Andre Braugher (left), Andy Samberg

On paper, “The Fugitive” has to be a major, possibly game-changing episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. It’s a winter finale, airing both on a different night and as an hour-long episode. Plus, former NFL star Marshawn Lynch guest stars, allowing future binge-watchers to assume this was another post-Super Bowl episode. Then there’s the entire episode’s premise, which is sold on “a mass escape of convicts from a prison van” and the additional promises of a classic Jake and Amy competitive bet and “a surprising new ally” in said competition. Brooklyn Nine-Nine often has the enviable problem of leaving so much plot on the table by having to fit into a tight 30 network minutes, so the idea of an hour-long Brooklyn Nine-Nine episode definitely sounds like a good one.

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However, “The Fugitive” ends up being a two-part episode that could stand to be back in that tight 30 minute format. By the end of “The Fugitive Pt. 1,” which is an especially middling episode on its own, there’s the realization that everything has really biding time until the “Pontiac Bandit” Doug Judy (Craig Robinson) reveal and return for the second part of the event. Those fugitive convicts? They aren’t part of a game-changing Brooklyn Nine-Nine. In fact, in a typical episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, they’re the type of plot fodder that would be rushed in the cold open to make the more interesting Doug Judy return the focal point of the entire episode. Instead, the majority of the episode is plot fodder, only saved by the power of competition.

While Brooklyn Nine-Nine typically has no problem turning bronze into gold, part one doesn’t even come across as concerned with achieving anything more than mildly pleasant (outside of the competition, that is). While Marshawn Lynch is presumably a big get for Brooklyn Nine-Nine, his presence here is the guest star equivalent of Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s “crossover” episode with New Girl, only less successful in terms of overall function. Like the crossover, it’s treated as a big deal despite barely being a blip on the radar, and it at least leads to a moment as great as the sound Rosa makes upon learning Lynch is a witness. But it comes across as tacked on (because “it’s Marshawn Lynch!”) and a weak retread of the “never meet your heroes” concept that the show just successfully did. The cold open, possibly the weakest of the season, does this episode detour no favors either, as it shows Lynch isn’t even actually a witness to the prison van escape in the first place (a point he opens with to Holt and Rosa… before rambling on for ages). Marshawn Lynch secretly being chatty despite being known for the opposite is an easy joke, just like the fact that, in real life, Lynch says “quesadilla” and “pico de gallo” wrong.

This plot’s transition into one being about the “colorful” (or “wackadoodle”) characters the NYPD gets as witnesses is something I have no doubt Brooklyn Nine-Nine can do well, but it simply doesn’t come together here. The same goes for the “enlightened” Gina that comes along with it, as that’s the type of idea that has plenty of story potential but sadly doesn’t get much use in this part of the hour—and doesn’t even get to transfer over to the second part of the episode and case.

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The true hook and salvation for part one is the competition between Jake and Amy, and the episode expects it to do all the work. It doesn’t, but it does provide the most laughs of part one, which goes a long way. Plus, when Brooklyn Nine-Nine gets supporting characters involved in competitions they don’t even have that much stake in—like Boyle, who’s only thinking fantasy big Jake picture, and Terry, who’s having a midlife crisis of sorts in both parts of the episode—it can elevate an already solid premise.

The competition is also welcome in how it allows Brooklyn Nine-Nine to show there’s no reason Jake and Amy’s relationship status should ever eliminate their innate competitive streaks. Brooklyn Nine-Nine deserves all the praise it gets for not falling into the trap of thinking a happy couple is a boring couple, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t still try to one-up each other. The couple that recites Miranda rights, busts out drones, and checks out tactical gear against each other is the type of couple television needs more of, as specific as those things are to this particular show.

Where things “fall apart” is in what they’re ultimately competing for—apartment privileges. It’s great that Jake and Amy are ready to move in together and even better that Brooklyn Nine-Nine isn’t trying to force the conflict of either one of them having second thoughts about that. But it’s a competition with almost infuriatingly simple solutions in the first place: Either they move into Amy’s apartment or they get a new apartment together. Jake’s apartment, complete with the perpetually moist towel that came with it, is never once even considered a real option, nor should it be. In fact, it ends up being a threat, and the idea of the episode pretending it would ever subject Amy or the relationship to that is part of a larger problem. That problem would be how much Jake’s “mess of a human” characterization has grown, especially in a time where the audience is supposed to buy that Jake is a viable romantic interest for Amy or any decent human being. For all the beautiful moments of him taking a loss because Amy’s happiness is more important to him or him also falling in love with Harry Potter because of her or him acknowledging that men are scary, all of those obvious positives for him as a character are almost completely outweighed at this point by his level of deficiency in terms of personal health and basic cleanliness.

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Seriously, the way most of these “Jake is deficient in these basic ways” beats have gone, he’d basically be on Hitchcock and Scully level if not for the fact he’s played by Andy Samberg. It wouldn’t hurt for the show to dial it back, especially the more serious Jake and Amy get.

Neither part of this one-hour episode is especially Brooklyn Nine-Nine at its most high stakes, but part two achieves its levity in a way that doesn’t come across like treading water or a low weight subplot stretched out to fill time. Again, comparing the episode to the New Girl crossover, the first part feels like an obligation, while the more expected version of the episode comes in the second half hour. However, both parts of “The Fugitive” can take credit for featuring the much-awaited return of all business Captain Holt; though part two really puts the character to work when it comes to having to deal with Jake and Doug Judy’s combined energy. With Brooklyn Nine-Nine going away for the winter, now is as good a time as any to have a no-nonsense Holt (barring the baby Windsor knot from part one) back. And since a Jake/Doug Judy team-up is a recipe for nonsense, his presence is necessary, as well as a new twist on the show’s cop/criminal bit.

Doug Judy episodes, much like Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Halloween episodes, both live and die based on their predictability and attempts to change that up, so part two basically has to be the “Halloween IV” of the character’s story. Because of the past episodes, it’s automatically expected (both by the audience and Holt) that Doug Judy will turn on Jake and Captain, so the question becomes one of how it’ll go down this time… especially as it throws in the incredibly ridiculous stipulation of a helpful Doug Judy getting “full immunity” for his hundreds of crimes. (The stipulation is honestly just as over the top as Jake and Doug Judy’s entire dynamic together.) With “full immunity” on the table, the episode sort of tips its hand with his presumed betrayal—Judy would actually have to be an idiot to screw up the offer—but the plot succeeds in the end by acknowledging that a clean slate certainly isn’t enough for Doug Judy to actually go legit. He and Jake might pretend to be buddy cops, but Doug Judy can’t stop loving the life of crime. His and Jake’s theme song riffs are catchy as hell though.

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Unfortunately, because of the lack of cross-plot character interactions in “The Fugitive,” Doug Judy doesn’t get to serenade Rosa and a jealous Boyle is nowhere to be seen this time around. But part two manages to keep these independent plots on the up and up comedy-wise, which is all it needs to do. While part one has Terry lamenting his calmer, less stressful bachelor days, part two takes it a step further into him feeling a midlife crisis and leaning into his perceived broken down old age. The plot is easy enough because “broken” or “old” aren’t really thoughts anyone has about Terry Crews or Terry Jeffords, but Rosa’s added acknowledgment that Terry’s always been an old man at heart is a nice cap to the plot. The plot also features classic Brooklyn Nine-Nine-isms like Terry’s very specific definition of old lameness (Batman’s dead dad) and Rosa’s not-so-Rosa past (which allows her to parkour up a hospital wall).

Meanwhile, the Amy/Gina/Boyle plot is literally all about text etiquette and the unsurprising revelation that Boyle is a terrible “over-texter,” which sounds like it should fall into that weak, stretched out style of plot but ends up nailing the typical Brooklyn Nine-Nine structural tightness. And the episode is smart to distract Boyle from a best friend caper without him with the text situation. There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that Boyle is an overeager texter, even if there is a bit of surprise that Hitchcock and Scully are allowed in group texts—but there should be even less surprise that Boyle can always have a sob story for any occasion. The plot also allows for the enjoyable dynamic of Gina teaming up with one of her biggest punching bags in order to help her other biggest punching bag, which is a nice reminder that these nerds (and Gina) are the people Jake loves the most.

Part two going with such a low stakes subplot here actually makes the conclusion to the episode work even better, because there’s no way anyone saw this coming: Gina gets hit by a bus, after giving Boyle positive reinforcement. It’s so out of left field for Brooklyn Nine-Nine, but it’s also a hell of a way for the show to go out in its winter finale. And in a time where things are pretty much settled and calm in the Nine-Nine, there’s room for some shake-ups. In this case, it just happens to be at Gina’s expense. This first half of Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s fourth season has been pretty inconsistent so far, but at least it’s going out on a high note.

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Stray observations

  • This week in webisodes Brooklyn Nine-Nine needs: Seeing as how Jake is now a Harry Potter expert, he’s got to start vlogging about that. Books and movies Bonus webisodes: Jake and Doug Judy’s cop show. Only if they bring the dog back from the dead.
  • I truly wonder how Holt would feel about The Fugitive, and I’m probably going to think about that for the rest of the show’s run.
  • Terry in “overalls with no shirt” is quite the image. Thanks for that, Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
  • Boyle in his sweat resistant shirt, on the other hand… Well, it’s also quite the image. I don’t think I can thank anyone for that though.
  • I’m sure all of you commenters are ready to quote Jake and Doug Judy’s theme songs. Have at it.

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