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.