Even the best television police officers sometimes give themselves a little bit too much credit. They take responsibility for everything good, and bad, that happens around them. In this week's episode of ABC's The Rookie, "Tough Love," the rookies learned how little control they actually have. All they can do is make the best decisions they can, and live with the results. John Nolan (Nathan Fillion) and Lucy Chen (Melissa O'Neil) face challenges both in their personal and their professional lives, learning to work with what they have. Jackson West (Titus Makin Jr.), still deep in his quarter-life crisis, finds his confidence in an unlikely place. "Tough Love" is the first show this season to earn the "dramedy" label, showing the ups, downs, twists, and turns of police work. The Rookie has finally hit its sophomore stride.
Light sprinkling of spoilers below.
At work, all three rookies are required to develop their first confidential informants. Each rookie is looking for the perfect informant, the one person who can reliably pass along actionable information. Extra credit will be given for informants with the potential to supply long term and high value tips. However, as a surprisingly empathetic Detective Harper (Mekia Cox) points out, every informant is different. Therefore each of the rookies has to tailor their approach to fit the informant they want. In the end, none of the rookies find exactly what they were looking for.
For West, the stakes are very high. If he fails this assignment, he will fail the rookie program. Instead of playing it safe, he and Lopez (Alyssa Diaz) attempt to poach an FBI informant. However, they are a bit cocky in the beginning. Assuming their target is like any other police informant, they do him a favor and expect him to help them out. When the FBI warns them off, and Grey (Richard T. Jones) yells at them, rather than back off, West doubles down. West seems to finally have gotten his head on straight, largely thanks to free therapy sessions with Chen's mom (Lauren Tom).
As expected, Chen attacks the assignment with her typical brute force methods. However, rather than felons, she finds a troubled teen battling it out with her evil stepmother. Chen's case was nuanced, relateable, and realistic. Unfortunately, in the end, it felt like the entire case is merely a drive towards a punchline. While the stepmother's downfall is entertaining, the otherwise lackluster conclusion to the plotline is disappointing.
Nolan never does anything the easy way, and he chooses a heroin addicted drug mule as his first informant. Yes, he gets a big bust, but then his information overdoses. With the help of Detective Armstrong (Harold Perrineau), Nolan finally finds a decent informant. Except, the first bust turns into a standoff with eight heavily armed drug cartel enforcers. He may have gotten to help some women, but he is probably going to need a new informant. And some clean pants.
Throughout the episode, Nolan struggles with his son Henry's engagement to a woman named Abigail (Madeleine Coghlan). Each person he asks for advice gives him a different answer. And Armstrong even runs a background check on Abigail, without asking Nolan first. Eventually, Nolan goes to Grace Sawyer (Ali Larter), who is apparently the only other parent he knows. After convincing Nolan to throw away the background investigation results and just talk to his future daughter-in-law, Grace backtracks. Abigail has a past, everyone does. But Henry knew about it, Nolan now knows about it, and he promises to go to the couple for answers in the future.
So what, if anything, did we learn this week? It turns out that even Harper gets scared sometimes. Chen's mom likes West more than her own daughter. Nolan needs electrolytes when he freaks out. West knew about Chen and Nolan all along. And, no one should ever, ever joke about being pregnant to their in-laws.
More importantly, the rookies learned that they aren't all-knowing. And neither are their superiors and training officers. Cases go bad, things get weird, and sometimes "solving a case" doesn't mean getting an arrest. They each completed their assignments, but I don't think even Sergeant Grey knew quite how far this particular duty would take them.
While the onscreen work may not have gone according to plan, the episode was well executed. Each individual plot line was developed to highlight the different character arcs and the interplay between characters. In the end, the episode got somewhere. Not just the conclusion of the episode, but further development of the series itself. I am encouraged by the improvement in The Rookie's episode quality over the past two episodes and look forward to seeing where the rest of the season goes.
The next all-new episode of The Rookie, "Fallout," airs Sunday November 3 at 10PM on ABC.