Welcome to the first of what I hope will be weekly episode discussion posts about The Rookie here at Nerdy Girl Notes! I’ve wanted to write about this show in this way for a long time, and this week’s episode convinced me that it was finally time for me to fully dive into the fabulous things the writers, actors, and all involved are doing this season. If you’re new to NGN, we love starting fun conversations about our favorite characters, moments, ships, theories, and more in the comments (as long as it’s done in a respectful way, of course!), so please don’t hesitate to join in!
Episode M.V.P.: Eric Winter
This episode put Tim Bradford through the emotional wringer. He had to relive the most traumatic parts of his marriage, make impossible ethical choices that will only add to the mountain of guilt he already carries on his shoulders, and watch the only rookie he’s ever come to care for—a woman he sees as honest, optimistic, and genuinely good—be drawn to a life that he associates with lies, addiction, and pain. His eyes were the ones that showed us the other side of undercover work—not the adrenaline, success, and camaraderie found in Lucy’s storyline, but the lost souls and broken families that seem to be just as much a part of the job as big arrests and interesting aliases. And those eyes told one hell of a heartbreaking story.
It’s all because the man playing him has one of the best pairs of eyes in the business. And I don’t mean because they’re dreamy (I mean—they are, but that’s beside the point). It’s because Eric Winter knows exactly how to show just enough truth—just enough pain and guilt and love—in those eyes to let the audience in without letting go of the fact that Tim guards his emotions carefully; he controls his feelings with the same iron fist he once used to control all his rookies (before Lucy, of course).
Winter’s performance in this episode was a masterclass of nuanced character building. Every facet of who Tim is was brought to light with the same level of attention and care, and what impressed me the most was the way Winter was able to believably convey the storm of emotions in this character with the most subtle shifts in his expressions and tone of voice. Those subtle shifts were evidenced right away—as he transitioned from the easy confidence that seemed to radiate from his pores when Mack first jumped out of the car to the tension that settled over his entire body when he confronted Mack moments later about him being high. They continued when he softened immediately after Mack came to following his overdose—the gentle, protective side of Tim Bradford rising to the surface in the tone of voice he used when assuring Mack that he and Beth were there. In that moment, you could see the ghosts of Isabel in every word he spoke and move he made—so much so that when he locked eyes with Lucy, nothing needed to be said to show that she got it too. And those subtle shifts in emotion allowed us to ride the tidal wave of repressed trauma along with him as he forced Mack to think about what he was doing to his family. Watching his eyes fill with tears as he almost certainly replayed a conversation he knew by heart like a bad sitcom rerun crushed me in a way that only a great actor—one who really understands the character he’s playing—can do.
This was an episode that could have seen Tim put his walls back up and shut down into a defensive posture—and in some ways, it did give us that. Winter’s entire body language after Tim learned Lucy was going undercover was closed off, rigid, and angry. But right under the surface was that humanity—that deep and frustrating ability to care—that he can’t shut down entirely. So when Nolan calls him out for being worried about Lucy, there’s the familiar bark, but it’s accompanied by a concerned expression that gives the game away. And when he “arrests” Lucy, there’s none of the frustration that marked their earlier scene in the briefing room when he told her she was being used. Instead, everything about him softens just a fraction—noticeable to the audience but believably subtle enough to not be noticed by the criminals. The way he leans in closer to gently ask if she’s ok, the way his hand never leaves her shoulder, the fact that this typically tough cop doesn’t drag Lucy to the car like Nolan with Harper—each physical action speaks to the way he can’t turn off caring about Lucy and wanting to keep her safe, which is going to be a big problem (in the best way for us as audience members) if this episode is setting up a future undercover career for her.
And then there’s the moment the dam finally breaks in the restrained but meaningful way Winter does best. When Tim looks back at Lucy and tells her, “You did good,” that same transition from hard to soft—fleeting but all the more impactful for its brevity—tells us all we need to know about the man Tim Bradford is. He knows Lucy needs to hear that from him. He knows that she values his opinion; she told him so herself. And he knows that she deserves his support and not to be the recipient of all his anger about undercover work. It’s not easy, and Winter lets us see that struggle. But he fights through his own pain to be there for Lucy because that’s what he does—that’s who he is.
Tim Bradford is a man who doesn’t want to care but cares deeply (as is shown even more painfully in that final scene with Beth), and it takes a strong actor who’s great at subtlety to make that kind of character work. Luckily, Winter is exactly that kind of actor. What he’s done with this character through 3 seasons has been nothing short of captivating, and I hope the drama and soul-searching set up in this episode continue, because I can’t wait to see more.
Favorite Scene: “I think fitting in is a trap.”
The last scene of this episode—with Lucy, Harper, fellow undercover cop June, and Tamara (the homeless girl who stole Lucy’s car and then became Lucy’s mentee—or “puppy” if you’re Tim) talking about what it means to be a woman in traditionally male profession—is the reason I knew I had to start writing about The Rookie every week. For three seasons now, this show has been quietly giving its viewers some of the most complex, diverse, and well-written women on television, and this episode took a spotlight and shined it brightly on so many of those women and their relationships to each other (with the exception of Angela, who I missed dearly in that scene—although I’m sure Alyssa Diaz’s pregnancy meant filming less this season for very good reasons).
The beginning of this scene, as Harper and June revealed how it can often feel like female undercover cops are put in situations just to be objectified, continued the show’s trend of talking about difficult topics this season—but it did so with humor and ease. However, when Tamara asked if these women ever feel like they have to lose part of themselves to fit in, the tone shifted from one of playfully calling out problems to sincerely celebrating women’s strengths.
“I think fitting in is a trap,” Lucy tells her, and the open sincerity in that line reading is Lucy Chen (and Melissa O’Neil) at her best. That’s who Lucy is—she’s unfailingly, unrelentingly herself. She has never tried to make herself tougher or harder or colder to fit into this world; she’s always led with her strengths—empathy, openness with her feelings, and a genuine understanding of people and a drive to learn more about them. She might exist in a world where it’s wrongly believed “that empathy is somehow a liability,” but she never lets that stop her from being empathetic, from wearing her heart on her sleeve, and from believing in people and in her ability to help them.
And instead of that making her worse at her job, this episode made it clear that she excels because she’s never tried to fit in—not despite that.
Female cops don’t have it easy; this episode reminded us of that fact. But they also have unique strengths and skills that can make them just as good—and in some cases, better—than their male counterparts. Lucy highlights those beautifully when she heaps praise on Harper and June and the ways they used their intelligence and agility to carve out their own space in this male-dominated field. And they also have the kind of support system that makes this scene so beautiful—a community of other women who can teach them, cheer them on, and help them find themselves in a career where it can be easy to lose your sense of self.
Female support systems—especially in professional settings—are invaluable. And watching the evolution of Harper and Lucy’s relationship in this regard has been incredibly rewarding. They’re very different women, but Lucy admires Harper and Harper respects Lucy. The way this episode solidified that admiration and respect was both believable and beautiful. Tim and Lucy may be incredibly close, but there are things she can never ask him and he can never teach her—but they’re things she can learn from Harper. And Harper genuinely enjoys teaching Nolan, but there are some bits of her wisdom that would be lost on him, and she gets to share those with Lucy.
This scene was about women supporting each other—as friends and as mentors. It was about the things we can learn from each other and the things women innately bring to whatever careers they choose that can make them shine. And it was about women of color succeeding and inspiring the next generation by bravely and boldly being themselves.
It was a scene worth raising a glass to.
• I always say that Lucy is the character on this show that I’m most like, so it would make sense, then, that Harper is the character I most want to be. Everything about this character (and the way Mekia Cox plays her) is exceptional—to the point where I might say she’s one my favorite characters on TV right now. And this episode only heightened my love for her. Everything from her speech at the convention to her wink at Lucy to the way she admits that her body has magical powers came together in this episode to make her even more charming, inspiring, and interesting.
• My favorite little Harper detail in this episode came after Tim chewed her out for including Lucy in the undercover operation. When Lucy admits that she wanted Tim to be proud of her (and says she feels stupid saying that—most likely because she’s in a room with powerful, independent women), Harper immediately jumps in to tell Lucy that it’s ok to want Tim to be proud of her. That lesson—that it doesn’t make you less of a woman to value the opinion of a man you care about (and who cares about you)—is a really important one to articulate.
• With that being said, I also love that Harper was quick to tell Lucy that she shouldn’t let Tim’s issues with undercover work destroy her confidence. There’s a fine line between caring about someone and crushing yourself under their burdens, and I’m glad Lucy has Harper to remind her of that. If Lucy’s gut is telling her to learn more about undercover work and that she could be good at it, she owes it to herself to try—even though it may bring up painful memories for Tim (who is just her T.O. and friend right now). I think this episode was the start of a longer arc in terms of her involvement with undercover work, so I look forward to diving deeper into this very angst-driven dichotomy between Lucy’s interest in undercover work and Tim’s issues with it. These two characters have always been the rare example of a possible romantic pairing that talks through things like adults, and I don’t see why this should or would be any different.
• I think Lucy is actually set up as the perfect character to remind Tim (and the audience) that not every undercover cop loses themselves. She’s the character on this show with the strongest sense of self and understanding of her own emotions, and I think that could serve her well in this kind of work. However, this episode did bring up how easy it can be to lose sight of your responsibilities and relationships in the rush of undercover operations (with Lucy forgetting about Tamara). In one episode, it did a very effective job of presenting multiple sides of this topic.
• Lucy speaking Tagalog was a great way to show that she can use her unique strengths (her ability to speak multiple languages being one of them, besides her instincts, intelligence, ability to understand people, and adaptability) to excel at being an undercover cop.
• Lucy’s confidence when it comes to her professional skills will never stop being one of the best things about her.
• I was genuinely moved by the emotion on Melissa O’Neil’s face when Tim told Lucy she did good. That little flicker of feelings said so much—about how hard Lucy knew that was for Tim to say, about how much she needed to hear it, and about how happy she is to know things might still be ok between them.
• I loved Jackson’s story in this episode. Titus Makin Jr. continues to shine, and the warmth and kindness he brought to Jackson’s interactions with Silas were lovely to watch. I may have teared up while whispering, “He’s just such a good person!”
• I am very excited about Isaac and the potential for a new romance for Jackson. I never really cared all that much about Sterling, so it’s nice to feel a little more invested this time around. (Plus, they have killer chemistry!)
• Nolan wasn’t in a life-or-death situation this week, and that worked really well. In fact, I liked the relatively low but no less important stakes of his ethical dilemma about revealing himself to his classmates. It felt grounded in reality, which always allows Nathan Fillion to be at his best.