Brooklyn Nine-Nine has always been in a strange place of being a workplace sitcom with an extremely interesting workplace setting (NYPD), yet regularly going out of its way not to rely on that specific setting in more-than-vague terms. The NYPD setting gives the show an instantly rigid structure to use when it wants to (with a case of the week) and a chance to play around with the character dynamics within the context of that setting, but sometimes it just feels like the NYPD aspect is set-dressing. That’s part of why Brooklyn Nine-Nine getting real with last week’s Holt/Amy/Gina storyline was so surprising and refreshing; it was something that could only truly exist in this world, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine took that chance because it could. Plus, comparing it to workplace sitcoms like The Office or Parks And Recreation, Brooklyn Nine-Nine wins just in terms of its general setting. The Office took place at a paper company, which just might be the single most boring place to set anything at.
So this week’s episode really gets back to making the Nine-Nine the show’s focal point, with a case of the week in the form of the the Oolong (because of his creepy doll tea parties) Slayer and the fact the Nine-Nine is no longer a place to actually get real work done. The Vulture being a jerk is one thing, but turning the precinct into one set for underachieving (especially after a season of the detectives striving to come up from behind) actually makes him an obstacle to truly take down. The audience should feel for the detectives in the Nine-Nine (and Holt in public relations) when there’s a shake-up, and “The Oolong Slayer” nails that concept.
“The Oolong Slayer” begins with a cold open that’s actually relevant to the episode overall, and while that means a slight decrease in laughs-per-second (as the cold opens tend to be the show at its most absurdly broad), it’s a really strong way to start the episode off. It’s also a great way to remind or even really inform the audience of the reign of terror that is The Vulture’s tenure as Captain. We’ve had quick rundowns of his indiscretions, such as his crane kicks practice with Boyle (and that jock/nerd dynamic continues slightly in this episode), but besides him being a douchebag, it’s not until this episode that the show really delves into why he’s such a terrible boss.
“We only solve misdemeanors, wieners.” It’s the battle cry The Vulture makes the detectives at the Nine-Nine repeat, and it’s one that defines all that he stands for as a character and captain. In this case, it’s not even so much that he’s a captain who doesn’t want his precinct to have real cases as it is a captain who doesn’t want his precinct to have real cases in order to win a bet. It’s terrible either way, but it’s a different kind of terrible to know that he wants the precinct to serve and protect way less for a stupid bet.
This episode understands, however, there’s no way to accept that every detective will take this initiative the same way. Terry, despite the fact he probably should have The Vulture’s job, remains the leader who sets an example and follows orders. Amy is physically incapable of going against this unprofessional grain (more on that later). For all of his eccentricities, Jake is a very good detective and he can’t just be complacent when it comes to this kind of thing. That’s actually the same quality Holt has, only in this episode, his refusal to be complacent has him secretly working a case in a department he’s no longer in; he needs to get back in the game, even in a secret capacity.
Speaking of the Oolong Slayer case, Gina continues to be a fabulous character who cares too much not to get involved. (Which is great, because Brooklyn Nine-Nine could stand to have more Jake/Holt/Gina plots.) Just like when she referred to herself and NYPD cops as an “us” (yes, they’re that type of couple), Brooklyn Nine-Nine continues to find a happy balance between snarky spectator Gina and honest-to-God member of the team Gina.
Plus, if she hadn’t grown as a character, we’d probably never see a “breakthrough selfie” with Holt as a willing participant:
Also, Jake and Holt together again is very “Thanksgiving” in a lot of ways, to a point where Holt could have reminded us all that his wife “was killed by a man in a yellow sweater,” and it would fit perfectly.
What’s interesting about this case and its aftermath is that, as good as the plot is, it’s also a very big reminder that Brooklyn Nine-Nine could keep Holt in public relations for an even longer time if it wanted. Despite the transfer, the show really doesn’t need to go out of its way to have Holt interact with the characters in the Nine-Nine. It can do it organically and understandably, and that’s a big deal. It’s sort of like Brooklyn Nine-Nine is juggling flaming balls as though it’s the easiest thing in the world; it’s not an easy task, but you’d almost think it is from watching the show.
The biggest problem with the storyline, however, is a problem that is also somewhat bound to follow the Holt character around: the back-and-forth between Wuntch. It’s still plenty funny, but it—like The Vulture—is also a situation where it prompts the question of why our protagonists don’t immediately go over the heads of their superiors on a semi-regular basis. Especially in a case like Wuntch’s where she considers her and Holt’s interactions “foreplay,” because ultimately, their relationship stems from the fact that a gay man (who is now her subordinate) rejected her sexual advances years ago, and she’s been lashing out ever since. (There was the other part of the argument about him costing her a promotion, but given their interactions, that’s really not the crux.) That leads to a whole world of problems, and it especially sticks out with Wuntch’s lack of interaction with the rest of the characters (unless it’s in the context of Holt).
She’s a good villain (especially when she’s putting Bob in charge of Holt), but she’s also one that can suffer from a case of diminishing returns; the more the show uses her, the more the show puts her under the same microscope as the other, more fleshed out characters, even if she doesn’t technically fit that same criteria.
Not even counting the urges of a serial killer, “The Oolong Slayer” has a bit of a momentary throughline of addiction, with Terry’s newfound craving for cacao nibs occurring in the same episode where Holt just has to get his fix of a real police case to make it through his day job. (Plus, despite being wrong, Terry even says Jake is just making up cases because he himself needs them in the way Holt does.) The episode doesn’t really go full addict with Terry and the nibs though; instead, it goes the other obvious route.
Honestly, when Boyle pushes the nibs on Terry, it’s all over as soon as he calls them “organic.” That’s how you trick a person into getting hooked, Boyle!
Instead of having Terry get so hopped up on the high of the nibs and pull an “I’m so excited,” the show ends up choosing the stress-eating route. It’s definitely a plot that relies on the episode’s time jumps (and one that makes sense, given Terry’s character), with the weight gain happening in the course of the month it takes to get to The Vulture’s birthday, but it’s also a plot that doesn’t quite live up to the strength of its beginning. Stress or grief eating in sitcoms ticks a very specific comedy box, and once you’ve seen it a couple of times, you’ve basically seen it all. The Childrens Hospital episode “Stryker Bites The Dust” did it back in 2011, illustrating just how ridiculous these types of plots are. Here, it doesn’t do much outside of getting Terry Crews in a fat-suit, but it does work in the moments where it’s Boyle’s commentary on Terry’s body in general (a body he has never seen as attractive to women, for whatever Boyle reason you can assume). Boyle’s “male gaze” and eventual longing for Terry’s “gross, overly large muscles” is the highlight of the plot, for sure. But it’s not a great plot.
Besides The Vulture’s awfulness, one thing that has remained a constant in these episodes has been Amy’s dedication to serving her captain, no matter who it is. In “Funeral,” Amy was greatly opposed to Jake’s idea of secret dating because of how it would be pulling the wool over her captain’s eyes, despite said captain being The Vulture. And even here, when she’s patronized by the man and tasked with throwing his birthday party (“Women love planning parties. It’s in the Bible”), she’s dedicated to following his unprofessional orders.
As they both realize at the end, Amy and Rosa make a great team. But it’s always slightly disappointing when an episode puts the two of them on the backburner; in the case of Amy, I’ve made my case plenty of times as to why she should always have more to do, but Rosa has been kind of pushed aside so far this season, especially with last week’s Moose Tracks plot. But this is overall a pretty good episode for all the characters (even fat suit Terry, if for nothing other than his interactions with Boyle and his fake speech about kicking the habit), even with some questionable plotting.
Hopefully Brooklyn Nine-Nine will delve in the aftermath of Jake going over Wuntch’s (and The Vulture’s) head and getting Holt’s job back. After all, Holt left the precinct as a result of Wuntch threatening his detectives and their positions—and unless Jake had a fully-tiered proposal (that pretty much revealed Wuntch to be corrupt as hell), that’s all still on the table. As comforting as returning to the status quo will be, part of what’s so interesting about this season so far is that it can go so many ways.
- This week in webisodes Brooklyn Nine-Nine needs: This one’s not so much webisodes as it is music videos (and even live performances) from The Vulture’s band. It’s the least they can do after 30 Rock only showed the briefest of moments of Dennis Duffy’s Sugar Ray-esque band.
- Apologies for a late review (as opposed to the other times there’s a late review). In addition to lack of a screener, I’ve been dealing with a sick dog (nothing major, thankfully) tonight.
- I understand he was speaking in bro terms, but part of me wants to believe that The Vulture did actually sleep with Boyle’s mom. And not just because I enjoy him calling Boyle “Chucky” way too much.
- The Vulture’s Bible is definitely Bro Bible, isn’t it?
- Gina: “Task Force sounds like some kind of body spray for hot dudes.”
- Jake: “The perp wasn’t there to take anything. Except lives. Sorry. I always wanted to say that.”
- Jake: (to Terry) “Why do you follow people’s directions when you could literally pick them up and throw them out the window?” I wonder how Jake feels about Ross being the largest Friend…