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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine: “The Ebony Falcon”

Illustration for article titled Brooklyn Nine-Nine: “The Ebony Falcon”
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For all the enviable strength of its ensemble, Brooklyn Nine Nine is still a show built around Jake Peralta, which means that the supporting characters’ arcs could always be repurposed as stories for the show’s leading man. That’s precisely what happens as Terry transfers his fears to Jake. Sergeant Jeffords’ long journey back to active duty represents the most sustained, clearly defined arc that the show has done so far, but it’s mostly unfolded while Jake wasn’t around. It was Boyle who helped Terry build the castle for his little girls way back in “The Slump,” it was Holt and Gina who helped Terry get recertified at the shooting range, it was Gina who busted into Terry’s disastrous psych evaluation and told him that the Captain was in peril, and it was Boyle—with the precise opposite of help from Holt—who smoothed things over with Terry’s wife when she learned he had re-entered the field. With Jake busy elsewhere with those episodes’ main stories, Brooklyn Nine-Nine took what started out as a fairly broad visual gag—a freaked-out Terry gunning down a defenseless mannequin—and added a clearer human dimension to the sergeant’s story. And Terry is the character who would most benefit from such special treatment, because he isn’t as easy to immediately pin down as the rest of the ensemble.

Every other supporting character has one obvious, overriding personality trait that guides how their interactions typically play out: Holt is the deadpan authority figure, Boyle is an endlessly enthusiastic loser, Diaz is terrifying, and so on. This isn’t meant to take away from the great work that Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s cast and creative team has done in making the characters feel like real, well-rounded people in such a short span of time. Really, this is just smart comedy writing, as the show can generate quick laughs simply by sticking characters together in a room and letting them act precisely as we would expect them to, as when Holt tries to get Diaz to imagine a scenario in which someone has broken into her house and she has no throwing stars to defend herself with. Besides, every move has to have a countermove, and so the show derives easy gags by subverting our well-honed expectations of how the characters are supposed to act. Indeed, such a reversal of expectations is particularly effective as the emotional foundation of an entire subplot. I was as shocked as Santiago and Diaz to learn that Gina is capable of what humans would call vulnerability, even if I was entirely unsurprised that she would lodge a civilian complaint against her theoretical friends and then retain the services of Leo Sporm, world’s worst private detective. Highly amused, but entirely unsurprised.

Terry has never been so clearly defined. He’s a consummate cop and a doting family man. He’s a workout freak and a gifted artist. He can explode in rage or collapse in tears. He is, as Boyle so eloquently puts it, an enormous, muscular Ellen DeGeneres—he also really likes his yogurt, a fact which resurfaces tonight in one of the show’s all-time great callback jokes. Basically, whereas the other characters have one dominant characteristic that can be comedy, the humor in Terry’s character lies in the fact that he’s such a lovable mess of contradictions. It’s a good fit for Terry Crews’ strengths, as the man is at his funniest when swinging between big, broad, diametrically opposed emotional states. As such, Sergeant Jeffords needs a little more room to breathe than, say, Boyle or Diaz, which is why it makes sense that it’s taken so long for Terry to team up with Jake for an episode’s main story. The fact that he’s paired with Jake as opposed to one of the other officers is a good indication that his current arc is complete and he really is over his fears, as he’s now positioned less as a character in his own right and more as someone for Peralta to react to. Essentially, Jake absorbs Terry’s past emotional state and relives a compressed form of the story Terry has lived through over the first 13 episodes. This can’t help but flatten the sergeant’s character, and the episode never fills in the blanks on Jake and Terry’s relationship like, say, “The Pontiac Bandit” did for Peralta and Diaz.

The reason why this doesn’t bother me that much is that “The Ebony Falcon” is really damn funny. I found Brooklyn Nine-Nine consistently amusing from the very beginning, but it’s now really rounding into form, and there’s a feeling of increased experimentation and craziness that wasn’t present in past episodes. Again, the fact that Gina can be played as something other than the most assured and powerful person in the room is a sign of the show opening up new storytelling avenues, and it’s damn near impossible to argue with an episode that features Holt reading out a lengthy list of her most prized possessions, including handmade Joseph Gordon-Levitt nesting dolls. The episode also makes particularly great use of Boyle, who finds his true calling as the new manager of Brooklyn Total Body. It’s not that we really learn anything about Boyle that we didn’t already know, as his obsessions with cloud-based scheduling and water temperature management show precisely the same grinder’s approach that he brings to his police work and the same passion for mundane trivia that he brings to his pizza email blasts. It’s just that this particular bit of gym-filtration represents the apotheosis of Charles Boyle; as he proudly, if nonsensically, observes, he has finally become himself. Honestly, I’m almost surprised that Boyle didn’t consider leaving the force to attend to the gym, since he has clearly fond his true calling, but I suppose would never abandon Jake like that.

Indeed, “The Ebony Falcon” tries to dig deeper into Peralta’s abandonment issues, with at best moderate success. Brooklyn Nine-Nine is playing the long game with this particular bit of backstory, so it’s not surprising that the story only vaguely touches on the underlying reasons for Jake’s sudden protectiveness. It’s just that the connection between Jake’s sudden concern for Cagney and Lacey’s father and his own personal trauma is something that we are told about without ever quite being shown. I’m generally a fan of Andy Samberg’s performance, particularly how he infuses Jake with his specific brand of off-kilter goofiness, but he’s not quite at the point where he can sell such a big emotional revelation in just a handful of lines. That’s the kind of problem that should be solved simply with more time in the role, so when Brooklyn Nine-Nine really digs into this story sometime later—perhaps in its now all but assured second season—I suspect Samberg will be up to the task.

In the meantime, “The Ebony Falcon” stands as another very solid entry in what has been one of the most impressive freshman years for a comedy in some time. Brooklyn Nine-Nine is officially past its initial 13-episode order, and its future looks brighter than any other point in its short existence. This episode doesn’t match some of the highs of previous episodes—it’s definitely a minor step down from last week’s “The Bet,” for instance—but what’s exciting is that the show is still expanding its scope. The way that “The Ebony Falcon” uses characters like Terry, Gina, and Boyle feels different from what would have been possible when the show began, and that character progression is the most promising sign of what lies ahead.


Stray observations:

  • Molly will be back next time for the show’s big, post-Super Bowl broadcast. Thanks for letting me sub in.
  • So then, is Kelly Scully’s dog or Scully’s wife? I think we can’t rule out that Kelly is something else entirely. Something far more disturbing.
  • “Leo Sporm. How’s business?” “You know this guy?” “Everyone knows him. The Picasso of hucksters!” “I like that.” “…‘Look up who Picasso is.’” This really better not be the last we see of Leo Sporm.
  • “I’m black Trent! One of many!” I appreciate that Terry can make a nervous idiot of himself just as effectively as Peralta can.
  • “What kind of woman doesn’t have an ax?”