emmett [Jeff Pierre] booked a series. Jasmine Matthews, who plays Rachel, was just in a big movie with Chris Pratt. Ali's always busy. You have to write with that in mind a little bit. I do think that Emmett is really good for Lucy. It's nice to see her happy as well, especially after what she went through, to have somebody who's supportive and empathetic and on the lookout for her emotionally is great. I love Wesley and Lopez; it's one of my favorite relationships. The dynamic between them is really great. We'll turn up the heat a little bit on the wedding. Without knowing what production is going to look like for season 3, hopefully we'll be able to do a wedding.

Nyla got a big win getting shared custody of her daughter at the end of the season. Can we expect that to change her job or add new pressures?

It does. The whole season has been about her finding herself, the warriors and guardians of it all. She needed Nolan to help her get back to who she used to be. He helped her find her way back because she'd gone to a super-dark place. But that being said, the reality of being a single mom half the week, the responsibility of that is going to be something new to her and something that she's going to have to deal with. Part of the reason that she took patrol work is because the hours were regular. So there'll be an adjustment period, but it's the happiest she's been in forever. Getting her daughter back is a profound moment for her.

We’re basically at the end of their rookie year, so how does that change the structure and flow of the show? It's called The Rookie after all, but many shows have diverged from their initial title.

There's always change and always movement. For me, The Rookie has always meant Nolan as a bit of fish out of water. Not just a rookie in the LAPD, but his fellow rookies are all in their 20s and he's in his 40s. Going forward, the show is really designed to keep that in mind. He's still going to be the oldest first-year patrol officer. He's always going to be the oldest first-year training officer. If we're lucky enough to have enough seasons, he'll be the rookie detective. There's a way to keep it alive without it being just a rookie patrol officer. That's at the heart of the show. It's about Nolan always being other a little bit. Obviously, the show will grow and evolve as it goes forward. It's hard; it's a show about relationships, and these characters. We all fall in love with them, and we want them to succeed, and we want to keep them together. We'll do that as much as we can, while still needing to have drama and have stakes and danger and tragedy.

I would assume the coronavirus crisis is really changing police work and crime in the city. Do you intend to write the pandemic in next season?

I don't know. I'm still a little on the fence. This morning I reached out to a post supervisor to change the date on on Armstrong's phone. When he looks at it, it said May 1 on there. I'm changing it to February because it's a cliffhanger of an ending. We're coming back basically real time, and I'm not sure when that's going to be on the air. To keep the timeline clear, I am resetting it before all of this. That will allow us going forward to be before it a little bit. There is definitely a part of me that feels like audiences are going to be so underwater on this horrible experience that they're going to want to escape. I'm just not convinced that we want to be just another show that's trapped in a COVID-19 universe. It's just so hard to tell. When are we going to start shooting? I'm not sure. When are we going to air? I'm not sure. Where's the country's going to be? To try and actually navigate matching the show toward reality, it's impossible. There's so many moving pieces. That's why I had a moment this morning where I'm like, let me actually reset the timeline so that we're early and that way we don't have to jump right into it. We can decide, as we start up, where to go, which seemed like the smarter thing to do.

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The Rookie (TV series)

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