ABC Police Drama ‘The Rookie:’ Cops Have ‘Have a Hell of a Lot to Make Up For’

For weeks, ABC’s The Rookie hit viewers over the head with the evils of racist white cops, personified through Officer Doug Stanton (Brandon Routh). While Officer Stanton may be gone, the show is just getting started on the racial white guilt.

Inspired to be a training officer so that no more rookies will have to deal with the likes of Officer Stanton again, Officer John Nolan (Nathan Fillion) must go back to get his college degree, which he starts doing in February 21’s episode “Revelations.” Enter the latest way to incorporate race, with Nolan taking a class on “Ethics and Criminal Justice,” taught by Fiona Ryan (Toks Olagundoye). 

Despite being the main character, viewers see Nolan perhaps the least they have the entire series thus far. Where he has been featured this season, it’s to highlight his white guilt, starting with the season’s premiere.

Barely a minute into the show, before the title cards even come up, Nolan reveals he’s conflicted on whether he should share with his classmates that he’s a police officer. The sparsely attended class with vocal students of color couldn’t be more of an annoying caricature if it tried to be:

Fiona: Good evening. I’m Professor Ryan, and this is Ethics and Criminal Justice. Now, tell me, what do those words make you think?

Victor: That…the two don’t go together.

Fiona: Why?

Victor: Because the criminal justice system is inherently biased, designed to punish poor people and people of color.

Fiona: Okay, so if that’s a problem, what is a solution? 

Female Student: Defund the police, for starters. 

Fiona: Anyone disagree? 

Nolan: Uh, well, I don’t think it’s quite that simple — just defunding the police. 

Female Student: Defunding doesn’t mean get rid of cops. It means stop prioritizing them over people they’re supposed to serve. 

Nolan: Yeah, no, I appreciate that, and I agree. I think a lot more money needs to be invested in communities, but it will take time for those investments to affect any real change. If we drastically cut policing before that happens, it would leave people unprotected.

Victor: It can’t be worse than it is now. 

Nolan: Sure, it can. Don’t you agree? 

Fiona: Oh, I’m not here to agree or to pick sides. Ethics are often at odds with the law. What’s right and what is legal are very often all too different. And that tension is what we are here to explore. And it is going to get uncomfortable, so y’all better strap in. 

Following the title card, Nolan is venting to his training officer, Detective Nyla Harper (Mekia Cox), while working at an undercover officer convention. He wonders, “Did I make a mistake” about not revealing he’s a cop, and muses, “I just hate the feeling like I’m hiding something.” While Harper had told him, “I can’t answer that for you. As a cop, you have to judge social situations on a case-by-case basis,” Nolan continues to be annoying about it.

Whenever viewers see Nolan in this episode, it’s usually in the classroom, or he’s lamenting his inner turmoil about the class. Except in Nolan’s mind, it’s he himself who has done wrong, who needs to do better, who needs to change. 

Viewers don’t have long to wonder if his classmates will learn the truth about Nolan’s profession. Victor (Denny McAuliffe) happens to be driving by Nolan and Harper in their police uniforms, when he snaps a photo of Nolan and delights in the idea of showing the class that they have “a narc” among them. 

Nolan walks into his next class with the other students sitting together to berate him:

Female Student: Narc. 

Nolan: Hey. There’s no call for that. At least let me explain first?

Fiona: Explain what? 

Victor: That he’s a cop. 

Fiona: Yeah, I know. 

Female Student: What do you mean, you know? 

Fiona: Well, I saw it on his application when he signed up for my class. 

Female Student: And you didn’t tell us? 

Fiona: Oh, it wasn’t my decision to make. 

Victor: How can you say that? Cops have been spying on people like us for 200 years.

Female Student: He could be taking this class to get close to us, to get into LULAC or Black Lives Matter. 

Nolan: Oh, I’m not undercover. I’m — I’m actually just a rookie. 

Victor: Dude, stop lying. 

Nolan: I’m not. Um… Two years ago, I was working construction back east. I moved out here to join the police and make a difference. I’m actually taking this class to finally get my degree. 

Fiona: It’s true. I read his transcript. Plus, do you really think the LAPD’s gonna send a 40-something-year-old white guy to infiltrate BLM? Come on, now. 

Victor: Probably not. He still should have told us he’s a cop. Hmm. Who here thinks that John is ethically obligated to identify himself? 

Female Student:I do. 

Fiona: Why? 

Female Student: This is supposed to be a safe space. What if one of us admitted to a crime in the middle of a discussion? 

Fiona: Well, then, you’d be stupid. There are no truly safe spaces — I mean, certainly not in a college classroom. 

Nolan: But believe it or not, I, uh, was wrestling with whether or not to tell you last night, and… Honestly, I still don’t know what the right decision is. 

Fiona: Okay, well, let’s explore that further. I want everyone in here to write a five-page essay. Tell me why or why not you think that John had an ethical obligation to tell us he’s a cop. 

One of the episode’s last scenes features Nolan speaking to Fiona on a day when they don’t have class, the takeaway viewers are supposed to get is that what his fellow classmates have is “hope and a ton of anger.” Nobody will stand up for this character, and he certainly won’t stand up for himself, as he instead looks for a way to atone for his white privilege:

Fiona: You know we don’t have class tonight, right? 

Nolan: Right. I-I just — I needed some help. 

Fiona: I’m not gonna write your paper for you. 

Nolan: No. No. I-I was hoping maybe you could tell me what to write. I’ve spent the last two days talking to cops about whether I should’ve identified myself, and the answers have ranged from “Probably not” to “No way.” But…I am struggling with how betrayed my classmates felt. So, I just…need a little outside perspective. 

Fiona: You should’ve said something. I’m sure there are a dozen reasons why cops think that your job is a need-to-know thing, but come on. It’s 2021. You guys have a hell of a lot to make up for. So, you want to win back trust? You gotta assume a higher level of responsibility. You gotta go the extra mile every single time. 

Nolan: You think I have a chance to mend some fences here?

Fiona: Yeah. I do. Everyone in this classroom wants to change the system, and they’re driven by hope and a ton of anger. But hope is what keeps them moving forward. So if they see that you’re serious about being part of the change, they’ll let you back in. 

Nolan: Thank you. 

Fiona: Mm-hmm. 

Nolan: That’s so — I — I should’ve written that down. What was the part in the beginning, when you said that. You know what, I got it. Thank you very much. This is good stuff.

Why did Nolan even have such an ethical obligation? Is it because students taking this class couldn’t bear the thought of having someone they may disagree with, who they at the very least stereotyped, be in their presence? Keep in mind, they only know and take issue with him being a police officer, not anything else about who he is as a person. It’s dreadworthy to think about what Nolan may have to do here to get back in their good graces, if he can. 

That the scenes are almost comical makes the whole episode, and the show it’s become, worse. Black Lives Matter and their allies take these ideas very seriously. That’s what you get, though, when Color of Change, a partner of Black Lives Matter, has taken over the creative process of the show this season, quite likely altering the show forever going forward. 

Conservatives Fight Back: Advertisers for this episode included Humira, Southwest, Consumer Celluar, KFC, Mars Incorporated, Geico, Liberty Mutual, and Toyota. McDonalds and Subway were repeat offenders throughout this episode.

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