What The Rookie's Season Premiere Shocker Means For Nathan Fillion's Nolan, According To The Creator

Big spoilers below for those who haven't yet watched The Rookie's Season 3 premiere. You've been warned!

The Rookie was finally able to launch its Season 3 premiere on ABC nearly eight months after capping off its second season with an impromptu finale that was forced due to COVID-related hiatuses. While the episode was likely worth the wait for viewers craving answers about Nathan Fillion's Nolan after that big cliffhanger, the storyline took a hard left turn that could totally derail his career in law enforcement thanks to an untimely, though largely deserved, letter of reprimand for his unlawful actions investigating Harold Perrineau's Nick Armstrong.

Nolan and his in-the-know colleagues technically accomplished what they set out to do, which was basically to bring justice to a dirty detective by any means necessary, with Nolan's wire-wearing scheme ending in Armstrong's death. But creator Alexi Hawley made a point to not just sweep those legality-eschewing tactics under the rug while giving Nathan Fillion's patrol cop a big pat on the back. Part of how The Rookie is rejiggering its narrative for Season 3 involves putting more attention on the consequences of unlawful policing, which may not bode so well for Nolan's dreams of rising up in the ranks. Here's how Hawley explained where things are going to EW:

This season we needed to live in a world where actions have consequences. I firmly believe that the only way that policing changes is if cops start to police themselves. If cops start to change themselves, that is as vital as it is that people take to the streets and bang on doors and do all the things they have to do. Until the police actually decide that they want to become better, the change isn't really going to happen. It felt valuable for us to tell that story and to have Sergeant Grey ultimately say that this 'ends justify the means' mentality is a cancer and there has to be repercussions for it. We have to put our money where our mouth is. It does tie our hands in some way. We basically said that we can't have cops going rogue anymore, because that's not okay. And that's sort of a foundation of TV cop shows. We definitely have set up an obstacle for Nolan which is very real. But it also opens up other paths for Nolan to take which might ultimately be better for him emotionally and as a person.

While I doubt many viewers would consider John Nolan to be bad at his job, or even a bad influence on other much younger patrol cops, there's absolutely a sliding scale where his actions are concerned, since The Rookie's creative team is technically capable of explaining away these characters' less virtuous actions as duties performed for the greater good. But Alexi Hawley wants to break up that long-standing "cop show" mold in order to make the show stand alongside social justice movements aiming to eliminate unwarranted police brutality and to keep the offending cops accountable for their violence. Plus, this move helps Nathan Fillion's character maintain the rookie status of the title for a while longer.

Rather than having Nolan react to his punishment in drastically negative ways that would potentially put him in more trouble with his superiors, Alexi Hawley touched upon the idea that Nolan could find a way to hone his optimism and more, even if he's likely going to be stuck in a promotion-free future.

Nolan is a glass-half-full person. He doesn't have a 20-year career staring him in the face. He's 46 years old. That's always been the point of his desire and desperation to get ahead quickly. He doesn't have a long career ahead of him, so what's he going to do now when doors have been shut? That's where growth comes.

It sounds like Alexi Hawley and the writers are setting Nolan up to sit tight within the LAPD's ranks, even if it means potentially working beneath an impenetrable glass ceiling in his current position. The way he puts it, this whole run of events is largely to put Nolan through the self-evolution wringer, so that he might come out a more positive and principled person. Below, he explains how the rookie probationary period is being extended for Nathan Fillion's Nolan, and how the character will feel about such major changes.

His is extended, yes. So, the last 30 days of Jackson and Lucy's rookie year play out in the first 9 episodes. It would have been Nolan's last 30 days, except for what happened at the end of episode 1. Now he has an additional 30 days beyond that to remain a rookie. We have a whole thing where rookies sit in the front row of roll call, and there will come a point where he's the only one left and Jackson and Lucy are now sitting behind him. That's going to be hard, but what's important to us on the show is that Nolan not be bitter about this, that Nolan ultimately understand that the punishment he got was for a reason. He needs to make his peace with it, but that's not always easy to do.

So while The Rookie fans might not see Nathan Fillion smiling a whole lot as his character goes through the motions related to his punishment, it sounds like there also won't be any vengeful displays where Nolan tells Richard T. Jones' Wade Grey that he'll rue the day he ever slapped that reprimand down. It wouldn't do the creative team any good to set up a proper set of consequences for the titular character only to then have him rail against the rules while still coming out on top as the protagonist. It'll definitely be interesting to see what Nolan's career path is at the midway point of Season 3, at which time Legends of Tomorrow vet Brandon Routh should have arrived to shake up the status quo even further.

The Rookie airs Sunday nights on ABC at 10:00 p.m. ET. While waiting for new episodes, be sure and check out our Winter and Spring 2021 TV premiere schedule to get a look at all the big shows that will be debuting in the near future.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native and an Assistant Managing Editor with a focus on TV and features. His humble origin story with CinemaBlend began all the way back in the pre-streaming era, circa 2009, as a freelancing DVD reviewer and TV recapper.  Nick leapfrogged over to the small screen to cover more and more television news and interviews, eventually taking over the section for the current era and covering topics like Yellowstone, The Walking Dead and horror. Born in Louisiana and currently living in Texas — Who Dat Nation over America’s Team all day, all night — Nick spent several years in the hospitality industry, and also worked as a 911 operator. If you ever happened to hear his music or read his comics/short stories, you have his sympathy.