As far as turning points in sitcoms go, Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s “Ding Dong”—as in, “the Wuntch is dead”—provides one hell of a turning point. Not only does it see the untimely death of Holt’s arch-nemesis Madeline Wuntch, but it ends with Jake and Amy learning that they’re going to have a baby. It’s the circle of life, in an episode of television titled “Ding Dong.” To quote 30 Rock, “Mothers and fathers and jugglers and judges / Now we are joined in a cobweb of rainbows.”
With both Wuntch’s death and the Jake/Amy baby news, “Ding Dong” is designed to be a memorable episode. It’s one that excels in its A-plot and the eventual Jake/Amy reveal (for the most part)... but doesn’t necessarily do the same outside of that. The less memorable (and somewhat stalling) B-plot—the Jake/Boyle/Terry Kwazy Cupcakes movie premiere plot—is a good story idea, but in practice, it both strains believability (in terms of lasting as long as it does) and blatantly ignores the work this season has been doing to tell a very specific story.
With the former, what it really boils down to is the fact that the conflict is really thin. Sure, there is no plot here if Jake just offers the tickets to his best friend and his son, but that would at least make more sense. So would Jake—who we know is hoping to become a father—offering to take all three kids (Nikolaj, Cagney, and Lacey) to the premiere in the first place, as a parenting test drive of sorts. Even accepting the plot as its presented, while it makes sense for Boyle and Terry to turn this into a competition—as the Nine-Nine turns everything into a competition—the fact that Jake isn’t on board with that at all begs the question of what he really expected here. Ultimately, it’s fine, because the plot is funny and Joe Lo Truglio and Terry Crews keep the energy high throughout. Plus, it’s certainly different to watch complete straight man Jake here, which is essentially what Andy Samberg has to work with once the competition gets going.
But where this plot misses the mark, especially considering where we are in this season’s story, is how it casually has Boyle and Terry be cruel about the fact that Jake’s not a parent… and how it never acknowledges that aspect of the plot at all. At this point, everyone knows Jake and Amy have been trying to have a baby for months. As their close friends, Boyle and Terry also know how hard it’s been, even if they’re not as aware as the audience is after “Trying.” While Jake makes a good “parenting” decision with his final choice in the face of Boyle and Terry’s immaturity, all that gets him is the two of them celebrating the fact that “people without kids are so stupid.” That plot-ending moment of Boyle and Terry basically calling Jake an in-over-his-head sucker for deciding to be their free babysitter (an idea Boyle and Terry should’ve jumped at immediately) behind his back is harsh, but it’s not even as harsh as them telling him to his face that he doesn’t understand why they’re doing this because he’s not a father. Somehow, “Ding Dong” doesn’t address this at all, despite the previous episode pointing out just how much Jake and Amy are struggling over the fact they’re not yet soon-to-be parents. In fact, after that “You don’t understand!” “You don’t have kids!” moment, the episode immediately cuts back to the A-plot, not even showing Jake’s reaction to his friends’ insensitive comment. It certainly serves as a reminder that Boyle and Terry’s characters are the kinds of parents that people without kids—whether they want kids or not—can’t stand. It would be one thing if it led to a realization for Jake on that front, but while the A-plot has an emotional shift and realization, that never actually comes for the B-plot.
It’s understandable if Brooklyn Nine-Nine doesn’t want to get too serious, as it’s an upbeat show and this episode is already dealing with a character death—but it can’t have it both ways. Brooklyn Nine-Nine has played the Jake/Amy/baby plot as grounded as it possibly can, until now, when it just ignores the obvious moments that should be an issue for Jake throughout. The penultimate scene returning to that grounded approach—as the actual final scene is Boyle’s waking realization that they’re pregnant—doesn’t erase this plot turning the fact that Jake is childless into a complete joke, especially since the audience knows for a fact how much he’s not laughing about this. It’s not like Brooklyn Nine-Nine doesn’t do comedic insults and walk them back as soon as they can—they literally do that with a hormonal Amy toward Holt in this episode—so it makes even less sense that Boyle and Terry never apologize for the things they say to and about Jake here.
Again, the plot is funny, even though it’s easy to poke holes in the general concept. (And it wouldn’t even have the larger issue if it just didn’t have those lines about Jake not being a parent.) Not only does Brooklyn Nine-Nine bring back Kwazy Cupcakes and its extremely natural progression—right down to it having a 38% on Rotten Tomatoes—into a feature film, it also throws in a mention of Mikey, Jake’s high school ska bandmate, to provide solid set-up for the movie premiere aspect of the plot. In fact, this episode loves its callbacks, from all things Holt/Wuntch rivalry to Wario always cheating to The Durrells In Corfu. And while Jake may not be all-in on the Boyle/Terry rivalry, moments like their bribe-off (with Terry’s endless supply of silver dollars) and the surprise that is Boyle’s grandmother’s “strawberry basket” boxing technique are glowing examples of Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s particular brand comedic charm. As is Jake’s initial, failed Bible plan. (“Stupid Bible and its stupid lessons. Never solved crap!”)
Of course, “Ding Dong” will be remembered most as the episode where Jake and Amy learn they’re finally having a baby. It’s been an inevitability for this storyline, even with the hiccups leading up to it. At the same time, them getting pregnant immediately after coming to terms with the difficulty of getting pregnant feels like a cheat, one that betrays how emotionally raw last week’s episode ended up being. After acknowledging just how hard things would be for them, that it stops being hard a week later feels like a cop-out (no lame pun intended). Maybe if there had been a break between the two episodes, that could’ve at least made things better in the short term—in future bingeing, it could come across as even more rushed—or even if there was at least one episode to pad between “Trying” and “Ding Dong.” Obviously, there was a four-month passage of time in the previous episode, so it has been a while, but it hasn’t been a while since they really talked about how hard they’ve been struggling.
Then again, maybe the Brooklyn Nine-Nine writers and Melissa Fumero were tired of hiding how pregnant Fumero was throughout all of this and decided to strike while the iron was hot. Or at least once they figured they’d peaked in this episode—with Amy in the choir robe, channeling her inner Sister Act—in terms of “hiding” Fumero’s actual pregnancy.
Not only does the Wuntch-based A-plot provide even more ice cold zingers from Holt, it tells a pretty compelling story about processing grief, without being too obvious. Holt humorously—and appropriately, given his relationship with Wuntch—goes through the five stages of grief in this episode:
- Denial, with his disbelief that Wuntch is actually dead
- Anger, over the fact that she managed to mess with him in her death by forcing him to host and organize her memorial service
- Bargaining, in his compromise with Amy and Rosa when it comes to writing a nice speech about Wuntch
- Depression, over the fact that Wuntch had a different “one true nemesis,” in the form of Adam (Michael McDonald)
- Acceptance, that Wuntch is actually gone and that she was an important part of his life
Amy also goes through some specific very stages in the aftermath of Wuntch’s death, (seemingly) due to the hormone treatment she’s under:
- Sad Amy
- Angry Amy
- Sweaty Amy
As you’ll see in the stray observations below, even in death, Wuntch’s existence leads to most of the best lines of the episode. A Wuntch-driven Holt is always the highest level of Petty Holt, which is, of course, the best version of Holt. So, to end the Holt/Wuntch feud in actual death is surprising, even if I’m honestly not sure if it’s a “good” decision in the long run. (Considering this and the baby stuff, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that Dan Goor and the Brooklyn Nine-Nine writers wrote this season with the assumption that it would be its last season. It won’t.) While this final—assuming she doesn’t have any more incoming videos—Wuntch appearance doesn’t have her and Holt sparring face-to-face, Kyra Sedgwick is still able to pull off one last biting performance as this character. Their back and forth will be missed, but “Ding Dong” does send off the character—and have Holt send her off—in the most appropriate way possible.
This is a really fast-paced, joke-heavy plot, one that could easily fall apart when it comes to the emotional and storytelling beats. But it doesn’t. Andre Braugher deserves plenty of credit for his performance and his uncanny to play and navigate so many beats as such a deadpan character, but Jess Dweck’s script also deserves credit for how tight it is when it comes to this plot. The combination of the stages of grief, the affair metaphor of “the other rival,” and Wuntch’s final master plan could make it so one aspect of the plot isn’t given enough time or focus, but instead, there is balance here.
Besides all of Holt’s Wuntch-related zingers, the highlight of this plot is just how much Rosa enjoys and enables Holt’s behavior here, turning her into a master zinger in her own right. I swear, Rosa experiences multiple moments of true happiness during this episode, all at the expense of a dead woman. And while Amy is the most rational one of the trio in this episode, “Ding Dong” doesn’t just make her a stick in the mud and allows her to provide some levity in this morbid plot with her very moist hormonal issues. As this episode is the series’ farewell to Wuntch, it makes sense that it pulls out all the stops when it comes to Holt’s various insults for the woman/witch/goat/succubus/human blister/zombie/Korean toilet ghost who embarrassed him in front of Derek Jeter. It just won’t feel the same when Holt insults someone else—someone he’s not “star-crossed haters” with—in the future.
- Holt: “No way that’s true. As Wuntch says when she sees deodorant, ‘I’m not buying it’.”
Rosa: “Ha ha!”
Terry: “Sir, she’s dead.”
Holt: “Oh, Terry. Zombies can’t die. This is some sort of scam. If she were dead, we would be hearing the sounds of children, singing in the streets.”
- Another callback: Boyle brings up how Holt didn’t believe them when they said the Disco Strangler was dead either. Of course, Holt was right, which convinces Boyle that maybe Wuntch is alive too.
- Terry: “Why would Wuntch fake her own death?”
Holt: “The same reason she visits Mexico once a year and sucks the blood from all the goats: for kicks.”
- Jake: “Hello, gentlemen. Guess who’s walking the red carpet this Saturday?”
Boyle: “Chord Overstreet.”
Boyle: “Sam Evans from Glee.”
Jake: “No, me. Why would you guess that? I was clearly talking about me.”
Boyle: “Okay, but for the record, I bet that Chord Overstreet will also be walking one.”
Jake: “Stop talking about Chord Overstreet.” Boyle’s right though.
- Why don’t Cagney and Lacey have any friends at all?
- Holt: “BAGEL!”
- Crying Amy: “Oh my god! I just heard about Wuntch! She was so young!”
Holt: “For a redwood tree. I don’t understand what’s going on—why are you crying?”
Crying Amy: “A person is dead. I feel sad.”
Holt: “That’s insane. You don’t feel sad when a monster dies in a monster movie. In E.T., did you feel sad when E.T. dies?”
Crying Amy: “Yes!”
Rosa: “He wasn’t a monster.”
Holt: “He caused a real commotion.” Rosa’s reaction to that is a look that says “fair point.”
- Crying Amy: “I wish I had taken the LSATS. Not to be a lawyer, just… seems like a fun test.”
Rosa: “Dude, you’re bumming us out.”
- Holt: “Brace yourselves. If it shows Madeline, be sure not to look directly into her eyes.”
Rosa: “Because we’ll turn to stone?”
Holt: “No. Because her eyes are ugly.”
- Wuntch’s Ghost: “Surprised to see me?”
Holt: “Well, I didn’t say ‘Bloody Mary’ three times, so, yes.”
Amy: “When did she record this?”
Rosa: “Judging by the flames around her, it could be a live stream.”
Holt: “Hehe. Very good, Rosa. Hehehehe.”
- Holt: “As God said, when Wuntch tried to sneak past the gates into Heaven, ‘It ain’t happening, honey.’”
- Boyle: “Just so you know, I would never bend your money.”
Jake: “Yeah, ‘cause you can’t.”
Boyle: “Correct, I cannot.”
Jake: “No one can. How did he do that?”
- The reveal of Holt’s original, tacky memorial service aesthetic for Wuntch (“SHE’S DEAD!”) is a truly beautiful moment. Kind of like the hamster/creepy doll reveal in last week’s episode.
- Holt: “That man is lying. I don’t believe Wuntch had another rival. I saw it in her eyes: She only had hate for me.” It’s not necessary to do the “affair reveal at the wedding” story in this episode, but the way this episode approaches it—with Adam as “the other rival”—works.
- Amy’s gasp at Adam calling Wuntch a “dead moron”—this is a good episode for both Fumero and Samberg to react to the insanity, without being out of it completely, in her case.
- Holt: “Wow. For a moment there, I almost forgot who the real villain was: the woman who recently died.”
- According to the Kwazy Cupcakes poster—which I would like to own—the movie is “Koming Soon.” Ah, they have fun.
- Jake: “Charles, it’s been very nice being your friend. Terry, I’ll visit you in prison.”
- Holt: “Diaz, delete all the videos.”
Rosa (after stomping on the one video): “Deleted.”
- But how did Wuntch die? And how did she resist framing Holt for her murder?
- With Wuntch’s death, Holt’s promotion back to Captain is “in the works.” I feel like that’s a strange way to basically say the entire NYPD was complicit in letting Wuntch’s personal vendetta keep Holt down, but alright. With the time jump in “Trying,” it was clear Holt’s time as a uniformed officer wouldn’t be much longer, but the exchange in this episode suggests that he’ll be Captain again simply because Wuntch isn’t around to stop him.