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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

A coke-fueled Brooklyn Nine-Nine gets into the mind of a loose cannon

Illustration for article titled A coke-fueled iBrooklyn Nine-Nine/i gets into the mind of a loose cannon
Graphic: John P. Fleenor (NBC)
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With last week’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine cliffhanger, I posited the idea that a newly-confident Debbie stealing from the evidence locker must have had something to do with the mystery of her twin sister’s murder. Much like Jake in this week’s episode, I couldn’t believe that someone as Debbie as Debbie Fogle could have a devious bone in her body.

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So while it doesn’t all end up tying back to that particularly morbid fun fact about Debbie from “Manhunt”—as we learn more about the living members of her family—“Debbie” does confirm that Debbie isn’t a criminal mastermind. It also confirms that she isn’t a bad person, even though that doesn’t excuse the fact that baby did a bad, bad thing. (However, technically, she did do this crime for family reasons. Both in terms of her initial sick father reasoning and the larger issue of trying to impress her judgmental mother.)

Something that’s really worked for Season 7 so far is the fact that it’s not stretching out plots any longer than it has to. Not only does “Debbie” immediately follow up on “The Jimmy Jab Games II’s” cliffhanger, but it also has the Nine-Nine figure out that Debbie’s the culprit right in the cold open. (Much like the episode of Superstore that aired right before it, the characters are able to suss out the obvious, misguided criminal after a simple interaction.) Debbie wasn’t going to become a master liar overnight, so her interactions with everyone give her away even more than her phone call (that Hitchcock overhears) with a crime boss in the restroom. It’s also worth noting that there have been a lot more plot-relevant cold opens than usual this season, and while those are typically the weaker cold opens, they’ve really worked out here.

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While “Debbie” is a clear showcase for Vanessa Bayer and the Debbie character, it’s also another standout episode for Stephanie Beatriz. Rosa is a character that couldn’t be more different from Debbie, until it turns out she’s not all that different. For a character whose entire existence is shrouded in comedic badass mystery, Brooklyn Nine-Nine has managed to create a fully-realized backstory for Rosa over the years. “Debbie” reminds the audience of Rosa’s ballet school backstory, as well as her issues with her parents, and includes the new wrinkle of a juvenile detention center past as a result of acting out (as Debbie ends up doing). It fits with what’s been established for the character, and Rosa eventually relating to and standing up for Debbie works because, simply put, the Brooklyn Nine-Nine writers have done their job well. So it makes sense that Rosa can genuinely relate to the least Rosa-like character of all time.

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But none of this means Rosa’s lost her edge, as she still has a little mystery left:

Rosa (to Debbie): “You know, I was a lot like you.”
Margaret: “You were holed up with a ton of cocaine and a bunch of guns?”
Rosa: “That’s my business.”
Jake: “Whaat?”

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Rosa also makes a very good point throughout this episode: Debbie is an adult who made her decision and has to live with it. Her point is confirmed when it’s revealed that Silvio Nucci didn’t even originally threaten Debbie (just offered her money) and when Debbie decides to do a bunch of cocaine (because Jake “Mr. Springtime” Peralta made it sound cool, cool, cool, etc.). As funny as Debbie is and as out of her depth as she is as a police officer, she’s not a child. Debbie even technically fits into both categories of Nine-Nine outsider characterization: incompetent and corrupt. Only, she’s not truly incompetent—she’s just got an early “kooky aunt vibe” and lacks confidence—and she’s not wholly corrupt—she did want to help her father, but her brother Derrick and then her self-doubt took over. As one last chaotic hurrah for the character, “Debbie” manages to both show off her competence (which requires her to say “HIYAH!” like Miss Piggy) and her goodness (as she spirals once she realizes Rosa and Jake will be killed). The Debbie character basically works because she’s a remix of the typical Brooklyn Nine-Nine outsider, just like Captain Kim worked for being the antithesis of one. Both were a much-appreciated character type detour.

No one watching this episode wants to believe that Debbie is crooked, and Jake leads that defense as the evidence humorously piles up against her. While optimism is Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s bread and butter, part of why “Debbie” works is because it doesn’t find a way to let Debbie off the hook for her criminal behavior. While Rosa gets Debbie some leniency for cooperating, the show still acknowledges that she’ll be looking at 10 years in prison—as opposed to 30 to life, or “15 Olympics.” Sure, it’s not even close to the expected conclusion for the character based on her “Manhunt” introduction, but it’s an interesting arc for a character whose favorite part of police work is traffic cone duty. Getting from point A to point Z isn’t as ludicrous as it sounds, as it all ends up playing on Debbie’s lack of confidence and self-esteem in an interesting way.

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And as a fan of Vanessa Bayer, while I do think it would be nice to see more of her on the show, I wonder just how much this character could even maintain an extended stay on the show. Debbie is pretty much a very sad cartoon character, and “Debbie” is the show’s way of preventing the character from overstaying its welcome, ending things on a comedic high note. Like “Pimemento,” “Debbie” takes a character who is already at an 11 and somehow amplifies them even more, which is a risky storytelling choice as it is. But Brooklyn Nine-Nine has now been successful with this choice twice this season.

The “Debbie” A-plot is so very overwhelming even before Debbie starts doing coke that it’s kind of easy to forget about the B-plot. The latter is even in service of the former, but it’s somewhat inconsequential for the audience and what they know is happening. After all, Boyle, Holt, Amy, and Terry come to the conclusion that Debbie’s mother, Margaret (Christine Estabrook), is the key after we’ve already met the character. It’s really only necessary to explain how they get to the mansion, as they must’ve tracked her.

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But the B-plot does also hinge on the fact that the Nine-Nine are a competitive bunch. Last week’s episode saw competition in the form of the return of the Jimmy Jab Games, with Holt and Rosa even having their own competition within the competition. While this week’s “raw” read-off between Holt and Amy doesn’t even have a conclusion—and to be fair, it can’t compete with Greatest Showman Boyle—that’s maybe for the best, as the point is simply to find Debbie. It’s a reminder that the job trumps the competitions, though I’m not sure how intentional that reminder is. More intentional is the fact that there is no lesson learned here, as Boyle’s entire “slow and steady wins the race” approach is trampled by Holt and Amy’s speed reading.

Also intentional but quite disappointing is the fact that no one is forced to wear the “MORE STUPIDER” hat that Terry “crafts” for this competition.

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“Debbie” is literally a different type of high from “The Jimmy Jab Games II.” To be perfectly honest, nothing in this episode trumps Boyle’s Greatest Showman bit or Debbie’s song from that episode. (Though she does sing louder here, as promised. “She’s a mansion girl”). But despite the possibility of being too overwhelming*—as another all-in guest character focus so soon after “Pimemento”—it’s still another hilarious episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I’d also say, other than the fact that Vanessa Bayer deserves her own show—a Prison Debbie spin-off—the biggest takeaway from this mini-arc is that it’s a particular solid approach to storytelling for the series, one it should stick with. Get in, get crazy, move on to the next. The stakes are high in the sense that one of the many random crime bosses the Nine-Nine knows of is involved, but they’re not so high that there isn’t a rational place to exit in such a short period of time. Guns and coke is apparently the happy medium, in terms of stakes for Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

* Personally, I didn’t find either episode too overwhelming. But I try my best to approach this all from a perspective other than just my own.  

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Stray observations

  • Holt: “It was obviously an inside job.”
    Debbie: “I bet it was Brian!”
    Holt: “Why do you say that?”
    Debbie: “Because… he once said he has a hot tub. You know how that crowd is.”
    Holt: “I didn’t know Brian had a hot tub. That does sound bad.”
    Debbie: “Yeah.”
  • Debbie: “Wow. This morning’s full of surprises, huh? First, that stolen cocaine that Hot Tub Brian took. Now, this unrelated thing involving me.”
  • Terry: “Just tell me why you did it.”
    Debbie: “Because I need my drugs. I’m a big-time drug girl.”
  • Jake: “Our plan is working. What are you worried about?”
    Rosa: “There’s a loose cannon in there with two machine guns.”
    Jake: “She’s not a loose cannon. I saw her apologize to a chair after bumping into it.” That and Debbie’s nickname (“Hey, lady.”) are two of the most relatable things ever.
  • Holt: “I actually took a speed reading course. I tested at 800 WPM.”
    Amy: “That’s pathetic. I test at 802.”
    Terry: “That’s pretty close to Holt’s score.”
    Holt: “No, no—802’s incredible. She pwned me. I read the entire Urban Dictionary so I could converse with the other uniformed officers. I finished it in 47 minutes.”
    Amy: “I’ve never been so attracted to a gay man before. And I dated several in college.” We were robbed of seeing Holt read Urban Dictionary.
  • Rosa: “Still feel bad for her now that she’s a cokehead?”
    Jake: “She’s not a cokehead, she’s an innocent girl in a stressful situation who did cocaine one time and will probably never do it again.”
    Debbie: “Woooo! Guess who just did more coke! This is my thing now.”
  • Jake: “The point is, we all think Mr. Bean is sexy as hell and wish we looked exactly like him.”
    Debbie: “You’re closer than you think.”
    Jake: “Hmm?” As far as show bleeps go, the recurring Amy spelling like “[bleep]” didn’t work for me as the “international sex symbol” Mr. Bean bit. The Mr. Bean bit was art.
  • Debbie: “I’m such a terrible judge of character. I was wrong about Rosa. I missed all the signs with my cousin Jared.”
    Jake (whispers): “The sandwich guy?”
  • Boyle: “Slow and steady wins the race.”
    Holt: “Pft! Classic reg reader bull crap.”
    Amy: “Yeah, what are you gonna say next, that you read to relax?”
    Amy & Holt: *laugh maniacally* Director Claire Scanlon captures Boyle’s reaction to their extended laughter perfectly. That and Debbie opening the door for her mother are two of the best visuals of the episode, not counting the visuals of Debbie knocking out Rosa and then Jake.
  • Debbie: “Hi, mom. Do you like my mansion?”
    Margaret: “Debra Lynn, why are you holding a gun?”
    Debbie: “Oh my god! Mom, I’m wearing a fur coat and that’s what you focus on?! I hate you so freaking much!” She also doesn’t care how many chimney’s Debbie has. It’s six, for the record.
  • For as good as Brooklyn Nine-Nine is, it’s not exactly awards show bait. So I try not to think about the show through that particular lens. But pretty much from the opening moments of this episode (“I need you to find whoever did this and kill them… so they’re dead!”), I felt in my soul that Vanessa Bayer deserves an Emmy nomination for this.
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Contributor, The A.V. Club. Despite her mother's wishes, LaToya Ferguson is a writer living in Los Angeles. If you want to talk The WB's image campaigns circa 1999-2003, LaToya's your girl.

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