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After all this time, Brooklyn Nine-Nine finally tackles the concept of back-stabbing

Illustration for article titled After all this time, Brooklyn Nine-Nine finally tackles the concept of back-stabbing
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Over in a completely different TV genre, The CW’s Arrowverse has conditioned me to believe that, when a series regular leaves a show with promises of their character returning in a recurring role (or at least a guest spot), that means they’re pretty much never showing up again. So for Chelsea Peretti to actually return to Brooklyn Nine-Nine during the same season she officially stopped being a series regular, it’s pretty much like seeing a unicorn in real life.

Unfortunately, “Return Of The King” isn’t all that joyous of an occasion, as, after an emotional goodbye to everyone, Gina Linetti hasn’t spoken to anyone at the Nine-Nine in months.


While “Four Movements” served as the perfect farewell to the Gina character, “Return Of The King” works as anything but when it comes to the character’s “return.” To be fair, that’s the intent of this episode, as Phil Augusta Jackson’s script reveals how Gina becoming what could only be described as “Peak Gina” has actually made her less Gina where it matters. (You know, her friendships and all that sappy stuff.) But that doesn’t change the fact that, unlike the full experience of “Four Movements,” Gina only interacts with two Linetti-deprived members of the Nine-Nine (“life-long best friend” Jake and Terry) here. The “police protection” angle does its share of the narrative heavy lifting on that front—at first. By the time Gina gets stabbed in the back though, it doesn’t quite add up that the episode wouldn’t open things up for the rest of the Nine-Nine to rally by her side. Especially when you accept that other plots in this episode are incredibly low stakes, to the point where being sucked into the vortex that is Gina’s orbit wouldn’t exactly be getting off track: It would actually put the otherwise fragmented episode on a more focused track altogether.

(As this is Melissa Fumero’s directorial debut, I wonder if it makes things easier when the plots are so completely divorced from each other. Or does it make it more difficult, as there’s barely any cohesion between the individual plots?)

I’ve mentioned it before, but Holt/Boyle plots—while rare, especially compared to other Nine-Nine pairings—tend to have one setting, one where Holt simply disrespects, insults, and belittles Boyle. It’s one of the worst dynamics (if not the worst) on the series, especially when you take into consideration that the other pairings have all evolved over the years, especially the other Holt pairings. The closest dynamic to this one is Holt/Terry, but when it comes to Holt’s insults toward Terry, they’re all so over-the-top that they’re impossible to take seriously. When it comes to Holt’s insults toward Boyle, they’re piled onto a character who’s already piled onto—simply by being a part of the Boyle family, as there are plenty of stories to explain what that’s like—in the first place.

However, in “Return Of The King,” despite an otherwise simple and obvious plot, the Holt/Boyle dynamic actually works. Because it does fall into that Holt/Terry realm of being so over-the-top it’s laughable. Yes, Holt constantly calls out Boyle’s parenting because of Nikolaj’s newly-discovered genius, but everyone watching knows that Boyle is a great father. (And most likely knows Nikolaj isn’t really a genius either.) And because it’s all so absurd, it allows for the greatest three-point dunk Captain Raymond Holt has ever made to come out of it:

Boyle: “In Switzerland? I’d never see him.”
Holt: “Then uproot your life and move there with him. No one here would miss you.”


There’s also something about that line existing in an episode where everyone’s off in their own world that really sells it and makes it funnier.

When I call this plot simple and obvious, I’m pointing out the “genius” Nikolaj part of it all, as, if it’s not clear what must have happened with Nikolaj/Holt’s formula from Boyle’s original talking about Nikolaj’s art skills, once Boyle brings up Nikolaj’s cartooning class, the proof is in the Captain Latvia sidekick drawing. (Also, Nikolaj really is a gifted artist, even if he seems to think everything is a coloring book page.) To try to find a theme in an episode of otherwise disconnected plots, “Return Of The King” highlights certain characters’ specialness. Boyle is a special parent (and Nikolaj is a special artist), Gina has found her specialness as a YouTube celebrity, and Rosa is a special woman who can apparently open a door with her chin.


In case I haven’t already said it: This is an odd episode.

The Rosa/Amy plot actually feels like a Childrens Hospital plot (specifically Glenn’s injured hand in “Ward 8”) that’s played surprisingly straight for most of it. Things truly shift away from any sense of reality—and Rosa’s comically-bandaged up hands are already a lot to take—once it comes to the supply closet (and even more so when Amy makes her inspirational speech about Rosa being able to open the door by herself), especially once it ultimately becomes the weirdest ‘80s motivational climax riffs in recent memory. (It even gets the slow-motion treatment, which honestly makes it look like someone just finally opened the door for Rosa.) It’s interesting to see Amy essentially direct Rosa to bizarre greatness as Melissa Fumero is actually directing this entire oddity of an episode.


“Return Of The King” is an episode that relies completely on the wacky. Again, the Rosa/Amy plot is just absolutely ridiculous—and captures a strange sense of mundanity of this job in the process, as Amy spends four hours just watching Rosa on the supply closet surveillance camera—while Holt/Boyle, surprisingly, is the plot that’s most tethered to reality (even with Holt believing Nikolaj might be a secret Good Will Hunting situation). And in the A-plot, while it makes absolute sense that Gina’s calling would be as a YouTube star and influencer, somehow, absolutely no time is spent addressing the fact that Gina has definitely started a cult and is a cult leader. (The parkour ex-husband who doesn’t even get a name being the attempted murder is weak from a case of the week standpoint, but it’s also weak when you consider that surely there must be plenty of religious groups offended by Gina’s absolutely sacrilegious G-Hive teachings.)

This is also an episode where Gina literally gets stabbed in the back, which actually works as part of fame spiral behavior... even though she’s not so much been stabbing her Nine-Nine family in the back as she has been turning her back on them. And “Return Of The King” is able to mine a grounded story out of this too, as Jake (and Terry, based on his past Bryant Ungerbert experience) gains the strength to confront Gina about how bad of a friend she’s been lately. Thankfully, the solution isn’t for Gina to choose between her career and her friendship—because ridiculous as it is, she’s actually busy working—and in discussing the worst thing she does here—lying to Jake and Terry about food poisoning—it ends up coming from a place of her not wanting to hurt their feelings. The conclusion that Gina will dedicate at least 5% more time to friendship doesn’t exactly promise that the audience will be seeing her again any time soon, but it does at least suggest the characters will (even if it happens offscreen).


As a “proper” return—albeit temporary—episode for Gina Linetti, “Return Of The King” is honestly a bit of a disappointment. As enjoyable as every plot is, there is honestly a lot of steam in a version of this episode that, like “Four Movements,” is focused more squarely on Gina (and the rest of the Nine-Nine as extensions of that). This is apparent from the cold open, which lets Confucius, Buddha, and Jesus all know that they can, well, suck it. While it’s technically a proficient pop-in and pop-out for a character/actress who was a series regular for over five seasons, the focus on Gina completely blowing everyone off, just to then have her only acknowledge two of these other characters, doesn’t sit well. Especially in an episode that was no doubt promoted based on the return of Gina.

But on the other hand, this weird little episode is also a funny little episode, and even when a plot like Rosa/Amy makes a joke out of learning a weekly lesson, the Gina/Jake/Terry and Holt/Boyle plots genuinely do, which is impressive.


Stray observations

  • Gina: “They’re like the 10 Commandments, only there’s more, and they’re better.” Now it’s time for some Gina-mandments. “You can be anything that you set your mind to. As long as you’re also great at it!” “No one knows you can’t take it with you! Be buried with your money.” “If you fall down nine times, you gotta reassess your walking, ‘cause something’s wrong.” And let’s not forget the one that led to the death threats: “If the light in your house is dead, change the bulb.” I’m pretty sure these are all just “New No-Nos.” 
  • Amy: “How’d it happen?”
    Rosa: “I was on a nature hike and I went off trail to pick a pretty little flower.”
    Amy/Hitchcock/Scully: “Awww.”
    Rosa: “Shut up. Now, scram.”
  • Amy: “Not to brag, but at typing camp, everyone called me: The Finger Queen. Oh my god, that sounds really dirty. I swear, that’s not what it meant.”
    Rosa: “Yeah, it was typing camp, nobody thinks that.”
  • Gina: “Jacob! Terrencio! Give Moses a hug!”
  • Jake: “So what’s been going on with you?”
    Gina: “Well, that’s actually why I called. Uh, it’s not a big deal at all, but someone’s threatening to murder me.”
    Jake: “What?”
    Terry: “Damn, Gina.”
  • Jake believes that Terry is “35 to 60 years old.” He’s not wrong.
  • Holt: “Boyle, my father never saw my potential. In grade school, I wanted to spend all my free time drawing graphs and charts, but he insisted I play basketball. As if I care about slam-dunking a three-pointer.”
  • “Timothée Chalamet, Shimmy Ya Shimmy Yay” is an excellent vocal warm-up.
  • The woman who wants Gina to look at her (and she does!) is “Jarcy Marreau,” played by Brooklyn Nine-Nine writer Marcy Jarreau.
  • Gina: “I can’t believe I just escaped death. I haven’t felt this alive since I almost got killed by that bus.”
  • Gina: “That’s great. I hope they give him the chair.” Pretty much up until she got stabbed, I worried that Gina (or her agent) was faking the death threat. With Chelsea Peretti’s excited yet cold-blooded delivery of this line, it could have gone either way.
  • I don’t expect Ryan Phillippe to be in every episode with Gina, but I have to know: Did Brooklyn Nine-Nine erase his character (and now their child) from existence? As busy as Gina is because of her career, never once does the fact that she also has a child to raise (with or without her boyfriend, as we have no idea if they’re still together) come up. Not even a nanny as part of her team.
  • Boyle: “I blame myself. It’s such a classic Boyle trait not to recognize talent. My cousin Susan? Didn’t know she could sing until her late 40s.” Love a good Susan Boyle reference in 2019.
  • Amy: “You know, you can’t spell ‘independent’ without ‘dependent’.”
    Rosa: “And you can’t spell ‘go *bleep* yourself’ without ‘*bleep* you’!”
  • Holt: “You’re an exceptionally supportive parent, and I wish my father had been more like you.”
    Boyle: “Thank you for saying that. And sir—nothing would make me prouder than being your big daddy.”
    Holt: “Well. We’re off track now, so, uh. Good day.”
  • Gina: “We should write a movie.”
    Jake: “Yes. Jake & Gina Present—colon—The Queen Of Tears—colon—Battle For The Amulet Of Destiny.”
    Gina: “Colon—Part One—colon—Of Five.”

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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