The following contains major spoilers from the Season 2 finale of ABC’s The Rookie.
Rookie LAPD officer John Nolan (played by Nathan Fillion) found himself on the wrong end of a manhunt as Season 2 of the light procedural came to a close.
After unsuccessfully trying to prove that mentor Detective Nick Armstrong (Harold Perrineau) was doing the bidding of crime boss Serj Darien, Nolan turned to serial killer Rosalind Dyer (Annie Wersching) for intel. She revealed that her longtime adversary had a secret compartment inside his laundry room at home, inside of which Nolan might find damning evidence. Alas, Nolan’s rummaging got interrupted by Armstrong coming home. Worse, his prey saw him leave the premises. When Armstrong called Nolan back over to hash things out mano a mano, gunfire was exchanged, though John appeared to emerge with the upper hand. That is when Armstrong revealed that he had taken measures to frame Nolan as being the other dirty cop that the late Erin Cole was in cahoots with — and that his recent break-in and now this shootout will only corroborate that scenario.
Nolan rushed home, frantically looking for the evidence and ill-gotten cash that Armstrong had planted on him. But just as he uncovered the compartment built into the wall behind his headboard, sirens and lights arrived outside his doorstep, ready to make an arrest.
What happens next, should ABC renew the series for Season 3? Below, showrunner Alexi Hawley teases that as well as ponders how The Rookie might need to proceed differently in a post-pandemic world.
TVLINE | You got me good with that finale. I did not see that coming. Officer Nolan’s in quite a pickle, again.
Yes, he is. We’ll have to figure some stuff out in Season 3, but that last episode was super intense.
TVLINE | I like how you opened the finale by showing us Armstrong’s point of view from the previous episode.
I was very excited in the room that day when we came up with that structure because rather than having him talk about it, or having him explain later on how he became a bad guy, which he does a bit, you really see his struggle with what he’s become, and then ultimately his failure. Nolan’s right, he’s weak. That’s what happens.
TVLINE | When you brought on the Armstrong character for Season 2, was this always the plan or is it something you decided mid-season?
It was always a plan and then we ran into the “problem” of Harold’s so great on the show. Everybody loves Armstrong, so what do we do? Do we stay true to our initial vision? I definitely went back and forth a bit, but at the end of the day, you just have to do the most dramatic storytelling.
TVLINE | Did Harold Perrineau know from Day 1 that he’d ultimately be revealed as a dirty cop?
We knew but he did not know. I mean, we laid a lot of bread crumbs, obviously — we laid them with Rosalind several times, came back to it in Episode 14, and it looked like we put it to bed with him admitting that he broke into her house as the other secret. But it was all built that way so that we could get to these last two episodes.
TVLINE | When we saw Armstrong dealing with Serj Darien outside his Escalade, he seemed very conflicted, very “I’m out.” But then during his final confrontation with Nolan, where he revealed he had framed him, he seems a little less contrite. Or is just that his hand was forced?
I think it goes back to this weakness of character. At the end of the day, he will do what he has to do to survive, and so that moral voice that exists inside of him is somehow made worse by the fact that he can’t bring himself to actually listen to it. He was genuine in wanting to get out, and he definitely felt incredibly conflicted about killing Erin, but at the same time he killed Erin. And at the end of the day, when push came to shove and he was told there is no “out,” he backed off. I didn’t want to the audience necessarily to feel sympathy for him, but I wanted them to feel like his friendship with Nolan is real.
TVLINE | In your mind, when did Armstrong start formulating this frame job? Was it after he shot Erin?
I think it was when he’s riding out to the “wild goose chase” and Nolan starts talking about “another dirty cop.” Harper was very right about the fact that Armstrong has basically been operating undercover for years within his department, and his radar is really fine-tuned. So at the end of this wild goose chase he definitely felt like, “Oh f–k. They’re on to me, how do I get around it?” He got lucky because if Harper had shown up with Nolan at the house, it would’ve been a much more difficult play, but I still think he would’ve tried to kill them both and act like they were both dirty. And he might still need to do that, in Season 3. But the mano a mano of it all made it in some ways simpler for him.
TVLINE | In the event of renewal, are you coming back continuous with the cops barging in on Nolan at home?
We’ll come right back. I think we have to do that, yeah.
TVLINE | Now as Matt Mitovich, Investigator, if I saw how Nolan had bashed up his own walls, I’d wonder: Why would he do that if he knew where his secret stash was?
It will look bad for him, and that’s the obstacle we have to overcome: How is he going to get out of this? But he did spend time with Harper trying to get Armstrong, so there are going to be conflicting conversations. I do think that that is a valid point of, “Why would I do that?” At the same time, if you have a criminal organization saying that you’re working with them, it’s going to be hard to overcome that. He’s definitely going to need to go above and beyond in our return episode to overcome the deck that’s stacked against him.
TVLINE | And all through this, he’s trying to salvage his love life. I felt like in the episode prior, when Grace called him, there was a window there where if Nolan said the right thing he could’ve held onto her. Because when he didn’t, she looked deflated.
Sadly he was in the middle of a major crisis where a cop was killed and there was all this crazy stuff going on. I do think that he was genuinely struggling with what to say, because he had a similar experience but his son was much older and her Oliver is much younger. I think he’s worried because it can obviously look like self-interest, right? “Don’t get back with that guy. It’s not going to work out. Stay with me.” That’s where sort of Nolan’s good guy-ness might have gotten in the way of his fighting for what he cared for. If he’d been a little less concerned about the way she would see it, and more about “I have to put myself out there no matter what it’s interpreted as,” yeah, he might’ve had a window of getting her back.
TVLINE | But then you’ve got that great moment in the finale where, of all people, it’s Rosalind Dyer who gives him the nudge he needs to just say it.
That’s such a phenomenally awful scene of him having to [have that conversation with Grace] in front of her, and Nathan played it so well. Ninety percent of that scene was about him facing Rosalind and not going to give her the satisfaction, but then he turns away to tell Grace he loves her, and you just see that moment is so heartbreaking for him because he is fighting for her. And then to have Grace hang up on him, and just have to stand there with Rosalind…. That was a good scene.
TVLINE | Out of the main characters, is there anybody who, to any small degree, is actually going to be suspicious of Nolan? Sgt. Grey could be dutifully cautious, I suppose.
Grey is going to be the one who, obviously, understands the repercussions of this, but I don’t think anybody will believe it on its face. That said, obviously nobody would believe it’s Armstrong either. The question is: How are they supposed to navigate? I’ll make it as complicated as I can!
TVLINE | Do you want to say if we’ve seen the last of Armstrong? He didn’t seem mortally wounded.
We definitely have to resolve where we left it, and Armstrong has to play a part in that. Nolan left him handcuffed and shot in the shoulder, so yeah, he survived. In [Episode] 301, we get into the “he said/he said” debate, presenting two versions of what Armstrong went through in the finale, which is two men scrambling to end up on top of this to prove the other wrong. I think that’ll be very dynamic.
TVLINE | Looking ahead…. The three rookies had hit their one-year mark, with just the final 30-day push left. Does the show need to look different in Season 3? Do you have to bring on shiny new rookies, even if they’re just in the background?
You do, because that’s the way it works, right? I mean, [Nolan, Chen and West] will no longer sit in the front row, because that’s where the rookies sit, so you’re going to need to put bodies in those seats. And you’re going to need to sort of tell those stories, to a certain extent. But we have to be conscious of how long that 30-day push is going to take in Season 3.
Honestly, it’s a little up in the air right now. I would’ve had a different answer for you before we had the quarantine and before production shut down, but right now we’re still trying to figure out how to physically make this show and keep people safe. Can I do roll call scenes with 30 or 40 people in the room on set, with the doors closed and a drop ceiling? Just from a practical point of view, we might need to slow-roll those last 30 days. Do we “real-time” a bit more the first 10 episodes or so? Those questions are being talked about.
TVLINE | Anything else you want to tease about the potential Season 3?
Obviously, the finale is going to have a major impact on everyone. Jackson’s friend was killed, and that’s a huge impact. Tim’s made a commitment to at least try and figure out what it’s going to be like with Rachel in New York, and Lucy’s at the beginning of her own relationship, but she’s probably still got some stuff she’s working out, even if it’s subconscious, about what happened to her with Caleb back only a few months prior. I don’t want to gloss over that. That being said, after Nolan figures out how to survive this, I want to still be able to have fun episodes, and do the comedy, the dumb criminals, that kind of stuff.
I think the joy for me is that the show does so many different kinds of things, and I think audiences really dig that they just don’t know from moment to moment, episode to episode what kind of stories are going to be told. I just want to make sure that we can still keep doing that.