Things are changing on Rookie Blue.
Last viewers saw of the ABC summer cop drama last year, rookies Andy McNally (Missy Peregrym) and Nick Collins (Peter Mooney) dropped their lives and were headed to their new assignment as undercover cops. When season four picks back up, it's half a year later and things at 15 Division are vastly different.
For co-creator/executive producer Tassie Cameron, the approach to the new episodes -- especially after a third-season run that included the heartbreaking death of a major character ("We did a lot of big stuff last season ... we had a crazy year") -- was simple.
"We wanted to give ourselves some new challenges for the series and really start in a different place, six months later," Cameron tells The Hollywood Reporter. "We wanted to keep surprising ourselves and the viewers and keep it fresh. That's why we started operating from the idea that you have to adapt and change to stay relevant."
And thus, the theme for season four was born. "We don't have a super pithy, dramatic way of saying it, but 'change or die' is the short form," Cameron says. "If you want to stay in the game, you've got to be willing to adapt. We tried to follow that through for all of our characters by giving them new challenges, new characters to interact and watch them roll with it."
In an in-depth chat with THR, Cameron discusses an impending departure for one of the core characters, the lingering effects of Jerry's (Noam Jenkins) death and how the new additions affect 15 Division -- for better and for worse.
The Hollywood Reporter: What was the reasoning behind having Rookie Blue pick up six months later?
Tassie Cameron: Partly we picked that when we were developing the undercover story last season. We picked six months because it seemed like a really long time [for Andy and Nick] to commit to so we wanted it to be a dramatic choice for Traci (Enuka Okuma) to say no and for Andy to say yes, especially knowing it would take her away from Sam (Ben Bass) for that long. Sam and Andy have been separated for a couple months at a time but never this long, and it seemed interesting and more dramatic. It helped us establish that Andy and Nick have become really close friends.
THR: Let's talk about Nick and Andy. Last we saw in the season three finale, they were about to embark on their undercover mission. Now they've been working together for half a year. How has their partnership evolved?
Cameron: I think you can say [their relationship has grown deeper]. Nick and Andy have always been pals. We've set them up from the beginning. He was her breakup buddy in season three and she helped him when he was missing work because he was hung over. We tried to establish that these two have an easy rapport with each other that's very different from Andy's other relationships with the guys in her life. Did it deepen after six months undercover? For sure, and you'll see that play out over the season.
THR: What's the environment like at the beginning of the season at 15 Division? How different are things?
Cameron: There's a new training officer [Marlo, played by Rachael Ancheril,] because Noelle's (Melanie Nicholls-King) off on maternity leave. That was a fun dynamic [to introduce], someone who wasn't there before the previous three seasons and is trying very hard to keep her private life private. Sam's not a uniform anymore, he's a detective, seeing him doing some slightly different work in plain clothes. Chris (Travis Milne) is on the verge of finding out whether he gets the transfer to be with his family. We tried to give everybody an interesting place to start the season. Life has moved on over the six months in ways that we'll try to show in the first few episodes.
THR: Who has the most difficulty adapting to the changes going on around them?
Cameron: The most obvious person is Andy. She's been out of the loop, out of her life for six months and as she says in the first episode, "The city looks different." Everything around her feels different. She's often our way into these stories and she's the one who feels things have shifted under her feet a little bit while she's been gone. She's going to have to play some serious catch-up to figure out where she fits in now.
THR: You mentioned Marlo, the new training officer, but we also know that a new rookie will be joining the force. What can you say about her and how is she different from the rest of the rookies?
Cameron: She's a wonderful, young actor Priscilla [Faia, who plays rookie officer Chloe Price]. One of our characters calls her a game-changer. Chloe's an open book, refreshingly frank. She's a really fun character who speaks in run-on sentences and does whatever pops into her mind. She's very youthful and it's kind of fun for everyone to interact with her. We reveal more and more about her over the season; what you see is not entirely necessarily what you get with her, although it seems like everything is completely upfront with her.
THR: Who does she gravitate toward?
Cameron: She has a romance. She certainly doesn't get along with Gail (Charlotte Sullivan). There's another character who always says what's on her mind in a more sardonic and darker way, and those two are oil and water. That's all I can say on that.
THR: A season four teaser hinted at Sam and Marlo's burgeoning relationship. What can you say there?
Cameron: [Laughs] I was not expecting that to be put in the promo the way it was. I've never said anything about that but you're right, it is in the promo. All I can say is that, when in doubt, we tried to be honest to these characters and even if it gets people excited that's not a bad thing. A six-month separation, people are going to have very very different opinions -- I don't mean just the viewers, I mean the characters -- on what happened between Sam and Andy, who's to blame, who's at fault, what the patterns are. That was an interesting way to start the season. Even in the writers' room, some people were like, "Sam's a jerk! It's his fault!" while others were like, "No it's all Andy!" We had very different opinions in the room.
THR: Are there lingering effects with Jerry's death?
Cameron: You don't do something like that on a show like ours without without being honest to the shockwaves that will reverberate for ages. The obvious person it's affected is Traci. She's not in full-fledged grieving mode but she's trying to figure out how to move forward. And certainly within Sam and Andy. You'll see the after-effects of that story with them.
THR: Who else should we expect to come back as the season unfolds?
Cameron: Luke (Eric Johnson) returns. He's in a few episodes, and that's always fun to see him coming in and out as a senior detective. You get the sense that whenever Luke shows up, it's really serious. Noelle's in a few episodes. Our cast is so amazing that while it's an increasingly huge cast -- which means some people drop in and out a bit more than they used to -- one of our main characters is gone for a while this season, we have to do that in order to manage our enormous cast. We never want to lose them so we end up writing stories where they come back. We've got some new recurring characters that you'll start to see midway through the season.
THR: You mentioned that one of the characters leaves for an extended period of time.
Cameron: I really hope it comes as a surprise so I really don't want to say. It's one of our main characters who is gone for a while in what I hope is a fun, surprising way.
THR: What sort of cases do the rookies go on this season? How dramatic are the crimes going to be?
Cameron: They're awesomely dramatic of course. We've got an interesting cross-section of cases this season: We've got drug cases, an anthrax case, one of our villains from last season comes back, that's a bit epic for everybody. We've got lighter-feeling cases. Greg[ory Smith]'s brother Doug Smith, who was an actor on Big Love, comes in and plays a funny character in one of the later episodes.
THR: Is there a big game-changer this season?
Cameron: We have a wedding this season. The boys all go to a cabin for an episode. I hope every episode has something kind of juicy in it.
THR: Is there an episode that's on par with last season's "Out of Time" in terms of the drama and stakes?
Cameron: It's hard to do that kind of thing every season and I don't think you'd want to, at least on our kind of show. We really put people through the ringer last year but we've tried to arc the season where there are some big reveals and we're dealing with some things that we haven't touched on before, like mental illness and an LGBT storyline. We're trying to, again, stay honest to the characters.
THR: Does the season end on a cliffhanger?
Cameron: Yes, I guess you can say that. We have a two-parter at the end and it's pretty intense.
Rookie Blue premieres at 10 p.m. Thursday on ABC.
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